Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
June 28, 2004
The power of conscience
Twenty-five years ago this month, one of the pivotal events of the 20th century occurred - the first visit of Pope John Paul to his native Poland. Those nine days in June 1979 began to turn the tide against Soviet bloc communism. Far from leading inevitably to the fall of communism, they rather unleashed the potent, yet unpredictable, power of the human conscience.
The situation of Poland in 1979 is far different from that of Canada in 2004. But in one important way they are the same - the reigning ideology is one of practical atheism. The rule of society is secular and materialistic. There is no room for God.
The Communists were far from thrilled with the new pope's plan to visit his homeland. But they did feel they achieved a victory by steering the pope away from making the visit at the time of the ninth centennial celebrations of the martyrdom of St. Stanislaus, a bishop of Krakow who was murdered by the king while celebrating Mass. Such a celebration, especially with the pope present, would undoubtedly have overtones of Catholic resistance to state power.
So the pope came in June, arriving for the vigil of Pentecost. He came not for political rabble-rousing, but on a pilgrimage to witness to the essentially spiritual nature of the human person. His message was one of encouragement: Do not allow yourselves to be seduced by the belief that you can achieve freedom by erasing God from your life and living a life without prayer.
He told the people that the nobility of the human life is found not by looking out for number one, but by proclaiming and living the Gospel. That nobility is particularly found in respecting and living by the universal moral law.
The pope told students in Warsaw that the measure of the human heart is the "measurement of the spirit open to God."
In those nine days, 13 million Poles, one-third of the country's population, saw the pope in person. The Polish people found the truth that had so long been hidden from them. They realized their own oneness and the power of their unity in faith. And they recognized that the Communists, while holding power, were only a thin veneer on a civilization that was something quite other than communist.
Pope John Paul's visit represented an end to discouragement and despair. It was a catalyst that sparked the flame of resistance that was to grow in Poland over the next decade and eventually lead to the toppling of communist regimes across Eastern Europe and eventually the Soviet Union itself.
But at heart this was not a political revolution, but a revolution of the spirit. Millions of people made personal decisions to lead more honest, faithful lives because of the papal visit. And because of that mass metanoia, people resisted a political system based on lies about the nature of the human person.
The soul of the nation was stirred. And that soul could not be denied.
In Canada, our oppression is, if anything, more complete. We live in a society with the illusion of freedom, but where idolatry is still strong. Idolatry of individual choice, idolatry of consumerism, idolatry of sexual freedom. Because of our apparent freedom, it is more difficult to see how we are in chains.
Poland is a unique nation in that when communism took over in the 1940s, the people responded to the onslaught of secular materialism with a growth in religious faith. In Canada, we think there is no enemy, except religion itself.
It will take much for our nation to see our slavery and to see that we too need a revolution of the spirit.
Jesus Christ is the saviour of the world, . . . and of each and every country. Poland recognized that and the world was changed. When Canada comes to the same realization, things will never again be the same.
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