Saturday, April 26, 2014

St. John Paul II: The 20th Century’s Greatest Dissident

 “I plead with you – never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.”
- Pope John Paul II

April 24, 2014

Solzhenitsyn. Havel. Bonhoeffer. Kolakowski. These names are forever lionized in the pantheon of noble dissidents. And rightfully so. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn catalogued the heinous abuses of the Soviet labor camp experience in his greatest work, The Gulag Archipelago. Vaclav Havel endured isolation and harassment as an outspoken playwright who penned the razor-sharp analysis of life under oppressive Czech Communist stooges in his essay The Power of the Powerless.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer helped found a Protestant Confessing Church objecting to the Nazification of his former denomination. He then went on to write his seminal work, The Cost of Discipleship, which objected to “cheap grace” in the face of times demanding suffering for Christian truth. And Leszek Kolakowski championed and brilliantly articulated why Marxism was philosophically robust and defensible, only to realize that this simply was not true. In writing his magisterial intellectual indictment of the Communist enterprise, The Main Currents of Marxism, he upheld his intellectual honesty and moral center which led his overseers to strip him of his titles, deprive him of his livelihood and threaten his safety. Consequently, he became the exiled intellectual godfather of the Solidarity movement which first fissured and cracked the edifice of Soviet Communism. How on earth could anyone expect to stand equally in the company of such courageous men? And where would you find them?
Let me say the last place I anticipated finding such a man was the theater. But there he was. In August, 1941, young Karol Wojtyla found himself nearly one year into the Nazi’s brutal occupation of Poland. In this short span of time, Wojtyla was forced to quit his University studies, witness his professors and priests sent to concentration camps, work tirelessly in a limestone quarry and chemical plant and, finally, endure the untimely death of his father. And yet in the increasingly hellish killing fields of Nazi racial hygiene, Wojtyla would not opt for fearful passivity. He would become part of a reassembled underground university. He would become a member of “The Living Rosary” serving as a leader of fifteen men charged to live the life of incessant prayer and selfless devotion modeled after St. John of the Cross. And, finally, Karol Wojtyla would act.

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