John Paul II
Pope John Paul II
If Winston Churchill won World War II, then a case can be made that a Polish priest named Karol Józef Wojtyła (May 18, 1920-April 2, 2005) won the Cold War. For decades, the Soviet Union had held Eastern Europe in captivity. In 1956, Hungary had attempted to revolt; in 1968, the Czechs. Each time, Russian tanks rolled in and crushed all resistance. So, in 1980 when a shipyard electrician named Lech Walesa dared Poland to stand up to their occupiers, the whole world knew it was only a matter of time until they, too, would be crushed. But as the tanks readied to roll, Moscow received a message from the Vatican. John Paul warned the Kremlin that if the tanks crossed the Polish border, he would fly to Warsaw and armed only with his papal walking staff would personally march out to meet them. Was it just a bluff? If so, the Russians blinked. The tanks did not roll. Within months, too, Hungary defied the Russians. The Czechs followed, then Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Bulgaria and Romania, even Albania. The Soviet Union itself began to crumble – with Ukraine, Belorus, Kazakstan, Uzbekistan and all of the other non-Russian “Soviet republics” defying Moscow. The Russians knew exactly who to blame – and attempted to take their revenge, sending in an assassin who failed. After recuperating from the gunshot wounds, John Paul visited his attacker in prison … and forgave him. This pope was unlike any other before him -- and truly one of the most inspirational political leaders of our time.