Sunday, May 01, 2011

Morning musings of a Devil's Advocate: on the beatification of JPII

Today, May 1, is the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker, Divine Mercy Sunday, May Day, my eldest daughter's birthday, and the day Pope John Paul II will be beatified (final step before sainthood).

It's an appropriate day for the beatification. John Paul II was devoted to the Divine Mercy. He instituted the Feast of the Divine Mercy. He died on the eve of the Feast of the Divine Mercy. He personally raised the apostle of Divine Mercy, St. Faustina Kowalska to sainthood. Faustina was a Pole. John Paul II was a Pole. May Day is/was a major Communist holiday, and John Paul II can be rightly credited for playing a major part in the collapse of the U.S.S. R and Communism in Europe.

Seems like "all the stars align". So I suppose I'm picking a bad day to pick on the Pope. Well not picking on him really, but perhaps playing a little "devil's advocate" in hindsight about the collapse of Communism.  (Devil's Advocate is an actual person who is part of the canonization process. His job is to poke holes in the nominee's resume. Read more here.)

As a Pole who lived most of his life under Communist domination, and especially as a priest operating under such a system, it was natural that the Pope wanted his country to be free. He wasted no time. He visited Poland immediately after his elevation to the Papacy and caused the stir Poland's Communist leaders feared he would cause. Within 10 years jubilant sledge hammer wielding Europeans would be taking home chunks of the Berlin wall for souvenirs.

Of course there was a confluence of events. There was Reagan and his relentless attack on "the evil empire", there was Gorbachav and Perastroika, there was the pending economic collapse of the Soviet Union. In short, Communism was ripe for the fall and the advent of the Polish Pope was the proverbial "straw".

Anyone who lived through the Cold War and witnessed the quick collapse of Soviet Communism would have certainly appreciated the moment. We all thought that Pacem in Terris had arrived. But within months, the Balkans were ablaze with the fire of ancient hatreds. That fire has spread through most of the ancient world and the danger the world now faces makes the the policy of MAD between the two Cold War superpowers seem like "the good ol' days".

What Communism did do and did well, was keep a lid on those ancient hatreds. Warring tribes in the Balkans had been killing each other for centuries and the new Yugoslavia imposed order on the disparate clans by creating a regime that was more brutal than the clans. The same was true for all the "stans" that were sucked into the Soviet Union and stamped with U.S.S.R.

While it came with a terrible price, Communism did impose order on what was for the most part, and for most of history, an orderless, lawless part of the world. Once the iron fist of Communism was forced open, the warring clans immediately went back to their "warrings" but with a stored-up genocidal intensity.

In hindsight, it seems that in the rush to freedom (the Pope included) little thought was given to what sort of a world would follow 70 years of Communist "order". Sudden freedom is dangerous. Just observe any college student away from home for the first time in his life. Or for that matter, observe American history. Freedom from fighting the British led to even greater bloodshed on our own killing fields (Civil War).

The Pope knew this, but later. He knew it when George W. Bush went to see him in 2003 prior to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. The Pope warned him of what would happen. The Pope knew that despite the atrocities of Saddam, Saddam had kept the lid on the ancient tribal savagery that would once again erupt once the lid was off.

Bush believed that ridding Iraq of Saddam and creating a democracy in the middle of the Middle East, there would soon follow an avalanche of pro-democracy movements throughout the region. He was right. But what will replace those pro-democracy movements remains to be seen. Not every country has a Lincoln.

It is curious to observe that while the Pope warned Bush of the consequences of lifting the lid off Iraq, he seemed not to see the consequences of lifting the lid off Poland and thus Soviet Communism. Genocide in the Balkans can be directly linked to the collapse of the Communist state in Yugoslavia. And a much weakened Soviet Union created an Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan (with the help of the U.S.)

So now, instead of living in fear of intercontinental ballistic missiles we now must undress at every airport and wonder about the contents of every car and briefcase. The fall of Communism opened the door to a far more dangerous world. Celebrating John Paul II's achievement in that regard is not something that should be on his list of accomplishments for sainthood. But then nobody's asking me.
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