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The Divine Plan: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Dramatic End of the Cold War

Paul Kengor and Robert Orlando
ISI Books, 288 pages

Did the Soviet Union collapse under its own weight? No way, say the authors of The Divine Plan. It wouldn’t have happened without the vision and collaboration of two remarkable world leaders, Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan. Each survived assassination attempts in the spring of 1981, and each came away recognizing their survival had a divine purpose – the annihilation of atheistic Communism, the cause of religious and political oppression, human-rights violations, and even death for hundreds of millions of people. Read this exhaustively researched work if you want to learn how the Cold War really ended.

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Unleashing our gifts for Christ

Dr. Paul Kengor

It was 30 years ago, December 1987. Speaking from St. Peter’s Square, Pope John Paul II urged Catholics to seek God’s will with the talents we’ve received, in causes small or large. It was a poignant message in time, and also poignantly timeless.

That year had seen tremendous breakthroughs by leaders of the world’s temporal powers. That very month, on December 8, the feast day of the Immaculate Conception, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the INF Treaty—the greatest nuclear-missile-elimination treaty in history. The Cold War was peacefully ending.

Ronald Reagan personally saw such achievements as him using his talents to accomplish God’s will. “Whatever time I have left is for Him,” Reagan pledged after surviving an assassination attempt in March 1981. He would use his talents for God, especially against an evil empire.

John Paul II might have had such larger achievements in mind (and smaller ones, too) when he gave a blessing from St. Peter’s at the close of the year, Christmas week, where he pointed to the parable of the talents. “The story of the human race described by Sacred Scripture is, even after the fall into sin, a story of constant achievements,” said the pontiff, “in response to the divine vocation given from the beginning to man and to woman.”

The Pope applied this philosophical statement to practical realities, to all men and women and their gifts. Such could be a challenging task, but it was a duty nonetheless. “Anyone wishing to renounce the difficult yet noble task of improving the lot of man in his totality, and of all people,” averred the Pope, “with the excuse that the struggle is difficult and that constant effort is required, or simply because of the experience of defeat and the need to begin again, that person would be betraying the will of God the Creator.” The Pope pointed to “the Lord Jesus Himself, in the parable of the talents,” who emphasized the severe treatment given to the man who hid the gifts he received.

“It falls to us,” said the Holy Father, “who receive the gifts of God in order to make them fruitful, to ‘sow’ and ‘reap.’” A deeper pondering of these severe words “will make us commit ourselves more resolutely to the duty, which is urgent for everyone today,” to work together for others, for the whole human being, and for all people.

The achievements then being made by men like John Paul II and Ronald Reagan were an extension of their commitment to do the work of God on behalf of others, for the whole human being, for all people. It was always a struggle, often fraught with defeat. It was, nonetheless, a commitment to be resolutely pursued.

In a speech at Notre Dame on May 17, 1981, Ronald Reagan had stated: “When great causes are on the move in the world, we learn we are spirits, not animals, and that something is going on in space and time, and beyond space and time, which, whether we like it or not, spells duty.”

Yes, duty—to do right, and to resist evil.

As John Paul II’s Catechism stated (section 409): “The whole of man’s history has been the story of dour combat with the powers of evil, stretching, so our Lord tells us, from the very dawn of history until the last day. Finding himself in the midst of the battlefield man has to struggle to do what is right, often at great cost to himself.”

That applied not just to John Paul II, to Ronald Reagan, and their battles, but ours. Yes, also ours.

Will you use yours? Will you use the talents God has given you? Will you stand up to the secular forces today threatening our religious freedom, or will you cower in fear of being called names for standing for what’s right?

At Christmas time, we think of Christ and gifts. Well, here’s a gift that we, in turn, can return to Christ by putting to good use the unmistakable talents bestowed upon us.

DR. PAUL KENGOR, PH.D. is a professor of political science at Grove City College. His latest book is A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century.

Reagan, the Pope, America and the USSR

On March 30, 1981, just outside the Washington Hilton, right down the street from
the White House, Ronald Reagan, the 40th president of the United States, leader of the free world, was shot by a would-be assassin.

Dr. Paul Kengor

On May 13, 1981, just outside the Vatican, in the heart of St. Peter’s Square, Pope John Paul II, 264th occupant of the chair of St. Peter, leader of the world’s largest group of Christians, was shot by a would-be assassin. It was the feast day of Our Lady of Fatima.

These were, of course, shocking moments that rocked international headlines. We know today what an anxious world did not know then — that both men came perilously close to dying. Had they perished, the 20th century would not have ended as it did.

For Americans, for Europeans, for Protestants and Catholics, and for many others worldwide, the momentous and tranquil termination of the Cold War was the most remarkable event of the 20th century — a century in which more than 100 million people were killed by communist governments.

The American public got a taste of John Paul’s significance to Ronald Reagan when the nation’s new president, still recovering from the shooting, stepped to the podium to speak at Notre Dame University on May 17, 1981, only days after the pontiff had been shot. Reagan began his remarks by acknowledging not his own health but that of the Pope.

Next came a stunning statement in the president’s prepared text: “The years ahead are great ones for this country, for the cause of freedom and the spread of civilization,” Reagan said. “The West won’t contain communism; it will transcend communism…. It will dismiss it as some bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages are even now being written.”

Ronald Reagan saw Pope John Paul II as his partner in a battle that was spiritual as much as political. He also saw Poland as the crucible where the battle would be fought and could be won — and with the indispensable help of the Polish pontiff.

The Pope and the president would meet to discuss that joint mission on June 7, 1982. “It was always assumed the president would meet with the Holy Father as soon as feasible,” said Bill Clark, Reagan’s closest aide and a devout Catholic. “Because of their mutual interests, the two men would come together and form some sort of collaboration.”

Reagan had long coveted such an idea. Not only had he recognized as early as June 1979 that the Pope was key to Poland’s fate, but among his earliest goals as president was to make the Vatican an ally. The Reagan administration was the first to diplomatically recognize the Holy See.

The two men talked alone for 50 minutes in the Vatican Library. The attempted assassinations were raised right away. Cardinal Pio Laghi, the apostolic nuncio in Washington, later recounted that Reagan told John Paul: “Look how the evil forces were put in our way and how Providence intervened.” Clark confirmed that sentiment, saying that both men referred to the “miraculous” fact that they had survived. The two men, Clark said, shared a “unity” in spiritual views and in their “vision on the Soviet empire,” namely “that right or correctness would ultimately prevail in the divine plan.”

The June 1982 meeting was the first of many. A substantial effort and collaboration thus ensued. The major players included Clark, CIA director Bill Casey, Ambassador Vernon Walters and Cardinal Pio Laghi. That collaboration helped bring about the historic events of 1989. That year is remembered for the fall of the Berlin Wall. In truth, however, the collapse began earlier that year, in June, with elections in Poland — the first free and fair elections in the Communist Bloc. The communists did not win a single seat. Just a few months later, in November, the Berlin Wall fell.

The Cold War was over without a missile fired, without the nuclear Armageddon that everyone feared for so long. Extraordinarily, that entire totalitarian system, which destroyed so much and so many, went down peacefully. It was a testimony to the work of names like Thatcher, Gorbachev, Yeltsin, Walesa, Havel — and Reagan and John Paul II.

These two men, a Catholic and a Protestant, a Pole and an American, at the Vatican and at the White House, stood out and stood together. They together resolved to stop the atheistic Soviet empire. It was a historic partnership and a historic victory.

DR. PAUL KENGOR is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College. His latest book is A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century.

What matters most

Patrick Novecosky urges Americans to preserve life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness . . .

Patrick Novecosky

There are many reasons why this year’s election is the most important in our lifetime. Religious liberty is under assault by the federal government, our national debt is out of control, our post-Christian culture is virtually unrecognizable to most people over 50 years old, and there’s more.

But in my mind, one reason sums them all up. The men who drafted and signed the Declaration of Independence — arguably the founding document of our great nation — declared that they found certain truths to be self-evident: “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Here’s my reason for this election being pivotal: The current administration — and far too many in our country — no longer recognize these self-evident truths. When the foundational documents of our nation cease to be relevant to voters, we can be certain that radical change is in the air. Shortly before the 2008 election, candidate Obama declared that “we are five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America.” He expressed no interest in recapturing America’s glory or repairing past wrongs. He was advocating for something completely different.

But the blame for the country’s indifference to our founding principles does not rest solely on the shoulders of President Obama. Quite simply, we have failed to appreciate the values that set America apart — and we have failed to teach them to our children. The whole idea of American exceptionalism is lost on most people who have gone through public schools over the past 30-40 years.

Results from the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress reveal that only 13% of the nation’s high school seniors showed proficiency in their knowledge of American history. The old phrase “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is coming back to haunt us.

America needs to rediscover its roots. We don’t need to transform our nation, we need to renew it. We need to embrace the principles that made America great, and then teach them to our children. Few understood and articulated these principles better than Ronald Reagan. In 1961, he said: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

Patrick Novecosky is the editor-in-chief of Legatus magazine.