Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The (non) shot heard around the world

In October 1978 John Paul II was elected pope, and in June of the next year he returned to Poland. He was there for nine days and saw millions of people. It is generally credited that this journey was the turning point that led to the strike in Gdansk and the formation of Solidarity a couple of years later.

It's very plausible to suppose that the return of John Paul to Poland was the most important event in world history after the end of World War II and before 9/11. But consider the other possible candidates; Suez, the Reagan-Gorbachev Rejkjavik summit in 1986, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Kennedy assassination, Gulf of Tonkin, etc. What is interesting to me is that the pope's trip is the only one of these that had no "objective" impact at all. Essentially the pope's trip consisted of several Masses and religious ceremonies, and speeches that he gave. Nothing changed except in the hearts of Poles who were there and those who heard of it secondhand. But that was quite a bit nonetheless.

1 comment:

Prior Peter, OSB said...

Changing hearts is the right path, but it is slow and the changes might not be completely manifest for generations. For one thing, it is easiest to change the hearts of the young, and it takes time before they are in a position to change politics. So the big political events you name make a splash, but in fact often manifest (say in the case of 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union) a drift that has been taking place for decades.
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