Ruah Woods speaker traces unlikely alliance between Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II
By Gail Finke
At the Ruah Woods annual breakfast Feb. 28, author Paul Kengor traced the unlikely way that the lives of a former actor who became president and a former actor who became pope continued to intersect, and how together they ended Communism in Eastern Europe.
Kengor, a professor at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa., is the author of many books about politics and religion, including “A Pope and a President: The Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century,.” which tells that story.
The first draft of the book, he told the supporters of the Theology of the Body Institute located near Bridgetown, amounted to some 1,500 pages. “The editor had to cut it back a bit,” he joked. “But if you’re telling the story of a Communist war on religion, where do you start and where to you end? And if I’m telling that story in 30 minutes this morning, where do I start?”
He started on Oct. 16, 1978, when the bishop of Krakow in then-Communist Poland was elected 264th Vicar of Christ. The new pope insisted on an official visit to Poland in 1979 and Reagan, then governor of California, saw him on television speaking to huge crowds of Poles.
“The pope is the way!” Kengor said that Reagan, who had not announced his presidential candidacy, told people in the room with him.
“Ronald Reagan wanted to end the Cold War,” he said, “which no one thought could be done. And when he saw the pope speak, he knew it could be done.”
Both men were certain that Communism could be defeated peacefully, Kengor said. Both were shot by would-be assassins within a six-week period. Both forgave their shooters on the operating table. Both nearly bled to death from bullets that would have killed them if they had been only a fraction of an inch closer to an artery. Both were taken to hospitals where top surgeons happened to be present. Both emerged from the hospital convinced that they had been spared by God for something great.
The two men met only five times, Kengor said. The assassination attempts were not related, but their effect was to solidify their alliance and their commitment to their common purpose. Today, their separate actions at home and on the world stage are considered pivotal in the collapse of Communism, both in Poland and everywhere in Europe.
The connections between the two men, otherwise different in so many ways, continued to the end of their days, Kengor said. They died in the same year, Ronald Reagan physically healthy until his last days, but his mind lost to dementia, and the pope mentally sharp to the last, but physically incapacitated by Parkinson’s disease.
“They stood up to the Beast,” Kengor said. “They were mocked, but they were willing to take it on, and together they rewrote the end of the 20th century.”
Their courage, he added, should inspire the work of Ruah Woods and the lives of its supporters. Theology of the Body (TOB) is the name given to a group of Pope (now Saint) John Paul II’s teachings, and Kengor said another of his teachings should guide the way people who believe and teach it. In remarks on the Parable of the Talents, he said, the saint urged people to think of the general meaning of the word in English – gifts and abilities – and to see that not to use their talents for humanity is a betrayal of God.
“It falls to us to commit ourselves resolutely to the duty” that possessing our talents creates, he said, especially to help fight the evils of our own day. “We have a duty to respond. Sometimes it’s difficult, but look at section 409 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and you’ll see it’s always like this. It’s always bad. It’s been bad since the very beginning, and it will be bad until the very end. It applied to Ronald Reagan in his time, and it applies in ours. In the words of St. Pope John Paul II: Be not afraid!”
The annual “Eggs and Issues Breakfast” was held in Downtown Cincinnati’s Westin Hotel, and brings in a nationally recognized speaker on a topic related to Ruah Woods’s mission, which Executicve Director Leslie Kuhlmann described in the saint’s words: as the “recapitulartion of the inviolable mystery of the human person.”
She challenged all in the room to visit Ruah Woods for a class or program. “You have no excuse,” she joked. “Within half an hour of where you live, there’s a Theology of the Body Institute – that’s something nobody else in the country has. We invite you to come and take a class, we ask for your prayers, and we humbly ask for your support.”
For information on classes and programs at Ruah Woods, on the Theology of the Body curriculum for elementary and high schools, and on Ruah Woods Psychological Services, visit RuahWoods.org.