Christmas 1981: A Flame for Freedom in Poland
by Paul Kengor
13 hours ago
December 2011 might not be an anniversary on the minds of American Catholics, but it is close and near and dear to the hearts of Polish Catholics. As American Catholics, we ought to pause here, today, to consider why. The reasons are historically and even spiritually inspiring.
It was 30 years ago, December 13, 1981, that martial law was imposed upon Poland by the communist government. Poles were aghast, horrified, frightened. And so was the man in Rome, a Polish native named John Paul II, and so was another man thousands of miles away in Washington, DC, President Ronald Reagan.
When word of the communists’ actions reached the White House, President Reagan was furious. He wanted to help the people of Poland in any way he could. At that very moment, Reagan committed to save and sustain the Polish Solidarity movement as the wedge that could splinter the entire Soviet bloc, as the first crack in the Iron Curtain.
One of Reagan’s first responses was to call someone he deeply respected: John Paul II. On December 14, he told the Holy Father: “Our country was inspired when you visited Poland, and to see their commitment to religion and belief in God. It was an inspiration…. All of us were very thrilled.”
At that point, Reagan had not yet met John Paul II in person. Reagan had been president only for 11 months. Both he and John Paul II had been shot earlier in the year. Reagan told the Pope that he looked forward to a time when the two men could meet in person. The imposition of martial law added a special urgency. Reagan wanted to meet with the Pope to plan ways to cooperate.