Paul Kengor: Divine plan of John Paul II — and Reagan
Fifty years ago, Sept. 20, 1969, a Polish cardinal unknown to Americans and people in our region quietly slipped into historic St. Stanislaw Kostka Church in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. The kneeler where Cardinal Karol Wojtyla paused to pray is now marked at that church. It commemorates not just a Polish cardinal but a pope and a saint.
“On 20 September 1969,” states a laminated sign, “then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla offered prayers in this church at this kneeler.”
I saw that kneeler again last week. The first time I saw it a few years ago, I asked the priest if he knew the history. He said Wojtyla happened to be in Pittsburgh for an international conference on philosophy or religion. He was impressed by Pittsburgh’s Polish heritage and decided to drop in on a few of the city’s beautiful Slavic churches.
He wouldn’t miss this one. In Poland, Wojtyla spent many hours at a church named for St. Stanislaw Kostka, former bishop of his native Krakow and patron of Poland. According to the priest at Pittsburgh’s St. Stanislaw Kostka, Wojtyla arrived at the steps and spoke to two older Polish women tending outside the church. He asked if he could go inside and light a few candles.
Imagine, only a decade later that Polish cardinal would be the first Polish pope, the first non-Italian pope in 455 years. It was, he believed, part of the Divine Plan.
I find this personally ironic because just last week tickets went on sale for the film “The Divine Plan,” which is about Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan and their extraordinary partnership to defeat Soviet communism. Reagan, too, felt such was part of the Divine Plan. Obviously, we expect a pope to think that way, but here was a president who thought that way.
The film touches me because I was interviewed and know the filmmaker, Robert Orlando. The film is being released this fall for the 30th anniversary of the collapse of the Berlin Wall. It’s a remarkable work. Orlando interviewed the top Reagan and John Paul biographers, staffers and Cold War historians: Doug Brinkley, George Weigel, H.W. Brands, Anne Applebaum, Richard V. Allen, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Bishop Robert Barron, to name a few.
These two men both nearly died from assassination attempts in March and May 1981. They came together at the Vatican in June 1982 and confided their shared belief that God had spared their lives for a special purpose to defeat atheistic communism and its grip on hundreds of millions of people behind the Iron Curtain. They felt a calling, a special purpose according to what Reagan privately called “The DP” — The Divine Plan. How they went about doing what they did is a fascinating story that goes back not merely to 1989 but to their youth.
All of which is to say you don’t want to miss this film, which is opening in a thousand theaters, several here in this region, in November. Check out the website, www.thedivineplanmovie.com.
The Divine Plan for Karol Wojtyla took his life in many fascinating directions and surprising places, including here in our area 50 years ago this week.
Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and chief academic fellow of the Institute for Faith & Freedom at Grove City College.