Behind the Pope's SPIRITUAL OFFENSIVE In Eastern Europe
Gene H Hogberg
Few comprehend the long-term objectives of Pope John Paul II with regard to Poland and all of Eastern-and Western-Europe.
THERE IS no doubt about it now. As a result of his dramatic trip to his Polish homeland last June, Pope John Paul II is firmly established as the most charismatic leader in the Western world. The televised spectacle of his performance before millions of Poles over eight days elevated the Pope, said one American newsman, to the status of a "spiritual superpower." Once again the Polish-born Pope showed his capacity to speak out with boldness — but with canny political caution at the same time. At no time, despite criticism from Polish Communist authorities that his messages were becoming "too political," did the Pope preach revolution. Yet the Pontiff was unmistakably clear in speaking out on what he felt were the "sovereign rights" of the Polish people. On day two of his visit, the Pontiff told Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski in Warsaw that Poland had a right to "her proper place among the nations of Europe, between the East and the West." He reminded General Jaruzelski that Pope Paul VI had stated that "Poland has a right to sovereign existence." On Sunday, June 19, the Pope returned powerfully to the "Poland is sovereign" theme. On this day, the official highpoint of the trip, the Pope celebrated mass at the 600-year-old monastery of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa, site of Poland's most venerable shrine, the Black Madonna icon. "As children of God, we cannot be slaves," the Pontiff told a million Poles standing before him in a driving rain. "The nation has a right to live in freedom. This... means the right to decide for oneself as a community, determined by a unity of culture, language and history." Polish society, declared the Pope, has a "strict right to whatever ensures its own unique identity." He then explained what constitutes Poland's uniqueness. "After I,000 years of historic experience, this nation has its own life, its culture, social traditions and spiritual identity." Catholicism is completely bound up with the culture of Poland and gives the nation its "spiritual identity." To be a Pole is to be a Roman Catholic. Poland has been Catholic for more than a millennium, Communist (in veneer form only) for but 38 years. So, while the Communist government complained of political meddling, the Pope justifiably claimed his words were religious and pastoral in nature, since Poland's Catholic religion and cultural heritage are really one and the same. Where, in the case of Poland, does religion leave off and politics begin? Two ceremonies conducted by the Pope on the last stop of his trip represented another bold assertion of Poland's national identity In the Krakow suburb of Nowa Huta, John Paul consecrated a second church built by parishioners. Nowa Huta, a steel town, had been designed after World War II as a model communist community without churches. And in Krakow, the Pope beatified two Poles who fought the Russians in an unsuccessful nationalistic uprising in 1863. The two heroes, said the Pope, started "on the path to holiness" by joining the uprising.
"Deal" Struck with Government
Given the Pope's bold statements regarding Poland's distinct national identity, the immediate outcome of the papal trip surprised not a few observers. The day after the trip ended, the broad outlines of a compromise package between the Vatican and Poland's Communist government began to emerge. The two meetings between the Pope and Prime Minister Jaruzelski and the more important high-level Vatican — Warsaw negotiations undertaken weeks, and in some cases months before the Pope's trip, laid the foundation. As a result, the Solidarity labor union movement, though publicly praised by the Pope, has been left to wither on the vine, along with its charismatic leader, Lech Walesa. The church, which had been eclipsed as the moral force in Poland by the meteoric rise of Solidarity, is once more back in the saddle — " the only alternative centre of authority to a dictatorial regime," reported the June 25 lead editorial in The Economist of Britain. What was the deal reached between the Vatican and Poland's Communist authorities? First of all, the two sides agreed to establish a church-funded foundation to channel millions of Western dollars into loans and grants to boost the depressed Polish economy, especially agriculture. Another agreement that arose from the Pope's trip, Vatican sources admitted, was that the church would work with the government to create a new trade union founded along the lines of Solidarity, but most probably with a different name and led by someone other than Mr. Walesa, with whom the Polish government refuses to deal. Regarding the first, and perhaps major, facet of the arrangement, the country's Communist rulers have agreed in principle on an unprecedented church-controlled foundation to channel a minimum of $2 billion worth of Western equipment and supplies to Polish farmers. The existence of such a foundation, controlled by an agency outside of the government, is believed to be a first in any Soviet bloc country. Hella Pick, who covered the Pope's trip for the British newspaper The Guardian, took note in that paper's June 24 edition of the Catholic Church's growing political role — and of the Pope's political astuteness: "The visit has shown that a large part of the Polish nation regards the pope as its natural moral leader. Also, despite the Vatican's protestations, it is evident that the pope expects the Church to play a major political role — in sharp contrast to the views he has expressed about political activism among priests in Latin America." The papal trip, continued Ms. Pick, "was not an overt anti-Communist crusade. The pope is far too subtle.... Couched in Christian ethics, laced with quotations from the Scriptures, and with many examples of Polish valour against its oppressors throughout history, the pope scored many direct political points."
Startling Long-range View
John Paul II is pursuing both short-term and long-term goals. Regarding the former, it is to elevate the status of the church to that of co-rulership in Poland, to fully participate in the political and economic spheres of the country to help relieve the dispirited people's fortunes. But the Pope's long-range view is not confined to Poland alone. His vision of the future is much more all — encompassing — and startling. "The pope," wrote William Pfaff in the June 27 Los Angeles Times, "has undertaken the liberation of Eastern Europe. It is not too much to describe what he has begun with his second visit to Poland in those words. This audacious program involves serious risks, but also displays an intelligence, an understanding of history and a powerful will that are all but invisible among Western statesmen." John Paul II believes that the unity and fervor of Poland's Catholics can provide, according to journalist Pfaff, "a first step in the moral reanimation of the other churches of the East, and then of the West." The Pope has been consistent in this theme. Only last year in Spain, he proclaimed the following, in what he called a "Declaration to Europe": "I, John Paul, son of the Polish nation which has always considered itself European by its origins, traditions, culture and vital relationships, Slavic among the Latins and Latin among the Slavs;... I, Bishop of Rome and Shepherd of the Universal Church, from Santiago, utter to you, Europe of the ages, a cry full of love: Find yourself again. Be yourself. Discover your origins, revive your roots." Poland, unlike other countries of Europe, has not lost its roots. It has been fervently Roman Catholic for more than 1,000 years. John Paul's intent is to solidify the church in Eastern Europe, then bring this fervor westward. It has already been "leaked" to the news media that very preliminary contacts have already been made between the Vatican and the Kremlin for the Pope to travel inside the Soviet Union to Lithuania. Lithuanians are nearly as fervent in their Catholic faith as are Poles. Some observers admit they cannot see the Soviet government actually agreeing to such an unprecedented venture. Others believe that Moscow would look weak and fearful should it refuse travel wishes on the part of the Pope. Soviet authorities already have a tarnished image because of allegations of top-level conspiracy in the attempt on the life of the Pope in 1981. (The Pope credits the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, the icon whose 600th anniversary was the reason for the papal visit, with saving his life when he was shot two years ago. A large number of Poles also believe divine intervention saved their Pontiff.)
Believes Soviet Grip Will Loosen
The Pope gave further evidence of his long-range plan again during his final mass in Krakow, when he prayed for "all the Christians of East and West, that they become united in Christ and expand the Kingdom of Christ throughout the world." Moscow doesn't like what it sees, but is in a quandary as to how to derail the papal "spiritual offensive" in its satellite empire. The Pope believes strongly that the Soviet Union's domination of Poland and of the rest of Eastern Europe is provisional, a passing episode in history. How can 38 years of Communist rule by force remain over countries such as Poland where the power of contrary ideas goes back a millennium? Perhaps expecting the worst, Soviet leader Yuri Andropov, two days before the Pope left for Warsaw, delivered a clear warning to the Polish leadership — especially its more moderate leaders who pushed for the papal visit. In a speech in Moscow, Mr. Andropov exclaimed, "When the guiding hand of a communist party weakens, there exists the danger of slipping down to a... reformist way of development." He added that leaders of the East bloc must never weaken the party's grip on power. Not long afterward, and during the Pope's trip to Poland, the first spontaneous antigovernment demonstration broke out in Prague, Czechoslovakia. "Freedom for all nations," shouted 300 youths.
Pope Fills Moral Vacuum
Soviet concerns notwithstanding, Poland, it would seem now, is the nurturing ground and the advance wedge in Europe of a new — yet old-third-force "universal nationalism" — the resurrection of the old Holy Roman Empire, prophesied in the Bible to occur one last time. It appears now that it was absolutely essential, in order for the prophesied end-time Roman system to reemerge, that a nation like Poland preserve religious traditions so wholeheartedly, and that a leader — John Paul II — spring forth on the world stage from within such a climate to spread traditional Christian ideals continent-wide. In this light, the noted Soviet author Alexander Solzhenitsyn, exiled to the West in 1974, has continued to rail against godless atheism in the East and an "eroded humanism" in the Western world, which he says leads to the "total emancipation from the moral heritage of Christian centuries." The Russian philosopher adds that "our spiritual life... is trampled by the party mob in the East, by the commercial one in the West." The Pope says virtually the same thing. He has made it clear that he regards the acquisitive, commercialized capitalism of the West as scarcely preferable to the dialectical atheistic materialism of the East. As a result, he is now stepping boldly into a moral vacuum in the world. A political vacuum, however, does not yet exist in Europe, which is still divided between the Soviet and U.S. spheres of influence. But it will come, and will be filled by the political authority of the prophesied church-state power. With its deal in Poland the Vatican is setting the stage for opening a political breach in Europe between East and West. In the future, it might help engineer a far bigger event — this time not with Warsaw, but with Moscow, for the liberation of Eastern Europe. To give its approval, Moscow would in turn likely demand the neutralization of Western Europe, forcing it to cut its ties to the United States. Under such an arrangement, West Germany would be able to reunite with East Germany, since the latter would be geographically cut off from Moscow anyway if Poland were cut free. A reunited Germany would be the political dynamo of a new Europe, a role the Poles, or others in the East, cannot play. Truly awesome forces have been set in motion by the Pope's second visit to his Polish homeland.