1. The spiritual and the secular. Communism maintained its power in Eastern Europe through fear, repression and brutality. However, it could not be eradicated by force. As the pre-eminent Polish historian Dr. Norman Davies states in the film, “It could only be defeated by spiritual power.” The story of the fall of communism in Poland and the liberation of a continent dramatically bears witness to this truth. When John Paul II began his epic 9-day pilgrimage in June of 1979 by celebrating mass in Warsaw’s Victory Square, he called on God to “send down your Spirit and renew the face of the earth,” adding after a dramatic pause, “And the face of this land.” It was a powerful indicator that ultimately God was sovereign and not the communist regime. His numerous speeches and homilies during that pilgrimage helped Poles realize the truth about their Catholic identity, restoring a sense of dignity and courage. This transformation leavens the ground for the rise of Solidarity, the first independent trade union to exist under Communist rule, and the lynchpin in a popular revolution that collapsed the iron curtain.
2. The first domino: Poland. Karol Wojtyła hailed from Poland, the most intensely Catholic of the Warsaw Pact countries, which in 1978 became home to the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years. The Catholic Church in Poland, which had suffered immensely during the Second World War and subsequent Soviet repression, had undergone a spiritual renewal through the work of the Nine Year ‘Great Novena’ under the leadership of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski — culminating in the celebration of the Millennium of Polish Christianity in 1966. Even before his election to the papacy and triumphant return to Poland, John Paul II had been deeply involved in planting the seeds of future resistance. As a popular priest engaged in ministry to university students, Fr. Wojtyła organized many kayaking and hiking trips, helping cultivate ‘zones of freedom’ in which young people could express their faith and share ideas in a nation where free thought was squelched. Later, as the Archbishop of Krakow, Wojtyła helped inspire a broad based coalition of intellectuals and workers who were united by the conviction that the human person was made for freedom. The country’s rich faith was fertile ground for the seeds of the 1979 pilgrimage to give rise to the Solidarity movement.
3. John Paul II’s continued relevance in Central and Eastern Europe. The 2014 Revolution of Dignity in Ukraine did not occur in a vacuum. Ukrainians rose up to defend their hope to be respected as a free nation with a European orientation. What began as a movement of resistance to a corrupt government evolved into a broad-based movement to rebuild civil society in Ukraine as the essential foundation for the nation. These values were a key part of John Paul’s post-communist message to the liberated nations of Central and Eastern Europe. Major-Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk described the uprising as “an extended, inspired pilgrimage from fear and fraud to dignity and integrity.” Shevchuck went on: “St. John Paul II will protect us and protect the world from new iron curtains and new Berlin Walls.”