In remembering the legacy of Pope John Paul II, Steve Hayward offers an excellent account of his contributions to the demise of Communism and hope for liberty. To his wonderful review, forgive me for adding some personal reflections that may help explain some of this Pope’s amazing powers in this regard.
In 1993 I travelled to Liechtenstein for a seminar sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute which was taught by Michael Novak, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, and George Weigel (the Pope’s biographer). There were also several of the Pope’s top theologians present as guest lecuturers. The idea was to bring together ten American students with 20 Eastern European students to help them come to grips with the ideas of democracy and capitalism. It is hard to say who helped whom. At that time (despite twelve years of Catholic "education") I didn’t know a papal encyclical from an encyclopedia and neither, by the way, did most of my American counterparts. Steeped as we were in the more conventional readings about liberty and natural rights, we were more than alittle astonished to meet all of these very bright Eastern European students who came to hold democracy and capitalism so dearly as a result of John Paul II’s teachings--particularly--with regard to his teachings about the dignity of human life. The dignity of human life is what calls upon all men to respect the natural and God-given rights of all men. Of course the culture of life would respect the ideas of democracy and capitalism! Unfortunately, democracy and capitialism have not always supported the culture of life.
Perhaps the selection of John Paul II as Pope was meant, not only to draw those nations of the former Communist bloc closer to democracy and respect for human rights, but also to draw those of us who live in nations that purport to support the principles of democracy to reflect upon the true meaning of our principles. Perhaps through his example we might all walk away from the culture of death that threatened us not only in the form of Communism--but continues to threaten us today in our own country and in the form of Islamo-facism. And perhaps, God-willing, this next Pope will be able to continue this one’s great and good work.