Was the Pope Polish? Yes, Thank God
April 17, 2005
By Lech Walesa
Through his life, words and writings, Pope John Paul II provided the bedrock
upon which we Poles built political and historical greatness and unleashed
the hope for freedom that continues to spread. Because of his well-timed
testimony, we live in a different Poland -- one in which I can express myself
freely -- and a different world.
In the '40s and '50s, we fought with weapons in our hands. In the '60s and
'70s, strikes and demonstrations thundered through Poland's streets. But
time after time, the authorities broke our ranks, crushed our uprisings.
Throughout the Communist bloc, totalitarian armies and agents combated each
attempt to move toward freedom, defeated every struggle toward democracy and
undermined all efforts to organize for change.
For years before the pope's visit in 1979, I had tried to organize a group
to fight communism, seeking support from Poland's 40 million people. In two
decades, I attracted 10 fellow activists. People had no hope that they could
overthrow communism and no faith that world leaders would offer support. The
enslaved societies were in bad shape, weakened by uncertainty and
Then something unbelievable happened. A Pole became pope.
And a year after Pope John Paul II's election, he returned to his native
land, and the world observed millions of people in a communist country
participating in public meetings -- collective manifestations of hope and
The communist regime had stifled national pride. The pope's visit restored
it. We could see one another and estimate our strength. The Holy Father
spoke to us: Do not be afraid! Change the face of the world!
These words connected with hearts and minds -- and not just Poland's.
Consciences began to awaken. The pope's words revived people's will to act.
Strikes and protests reverberated through Poland, followed by negotiations.
Within a year of the Holy Father's visit to Poland, my group of 10 blossomed
into the 10-million-member assembly called Solidarnosc. Faith that we could
change the world took root, and the democratic world offered support.
Transformation rolled across enslaved Europe as totalitarian regimes toppled
Now the Holy Father has orphaned us and returned to the house of Father God.
But he leaves us with deepened belief in the values upon which we must
continue building. As his words once inspired a chain reaction of freedom in
Europe, they will inspire us to follow the path that he showed us and to
take up the gauntlet of global change.
The pope prepared us for this. It is time to fulfill his last will and to
work in our everyday lives with love, dialogue and solidarity.
His spiritual support will give us the strength to continue the peaceful
fight for freedom and human dignity, locally and around the globe.
Lech Walesa is the former president of Poland and founder of the Solidarity
movement. This article was translated by his son, Jaroslaw Walesa.