Through the secular media lens I’ve grown accustomed to as an under-30 American, it seems such a ridiculous concept. Over a 100,000 people freely gathered and happily shouting: “We Want God.” It is a story that almost seems science fiction if one wants to truly narrow their worldview to that of current popular American culture.
And, yet, it happened.
I spent this past Lent familiarizing myself with the Pope who dominated my childhood – St. Pope John Paul II. His papacy spanned the first 16 years of my life and, yet, I realized I knew little about him. That is despite being raised in a Catholic household and attending a Catholic school – funny how that works. So, through the assistance of George Weigel’s masterpiece biography Witness to Hope and the world-class documentary Liberating a Continent, I spent those 40 days in awe of a man who personified bravery, humility, genius and holiness.
Most notably, as a nerd of foreign affairs, JP2’s integral role in the disruption of communism both in his native Poland and the larger European sphere stood out as a definitive example of Catholic Social Justice. There were to be no grand moments of victory – but rather the quiet and persistent disintegration of an evil empire through the lessons and love of Jesus Christ.
Christ was the unifying model for how one should act and show solidarity for another amid a Soviet Empire whose modus operandi was that of forced collectivism. No hackneyed intellectual treatise or vengeance-craven ideology would bring about change – rather, the love of Christ and the lessons of his Church would suffice.
There was no more notable event that illuminated this fact that JP2’s speech to a captivated Krakow audience in June 1979 – a crowd in which the Pope was recently their theological steward as Archbishop of Krakow (1964-1978). Amid a glorious speech on the dignity of the human person and the right to freedom – the crowd broke out in a spontaneous and glorious song of “We Want God.” A call for freedom that speaks to the eternal truths we all continue to search for and yet will always find in his death and resurrection.
From Peggy Noonan’s excellent piece on the life of Saint John Paul II from the Wall Street Journal shortly after his death in 2005:
…Why, the pope asked, had God lifted a Pole to the papacy? Perhaps it was because of how Poland had suffered for centuries, and through the 20th century had become “the land of a particularly responsible witness” to God. The people of Poland, he suggested, had been chosen for a great role, to understand, humbly but surely, that they were the repository of a special “witness of His cross and His resurrection.”
He asked then if the people of Poland accepted the obligations of such a role in history. The crowd responded with thunder.
“We want God!” they shouted, together. “We want God!”
What a moment in modern history: We want God. From the mouths of modern men and women living in a modern atheistic dictatorship.
The pope was speaking on the Vigil of Pentecost, that moment in the New Testament when the Holy Spirit came down to Christ’s apostles, who had been hiding in fear after his crucifixion, filling them with courage and joy. John Paul picked up this theme. What was the greatest of the works of God? Man. Who redeemed man? Christ.
Therefore, he declared, “Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe, at any longitude or latitude. . . . The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man! Without Christ it is impossible to understand the history of Poland.” Those who oppose Christ, he said, still live within the Christian context of history.
Christ, the pope declared, was not only the past of Poland–he was “the future . . . our Polish future.”
The massed crowd thundered its response. “We want God!” it roared.
Posted in: Uncategorized