Before He Was Pope: The Christmas Courage of John Paul II

Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła, who lived with a spirit of "no guts, no glory," long before he became Pope John Paul II.

Cardinal Karol Józef Wojtyła, who lived with a spirit of “no guts, no glory,” long before he became Pope John Paul II.

I never knew the stories of how Pope John Paul II fought tyranny when Poland was under Communist rule until much later, after he died.  That’s probably because Poland’s government probably didn’t want what he was doing in the way of resistance to their nonsensical dictates to get out.

The Communists were spying on the population, which to me is the first clue that their rulers had some kind of a problem.  If you know in your heart you’re doing the right thing, you don’t have to ask one neighbor to inform against the other.  However, that was happening in Poland.  There were agents who were watching Karol Wojtyla, the man who would become Pope John Paul II many years later, like a hawk.

The regime didn’t exactly ban religion – the people would not have allowed it – but they did all they could to discourage it, thus trying to force their own non-belief onto everybody.  That’s ridiculous, of course.  Force people to go one way at your peril, because anybody with some courage will go running directly in the opposite direction.  Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was leading the charge.

Catholic student groups like the CYO were discouraged.

Karol Wojtyla took teenagers on camping and canoeing trips and had them call him “Uncle Karol” so intruders wouldn’t realize the outings were led by a priest.

The government did not permit religious processions where saint’s pictures were paraded down the street.

Karol Wojtyla went down the street with a procession behind him anyway – carrying an empty frame.

My favorite story of all is the one about a town called Nowa Huta.  The Polish Communists had built a brand new town – that’s what “Nowa Huta” means – without a church, deliberately.  It was a perfectly nice town, save for that.  The people who lived there, though, wanted a church.

Karol Wojtyla led a Christmas Eve Mass for them in an open field, in the cold of a Polish winter night, since they were not allowed to have a church building.

Soldiers raided the gathering.  They turned the lights of their vehicles on the people who were at the Mass and were ready to attack.  How ridiculous: to be ready to do battle with your own countrymen over their celebration of Christmas!  But the regime was not too bright and didn’t hesitate to harass those Christians.  The concept of a Nowa Huta church had been banned.

Karol Wojtyla didn’t miss a beat.  He said to the soldiers, “The fact that we’re all assembled here proves that the Church of Nowa Huta already exists!”  

What happened next was a true Christmas miracle: the soldiers did not attack.  The congregation began to sing “Silent Night” and several of the soldiers even joined in!

Much later, as Pope, this courageous man would tell people, “Be not afraid!”  He encouraged everyone to stand up for what was right, which might not necessarily be what those ruling them decreed.  I think he was the living embodiment of the old adage, “No guts – no glory!”

When the Church of Nowa Huta was finally built, it was constructed with the labor of volunteers, since the government wouldn’t help.  It was Cardinal Wojtyla laid the corner stone.

The Christmas season is already upon us, even though it isn’t even Thanksgiving yet, so have a Merry Christmas!  And if you’re in a situation where you need to be the one who doesn’t go along with the crowd, be not afraid.  Just go for it!

The John Paul II monument in front of the Church of Nowa Huta.

The John Paul II monument in front of the Church of Nowa Huta.

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4 responses to “Before He Was Pope: The Christmas Courage of John Paul II

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