In a way, Christianity is the religion about not going the guerrilla route:
that's what Christ did not do. It seems that Judas perhaps wanted Christ
to go the guerrilla route. And in the midst of this brutal Roman occupation,
Christ said, "no, don't go the route of violence." In his extreme poverty,
Karol Wojtyla must have been looking for some means of re-establishing meaning,
of re-establishing real possibility and hope with the Nazis around him and the
Holocaust happening right there in the Krakow of Schindler's List. And
that must have been something very powerful to him as he was thinking about
what could possibly save this horrible situation. So, the recognition of death,
the potential meaninglessness of life, all of his close relatives suddenly gone
and his father, to whom he must have been extremely close, and whose closeness
must have given him, I believe, that great self-confidence he's always had--I
always get a picture that it must have been as if that was his only choice. His
poverty was part of it. He had nothing else, he was poor as a church mouse. But
he did have this understanding and access to 2000 years of Christianity, a
religion he knew had begun in similar circumstances. |
Can you talk a little about Jan Tyranoski and his "living rosary." What
kind of effect did he have on Karol Wojtyla's life?
I think one of the first things that began to show Karol Wojtyla what the
ultimate political power of a priest might be was this experience he had with
Jan Tyranowski, this strange figure who was a tailor, a slight figure with a
high-pitched voice, as we read, but who began to gather a few people into what
he called his "living rosary," boys, young men, who would come together. He
would teach them about the Catholic faith and about the possibility of inner
liberation from the faith, and transformation. And long before Karol Wojtyla
was ever thinking of the geopolitical influence he was going to be having on
the world stage, he was experiencing in a small group here, the possibility of
bringing people together, of changing them, of giving them a sense of unity
within their faith.
Karol Wojtyla became interested in this fellow. We'll never know exactly what
the basis of that was, but I've always suspected that what intrigued Wojtyla
was the realization that you could begin to change a person from within by
teaching, quietly teaching and encouraging faith. Transforming the personality
Ultimately of course this had enormous political overtones when we see him
doing something on a much larger scale; first as bishop and cardinal in Poland,
working under the mentorship of Wyszinski, and then ultimately when he became
Pope. And he just continued to apply the same philosophy, that it's possible
to liberate people by making them aware of their common faith...One of the most
politically influential things he did as Pope was begin to preach right after
he was elected about the common faith of Europe, from the Atlantic to the
Urals. Some of his critics called it his "Christendom religion." But it was in
effect the same sort of thing he'd been doing with that first little group, the
living rosary, with Jan Tyranowski. He was saying there is a common faith that
we have, it can transform our lives, it can make us authentic liberated people
from within, that's the meaning of this Christian faith he would say. And so he
began to experience that seeing what a priest could do to influence people in
this way, giving them a sense of themselves, a sense, if you will, of
solidarity, as a religiously identifiable group, first in the little rosary
group, then in Poland as a priest, as a bishop, then in Krakow as the cardinal,
ultimately as the Pope.
I see something here that ultimately was played out on a geopolitical level on
the world stage. Because when you look at the way in which Pope Wojtyla urged
Walesa to go slowly, not too quickly, once Solidarity had been formed, so as
not to give the Soviets an excuse to move too fast, too far, you can see that
what John Paul II was trying to do, was transform the personality of Moscow
And in fact, in articles after the fall of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev has
written that the approach of John Paul II, as Gorbachev said, made a new kind
of thinking possible for us all. I think what we have here is a man who, from
the very beginning, had seen that if you teach it correctly, if you witness it
correctly, and encourage people correctly, with his particular faith, you have
the possibility of transforming personality from within, of changing it.
John Paul would start these groups--kayaking, mountain climbing, discussion
groups. And while these were extensively spiritual and sub-social gatherings,
they were also kind of breeding grounds of future leaders of Solidarity. Can
you expand on that?
Covering the Pope, I constantly became impressed by the way in which for him
there really doesn't seem to be a difference between the spiritual and, if you
will, the political. They're virtually the same thing for him. These little
groups of people who had become his close friends, he would talk with them
about their life, their loves, he would marry them and baptize...their children
when they got married. He was also at the same time giving them a sense of
self-confidence and liberation. The idea of liberation and his faith...are
completely the same. He's always talking to people about their authenticity as
people. One of his first books is called The Acting Person--he
concentrates on personality and authenticity, very important concepts for him.
And you can see that from the beginning he's always looking at the possibility
of creating groups of people who individually he has taught how to become free
as he sees it. By having a strong faith.
His sense of his religion, as I understand it, is always within a
political context. It had to be, of course, because of the realities of Poland.
He understood that these were the same realities that existed 2000 years ago
around Jerusalem, that that's the idea, as he understands it, of what Jesus is
all about. It is about being, to use the words he would use, "honest with God,
honest with yourself, honest with your conscience." So that you have an inner
strength. Now, of course, the political effect of that was that he was
continually helping to create self-confidence in the people in Poland who knew
that they were occupied from a foreign power but wanted to maintain their sense
of their own identity. Now this is an ancient Polish tradition in the Church
because there is a long line, for a thousand years, of bishops, saints, and
martyrs who are understood in Poland to be the saviors of the Polish nation. He
always sees himself very much as part of that tradition, of being someone who
stands for Poland's identity.
Give us a sense what it was like to live in the Soviet-occupied Poland of
the 1960s, when these groups were considered anti-state. Why were these groups
Of course I wasn't there, but we've been reading about and hearing about it
ever since he became Pope and had to get to know what this guy was all about.
And Wojtyla didn't invent it, it was something that developed under the
protection of the Cardinal Primate Wyszinski.
One of the ironic keys is that the Communists denied the Church access to the
media, and so the Church leaders had to go out, personally, among the
people, to build their base. They couldn't get on the television, the couldn't
rely on these modern techniques that many other religious leaders think can get
them a larger following. So they had to go out among people. So it was a
natural kind of nursery for priests and bishops who might have a particular
skill at this. That's what Wojtyla developed. He was handsome, he was
charismatic, he was self confident, he knew he had a good thing having come
from such poverty-stricken beginnings. He was now a very respected person with
a lively mind. He had all of the gifts that could really flourish in a
situation where they were denied access to a lot of media. So, within the
general allegiance that Wyszinski wanted to make sure the Poles had to the
Church, not to the Communist Party, and not to Moscow-- Wojtyla would be a natural star.
And so, he was encouraged to continue to build groups among his parishioners,
among his friends. And because of his experience from the very beginning of
working first with small groups of young men and then with families, he
continually developed that muscle through practice, of building immediate
community feeling, independence and liberation among them, if you will. They
belonged to the Church; they saw the Church as the means--as Wyszinski made
sure everybody would in Poland--of liberation, not the Communist Party.
Wyszinski's main trick, if you will, in the 1930's was to begin to develop a
kind of theology that said Christ will be for the oppressed and for the poor,
and for those who are needy, not Marx. This was absolutely key in Wyszinski's
mind to helping keep the allegiance of both the intelligentsia and the worker
class, if you will, in Poland. And it's because Poland remained so socially
cohesive that way, under the Church, that the Communists had to deal through
He encouraged, therefore, anything--such as the actions of this charismatic
young priest and bishop Wojtyla--which would get this personal allegiance
going, this community feeling. I think the fact that they didn't have access to
the media turned out ultimately, ironically, to be a great advantage to them,
and part of what helped overthrow the Communist Party in the end.
Talk to me about Nowa Huta and bishop Karol Wojtyla's goal in making that a
reality. Some people call this a true training ground for the young Wojtyla in
working with the Communist authorities in getting what he wanted--which was an
The bishop wanted a new church. The Communists said, "Well, you can't have
one." The bishop wanted a new church right in town. And the Communists said,
"Well, you can't have one, this is for the workers, they have other concerns."
Bishop Wojtyla kept pushing, kept working with them. He developed a kind of
pragmatism with the Communists during that entire campaign to get Nowa Huta
built. He...didn't get stubborn at any point. Because he knew what he wanted
was transformation even within the authorities. At one point, the authorities
said, "You can't have it here, you have to have it out here on the edge of
town." So he said, "Fine, we'll do that."
He kept trying to call their bluff to find ways to work with them to keep the
dialogue going. He developed obvious talent, therefore, subtle adaptation to
his adversary, if you will. It was a kind of demonstration that he didn't want
to go the guerrilla route, to make things polarized, to bring on violence of
any kind, to bring on an impasse. He wanted to keep working, as he would see
it, in a Christian way with his enemy.
He tries, I think, throughout his life and throughout his administration in
Poland, to apply that rule: love your enemy. He keeps trying very subtle ways
of doing that. And I think that in the way that he finally got Nowa Huta built,
by constantly keeping at it, by getting local support from people, by having
marches through the street, by raising a penny here, a penny there from
everybody, he just outlasted the Communists finally. And this kind of
demonstration of will, of patience, and of a desire to be accommodating
wherever he can, is what he ultimately developed and I think we saw him using
after he became Pope in helping Solidarity ultimately reach a successful
Let's talk about his first trip back to Poland.
That first trip back to Poland, he pierced the Iron Curtain, and you could tell
it right there. These enormous crowds that came out. The very first crowd, we
came in from the airport in the capital city, there was this enormous silent
crowd stretching out through the square there in Warsaw and out onto the side
streets. I remember the silence as we came in. They were looking, they couldn't
believe, they'd heard through television and everything that a Pole was now the
Pope, and here he was back with them. We'd already been with the Pope to
Mexico, and we'd seen these enormous jubilant crowds. We knew he had this kind
of charisma with crowds and so we were sort of expecting something here, a
jubilant return. But that wasn't the first reaction. It was much more serious
and grim and somber.
And he came into town, and the Poles were standing there and looking at him.
And they were very quiet. And he got up there and gave that first powerful
sermon, right there in the middle of Warsaw. Little by little, over the next
two or three days, the Poles discovered it's all right to cheer for him. It's
all right to cheer; we're not going to get mowed down if we cheer for him. And
that's the moment in my mind of real transformation. It's when those crowds saw
themselves as being a power that could not be denied. He brought them all out
but they then looked around and saw themselves. He provided a lot of the
intellectual leadership for it. And spoke fearlessly about what was wanted. But
they suddenly felt themselves becoming a cohesive polity that could have an
impact and be a force, and needn't live in any kind of fear in front of the
authorities. That was what was so remarkable.
By about the third day of that first trip, the cheering was much more
spontaneous and it began to break out everywhere. Because the Poles themselves
had begun to understand with this organization, through him and through all of
our national self-respect, that we can demonstrate in front of all these
cameras from around the world that are here, we are free. In their spirit,
already they were. It was an astonishing event in that way, politically,
because we journalists and our editors around the world didn't know exactly
where this was going but we knew it was new. We knew this was a major story,
and that the Communist leaders in Moscow must be wondering--"What in heaven's
name are we going to do about this?"
Ten years later, the wall fell.
One of the political dynamics that is set loose whenever the Pope goes on a
trip, and especially on those trips back to his native Poland as Pope, is that
he is demonstrating to his divisions--that is, his priests and bishops who live
there--how they can act because he is their role model if anybody is. If he
comes in and gathers a crowd, then speaks openly about the need for freedom and
human rights, I think the first, most immediate, effect that ultimately leads
to real political change on these trips, and it happened in other countries
too, in other dictatorships with this Pope, is that he is showing those priest
and bishops who are there--"After I leave, you can behave like this too. We're
all part of the same Church, the same organization."
And ultimately, what happened of course with his first two trips to Poland is
that he created Solidarity. He lit the spark that became a cohesive political
force. Whenever he would leave, the organization he left behind was working
furiously to get leaflets out, to get organizations going. Solidarity
blossomed after that first trip. The Poles had felt themselves as a national
unit. They saw those crowds, they saw each other, they saw themselves in those
crowds, and they knew that they now had power. And when the Pope left, the
priests and bishops who could now imitate him, knew how to continue organizing
them. So they could keep the pressure on. And that's the thing this Pope did.
He managed to lead them in keeping the pressure on. Sometimes stopping a little
bit, sometimes pushing very slowly, but never pullingback.
And after 10 years, ultimately, that pressure led to a change in thinking and a
change of tactic in Moscow itself and the Communist Party had to ask Solidarity
for negotiations. Ultimately, the wall fell in Berlin, but it was because of
this patient building of a political force through the unifying nature of his
religion that the Pope was able to get this all started, make it happen.
When the Pope first came in as Pope to Warsaw and into Victory Square, to that
first crowd that was standing there in silent awe, not knowing if it was going
to be safe for them to cheer even yet. And then heard this forceful speech in
which he stood there and they knew it was in front of the cameras from around
the world, because they could see all the cameras there, and said to them, "be
not afraid," "you have rights" in effect he was saying, don't worry, you have a
right to fight for this. You could, you could see the beginning of really
essential encouragement for what, 10 years later, was profound change.
Are there any other phrases that strike you from his speeches?
His remarkable first trip to Poland of course had many important speeches in
which he used phrases like "be not afraid," and the word freedom several times,
and talking about rights and human rights. That was absolutely critical, a
necessary part of what was to happen. But the image that I have in my mind is,
in the midst of these astonishing crowds that turned out everywhere, that
nobody could really comprehend at first, is this image of the Pope traveling
through all those crowds in his Popemobile, and always standing right next to
him, this, this gaunt figure, who was really unknown to those of us who'd never
covered Poland before, this dignified, quiet, tall, slender, elderly man,
always standing next to him. And after the first few days of getting over the
immediate hoopla of all of this event, we began to wonder among the
journalists, who is that guy? And we learned of course that this was the
Cardinal Primate of Poland, Stefan Wyszinski. And he was always there.
And I came to understand afterwards that what was happening was Wyszinski--who
knew that he was near the end of his life, who had fought a very tough battle
with the Communists for 30 years and more, who had managed to keep the
allegiance of the Polish people cohesive, so that the Soviets had to deal
through him, in effect for crowd control--this man now knew that he was about
to die. He was near the end of his life, and he'd suddenly been given an
answer to his biggest worry: "what will happen after I go? I have held this
Church and this nation together." Suddenly, his protégé becomes
the Pope and comes back.
So this image of Wyszinski moving around, always next to the new Pope, he's in
effect saying to the Poles: here's the man that'll take you to the next stage.
I've taken you through 30 years, we know that among the satellite countries
around Moscow, we have relatively more freedom than anybody else because we've
held together, I'll be leaving soon, now you've got the Pope himself, and he's
Polish, and he will take you to this next stage of fighting to recover Polish
independence. As it had happened in centuries before from other martyr-bishops,
and other religious leaders who have always been the center of holding together
Polish nationalism and independence. That's the most powerful image I have
really from those trips, aside from the crowds, the silent figure always moving
around with him.
In light of that, describe for me the powerful image of these two
Well, we know that after Wojtyla became Pope, the first big audience he held
was with all of the Poles who were in Rome. And there was so much excitement
that very few cameras were there. But there were one or two that caught this
scene, where, in front of all of the Poles who were visiting Rome, Cardinal
Wyszinski went up on the stage there in the audience hall to try and kneel down
in front of Karol Wojtyla and the new pope wouldn't have it. He said, "no, no,
no, no," picked him right up and they suddenly embraced and dissolved in tears.
And the whole room dissolved in tears because they knew there was this
astonishing success, this culmination of dreams of Polish self respect and
desires for independence.
Rome had been the place that Wojtyla had first come himself, immediately after
the Nazi occupation, to experience what freedom could be like. Two years as a
young seminarian in 1946 he came there. Rome was this place which for Poles
could be the place to see that liberation and independence is possible. And
here they all were together, the new Pope--the first non-Italian in 455
years--was Polish. Their Primate Cardinal who had led them so far through 30
years under the Communists was there in front of them, and there they were in
this city which, to them, symbolizes freedom. And they saw the young student,
the young protégé, refusing, on this very human ground, even
though it was proper for him now to kneel in front of the Pope, just refusing,
he said, "No, no." Flesh and blood comes first. Picked him up and they
embraced. I mean history sometimes doesn't need any words at all.
Can you briefly describe the scene of marshal law--the man in white meets
the man in dark glasses.
Cardinal Wyszinski gets cancer. He's dying. Solidarity has been born and
created. It's a vibrant and dangerous animal in Poland, and Moscow know it, and
the world knows it. And it's being run spiritually from the Vatican. And the
world knows it. I mean, after he became Pope, we know that suddenly there was
great increase in Radio Vatican Polish broadcasts. Everybody was wondering how
is this new Polish pope advising Lech Walesa and the Solidarity movement? It's
getting dangerous to Moscow, there's a lot of disturbance there, there could be
martial law that comes in, what's he going to do? What's the Pope going to
do...to guide this?
And then in the midst of that, suddenly, the Pope gets assassinated. He should
have died, it went right through him. Miraculously, it didn't kill him. There's
a very critical moment here for the political outcome. When, on a Wednesday
afternoon the Pope is shot, he goes into the hospital, nearly dies, they
couldn't get the ambulance started for five minutes and he...almost bled to
death by the time he got there, and for the next four days we began to realize
in Poland where things are getting very dangerous, the man who's held Poland
together, Cardinal Primate Wyszinski, is dying of cancer. The other moral
authority in Poland happens to be the Pope--and he seems to be on the edge of
death as well. They're saying he's going to get better, but is he?
So the Pope struggled to make sure that four days later at his regular Sunday
Angelus--everyday at noon he appears at his window and speaks-- he made sure
that his voice would be heard. We all gathered there in the square and over the
loudspeakers that they had arranged on a direct line from his hospital, we
heard this groggy voice of the Pope giving his regular Sunday blessing. And I
remember standing there and listening to it and thinking, 'he's got a strong
will, he's going to come out of this,' and realizing, however, that perhaps
utmost in the Pope's mind was wanting to make sure that Solidarity and that the
people in Poland could hear the voice, and know that he was alive, and know
that he was going to make it.
Because he knew that he was the moral authority in a way that controlled the
Solidarity movement, that kept insisting it remain non-violent. He knew that if
it did not remain non-violent it would give the Communists in Moscow an excuse
to take over and to come in with martial law. So it was absolutely critical to
John Paul, I believe, that he let them know as soon as he could, "I'm still
here. Your moral authority is still here. The guy that is telling you, we've
got to remain non-violent, is still here and I'm coming back."
Now, the next image I have in my mind after that, looking back on it all, is
one that we were told about. It's the last conversation between Wojtyla and
Wyszinski. I believe that the Pope was still in his hospital room, and
Wyszinski was right on the edge of death and there was a phone connection made
between them. And we've heard from the aides of both men that they were in
tears, and that they spoke with enormous, deep feeling and deep, deep
understanding of what was beginning to happen. Whatever the words were between
them on that occasion, when the mentor was dying and when he was saying
good-bye to the man he knew would be the hope for Polish freedom--whatever the
words were, Wyszinski would have heard a recovering Pope; he would have heard
that the man he had trained in how to deal with the Communists and the Soviets
was coming back, that he had survived, that he was now talking and vibrant and
full of ideas again. And so, he died with hope.
On the Pope's second trip to Poland, martial law had taken over. The Communists
had found an excuse to go in and take over with military force. And the Pope
went back. A lot of people, I remember, in America thought that he's betraying
his own cause. He's going to acknowledge this military regime. It's an old
trick of the Pope. He always will go in and acknowledge the existence of
whatever's in power, because he knows he has a transforming potential when he
So he goes back on the second trip and...there's martial law. That gaunt,
powerful figure of Wyszinski is gone and no longer beside him; the Pope's on
his own now. The world is wondering, what is he going to do? Is he going to
acknowledge this regime? And so we're all looking very closely when Jarulzelski
and the Pope come out for their first public formal meeting. They're both
standing not too far from each other in a room behind their separate
microphones. And the camera pans down and we realize that Jarulzelski's
standing there--I believe he had his dark shades on-- and his knees are
And we all searched for explanations--why are his knees trembling standing in
front of the Pope? We looked for explanations, such as well, there's a medical
condition or he's on some kind of medication, something like that. Ultimately,
he explained, no, it really was what it looked like: I was trembling in awe at
the responsibility and importance of this man in front of me. Jarulzelski
himself ultimately said those were the classic clichéd trembling knees
in front of something I knew was extremely powerful. The Pope had this kind of
authenticity of nationhood--if you will, of importance. So that even
Jarulzelski himself was put on notice that he was in front of the master. It
was a remarkable image...that we could barely believe ourselves, of the
centered, calm power of this man who had come back in, gotten back on the
horse, he'd been assassinated virtually successfully, but had recovered, and
now he'd come back in to continue the fight.
I'm sure he knew that Jarulzelski knew, that for a thousand years great
religious Catholic leaders had marshaled a sense of independence in Poland and
it was happening again. There was no question about it. Now, what's interesting
about that second trip, the West kept wondering because we didn't fully yet
understand the Pope's means of getting next to a dictator and transforming a
dictator, whether or not he wasn't caving in a bit. He seemed to be
acknowledging the regime. There was some talk about deals with the World Bank
that if this went off peacefully and there was no violence perhaps there might
be some kind of new loans to help Poland get out of its financial trouble. But
we couldn't be sure.
And then at the very end of this trip, another trip where there was enormous
crowds everywhere, as if to say, it wasn't just the excitement of the first
trip back to Poland, it wasn't an accident, we're still with this political
leader of ours, this religious-political leader of ours, the crowds are still
just as big, we're still just as jubilant. At the end of that trip, he met in
the southern mountains where he had grown up, Lech Walesa, the leader of
Solidarity. And the word came out immediately after that private visit where
they helicoptered up to meet each other from his closest aides and from aides
of Walesa, that the Pope had, in effect, said to Walesa, "Cool it for a bit,
don't go too far too fast." And there was a number of people--analysts and
pundits--who thought that the Pope has gone soft, he's betrayed his own cause,
he's giving in. But of course, that wasn't the case. What the Pope was doing
was basically saying to Walesa, we've got them, don't spoil it. This has got to
be slow and sure. We'll never withdraw, sometimes we'll slow down, we keep up
the pressure, but don't give the military powers in Moscow or in Warsaw any
excuse. This is a non-violent revolution.
When the Pope went to the United Nations in New York on the occasion of its
50th anniversary, he referred to "our non-violent revolution
of 1989." That's how he remembered it, that's the one adjective that he uses,
non-violent revolution of 1989. He's talking of course of the ten-year
revolution that ended in 1989, the year that the Soviet Union came apart. But
this non-violent theme was utmost in his mind; he knew that he was in the
tradition of Gandhi and Martin Luther King. And, in his mind, very much in the
tradition of Jesus, who specifically did not go the guerrilla route. These are
all of a piece for him. It's, in his mind, the same kind of religious-political
movement that insists on the inviolable dignity of every human, even your
enemies. Whatever else, no hitting, no violence.
Can you talk about the Pope and the media--the fact that he became Pope in
the year 1978, a year which was a turning point for the world media.
1978 was the year in the history of technology when the global village arrived.
Not only satellites, but videotape editing machines in the field.
That was the first year of the global village and it was the first year of this
papacy. John Paul II was the first superstar, if you will, of the global
village. Ironically, because he had been denied access to the media back in
Poland, he had developed a great skill at dealing with crowds in a very natural
way. The television camera reveals character, it just lets it shine through.
So suddenly when we had television cameras in a global village sense everywhere
in the world, we have this figure of world importance who had a great natural
charisma with crowds. It was a bit of fate for him that he was able to come in
at a time when he could project his image around the world as somebody who
insisted on this kind of unashamed sense of human dignity and, and the
religion as he sees it, of liberation. That had an enormous effect in his
battle against Moscow. In effect, in all those trips, he surrounded Moscow for
10 years--not only going to Poland, but going to many other dictatorships as
well and giving the same message to them. And those dictators in other places,
Brazil, and the Philippines, they too were unsettled by his visit. So, he knew
the reports of those trips were going to be filtering back into the Communist
world. He encircled Moscow politically through these religious trips that he
knew were conveyed across the global television network...
Can you talk about the Pope's religious-political strategy.
What happened is, John Paul applied this religious-political strategy that had
been developed by Wyszinski in Poland to the world. After he became Pope he
went on these trips, many of them to dictatorships, he would talk his way in,
in effect, by saying to the dictator, "Look, let me come in, I'll acknowledge
your regime, you can stand next to me and get some of my stardust, but I will
preach human rights, I'll preach non-violence, and you'll like that, but I'll
preach human rights and it'll give you a chance to make some of those reforms
you say you want to make."
And so, always tempted by the promise of having their regime acknowledged,
these dictators accepted his visits and time and again, it proved a mistake for
them. He went to Brazil where a military government was in power. And
the Pope went into this enormous stadium with a hundred thousand workers and
said, "You were right to hold those illegal demonstrations, and your illegal
trade unions, those are your rights." He also preached non-violence, and he
also acknowledgedBrazil's leader,Figueiredo, and met
with him in a very polite way.
He went...to Chile where there was a dictator, and...some violence broke out
and he spoke strongly against violence there, which had enormous overtones in
that country. He went to the Philippines and again the dictator was sucked in
by the same temptation and he appeared with the Pope on a stage in front of
these enormous crowds that the Pope was attracting in the Philippines, and
said, "Holy Father, now that you're here, we will mend our ways."
But already the wedge was in the door, and this idea of encouraging the mass of
people in their desire for human rights, the individual dignity of every
person, which is the central theme of this Pope in everything he teaches,
always came across, the dictator sooner or later fell, and on that trip to the
Philippines, for that matter, the Pope was doing something symbolic; he was
literally surrounding the Soviet Union when he flew, I remember, from Rome to
the Philippines where there was enormous crowds for a whole week, demonstrating
again his political power if you will. We then went to Japan where he visited
Hiroshima, and the quickest way home from Japan was across the North Pole. He
literally went right around the Soviet Union. In effect, that's what he did
for the 10 years in which Solidarity was building. The Pope kept going out
around the world, to places often where there was dictators in power, and
giving the same messages there, with great success, that he was giving in
Poland. So he was surrounding the Soviet Union in a spiritual and an
ideological way as well. It had an enormous political effect.
This pope is an extraordinary media spokesperson. How does the pope work
his magic with the public?
He enjoys himself. He likes people. Every time he gets with people he gets
energized. We who covered him know this personally because we had a great deal
of immediate, personal conversation with him. He's the first pope in history
who ever gave press conferences, but there's only one place he does it, at
35,000 feet. And the longer the trip to a country, the more likely he...is to
get bored and come to the back end of the plane. He would literally walk down
one aisle, up these wide-bodied jets we were often traveling on, there were
sixty or seventy journalists from all around the world at the back end of the
plane. And then up the other aisle.
We'd arrange ourselves in language groups, you know the French-speaking
journalists here, the Germans here, and over here the Italians, the
English-speaking. And he would, in these jostling airplanes, come up and we'd
all be standing in the aisles, the tape recorders rolling, the cameras in
everybody's faces, elbow to elbow, literally jostling shoulders with them, and
ask him any question we want. And what impressed us in general about his
personal style is, he really enjoyed that. Now, more than twenty years later,
he still enjoys it. And he's struggling with Parkinson's, and you can still see
him enjoying answering the unexpected question...
I asked him once--after about two years, I was hearing lots of complaints from
some of the old, more bureaucratic-minded people in the Vatican--I said to him
at 35,000 feet on one of these trips, "Holy Father, some people in the Vatican
think you're traveling too much." And he was sort of surprised, and a big
smile came across his face and he tapped me on the arm and said, "Yes, you're
right, I am, I agree, I am traveling too much." and he turned away. And then
he turned back and raised his finger with a wry smile and said, "But sometimes
it's necessary to do something of what is too much." And then he turned away
again. Now, that explains half of what happened, I think, in Poland. Because
he was saying sometimes you've got to be strong, and surprise people and be
courageous if you know what you're doing. And go out and do things.
But the point here is we knew personally--thosewho traveled with him--he liked
the unexpected question, he liked being tested. It was like one of those
speakers who enjoys the question period most because he believes in what he's
saying. Now, television has this ability to reveal character. It just does it.
Gloria Steinem said it once after one of the great presidential debates,
"television reveals character." The camera never blinks. He knows that. But he
didn't have to worry about it. He developed authenticity with crowds and people
in Poland because he was denied access to the media there. That's why he rose
in Poland. Whereas a media personality might have otherwise have risen there
if the Church in the '50s and '60s and '70s had been able to use the media. He
couldn't. So, he's a person who genuinely enjoys being tested and getting with
folks. At those Wednesday audiences where he meets with people from all around
the world, often you can tell that this is the happiest part of his day.
Did he do anything strange or surprising? Did he ever get angry in your
conversations in the plane?
Our...conversations with him in the plane covered every single subject you can
imagine. He would sometimes get serious, sometimes get very intellectual,
sometimes get kind of whimsical and joke with us. He enjoyed adapting to each
of these different questions from each of these different national groups of
journalists...I never saw him lose it in any of those conversations, but he
could get very intense and piercing with his eyes when he felt something very
strongly or he was referring to something down on the ground that he knew was a
problem he didn't like. And Latin America had one of those problems for him.
On some of our first trips into Latin America with him to Brazil, to Central
America, the big question at the time was about liberation theology--these
Marxist-aligned groups that were building up within the Catholic Church in
Latin America. We asked him on some of those trips flying into these
countries--what about liberation theology? And he'd get very stern, and he
would say, "It depends on whose liberation theology. If we're
talking about the liberation theology of Christ, not Marx, I'm very much for
it." And he taught us about the fact that, in effect, liberation theology was
something that he had learned from Wyszinski and that they all felt was theirs,
not the Communists. They had used it in their mind, and were using it in their
mind to defeat the Communists. So he was very concerned when flying into Latin
America on those early trips to separate the liberation theology movements in
Latin America from anything that was Marxist, or specifically aligned with any
That's why he made a big point when he became Pope of asking Father Dryden, the
American priest, to leave the government. Because he knew the moral authority
for political change that he would have depended on should not be aligned with
any other political entity. It had to be only the Jesus Party, if you will.
The Catholic Church. He knew that he was going to make a big political
difference. He'd been doing it for thirty years in Poland. And he wanted to
make sure that he had all his troops with him, and not with any other
Tell me about one of the most dramatic moments that reveals the passion of
the Pope in relation to liberation theology.
When the Pope went to Central America, for example, he knew that he had to
carry this liberation spirituality in his own performance in a way that would
be very convincing in Central America. Because he was very worried about the
Marxist shift in liberation theology there, that had been developing for some
decades...He expressed it unambiguously when he got on the ground in Latin
America. In Nicaragua, where the priest Ernesto Cardenal was a member of the
government, the Pope publicly, in front of the world, admonished him with both
fingers. He said, like this, "you must leave the government. You must make
yourself right with the church. You must follow the way we're doing things,
not the Marxist way," in effect, was what he was saying. We saw Ernesto
Cardenal nodding, "yes, yes, yes, Holy Father, yes."
He was visibly angry, because he wanted to make the point that liberation
theology was his, not the Communists. It was something that he and Wyszinski
had developed in Poland. And their success, and his success in Poland already
is something he knew could help give moral authority and credibility to his
desire to do it in Latin America--because he was coming in effect from his
triumphal visits to Poland into Latin America, saying, "I am dealing with the
Communists over there, I'm going to deal with them here in Latin America."
Liberation theology is something that was originally invented by Christ--that
was the line that Wyszinski had developed, this way of emphasizing what the
Christian message is about. Christ was for the poor and the oppressed in a way
that Marx can never be. And it's something that we're doing in Poland, we're
doing it over there in the Communist world, we're going to do it here. And he
fought very hard to send this message, which he sent successfully, that the
Church in Latin America will detach itself from the Marxist movement.
This Pope had to be aware that the Church had been aligned traditionally
with the most corrupt part of the hierarchy in Central and South
John Paul was profoundly aware of the history of corruption of the Catholic
Church in Latin America--of the number of centuries and countries in which the
head of the Church and the head of the government had been together and that it
had not served the causes of human rights. So he knew he had a double task
here. He had to build something new. He was not in any sense trying to build
something that was going to go back to the old style of alignment with the
government there. At the same time, he was really worried that he had to fight
communism there as well as back in Poland. And so he insisted on this.
We didn't know where he was going to go from there and it ultimately turned out
to be one of the less politically successful parts of this pontificate. Because
twenty years later, the advisors in the Vatican were talking about the fact
that there was too much of a separation from the popular movements in Latin
America and that perhaps some of the communist-based communities in Brazil
became so disillusioned so quickly with the Catholic Church that they may have
been more vulnerable as the Vatican sees it to conversion by some of the
Protestant movements which are winning so many people away. In other words, his
liberation theology from that point of view didn't have as much success in
Latin America as it did in the Communist world where it was invented.
Do you think he painted too broad of a brush of the Marxist red tag on these
History will be the ultimate judge of this but it does seem to be that he may
have had too simplistic an understanding of just how communist, how Marxist,
some of these liberation theology movements in Latin America were. It may be a
little bit early to tell whether that really was the case, but he may have been
a little bit less subtle in dealing with how to separate the Catholic Church
from communism and Marxism in Latin America than he was in Poland. He didn't
have the same cultural access or understanding there. He had to work through
the priests there. It was the same general campaign, but it wasn't as
successful. He lost more people in the process there than he did in Poland.
Did you ever hear him acknowledge this alignment of the Church with the rich
and powerful hierarchy of these Latin American countries?
The conversations we had with him on some of those long trips revealed to us
that, not surprisingly, he was intimately aware of the troubled history of the
Church in Latin America. And he would talk to us about the delicacy of doing
what he was trying to do there, of trying to change courses in mid-stream, if
you will--going from one kind of liberation theology to another kind of
He was unambiguous about the fact that he wanted Latin America to have
liberation theology. He didn't want it, in any sense, to go back to what was
inferred in his conversations, the old way of close relations between some of
the regimes and the Church that had existed earlier in the century. He wanted
liberation theology but he knew he had a difficult job here to do this
adjustment--to keep the theology and change the name on the liberation tag. And
perhaps twenty years later...it's clear that he didn't succeed as well in Latin
America as he did in Europe.
What does politics mean to this Pope?
His first trip three months after he was elected Pope, the trip to Mexico, was
a political earthquake. The leaders around the world must have sat bolt-upright
when they saw two things happen: he lands in Mexico and immediately there are
these enormous crowds far greater than any political leader could ever dream
of pulling out. I believe it was said the largest ever assembled on earth--5
million people one day when he went to the Shrine of Guadalupe in Mexico
So first of all, there's that political clout that he demonstrates right out
of the box--I got people jubilant, they're going to be inclined to listen to
what I say. And then he went to Pueblo Mexico to meet with all the bishops from
Latin America and he delivered a speech to them in which he said unambiguously
"politics is the Church's business when it involves how people treat people.
Let's not pretend that's not politics," he was saying, "it is." Human rights,
human dignity, there is, he reminded everybody who hadn't been paying any
attention, a long history of Catholic social teaching: we will not shrink back
from this arena of activity. And the combination of these two things: these
crowds and that message, I mean, you could almost hear the leaders in Moscow
and other dictatorships around the world sitting up and saying, "My goodness,
this is going to be something to contend with."
Politics is at the center of what John Paul understands the nature of his
religion and faith to be about. He talks in his sermons about how Jesus dealt
with occupying armies of Rome. And the questions that were troubling everybody
because of the occupying armies of Rome in the Middle East two thousand years
ago. The parallels are obvious. He is going into other places where people are
suffering oppression and dictatorships from the outside. He talks explicitly
and openly about this. So there's this unambiguous, unashamed declaration of
what we're going to be about, right at the beginning of his papacy. He lived up
How do you see and understand the Pope's devotion to the Virgin Mary? What
does she mean to him? How does he express it?
I'm not a Catholic. It's hard for me to understand the cult of Mary. The letter
"M" is on his personal shield. His emblem as Pope he chose the letter "M."
'Totus tuos" is what he chose as his motto, "all for you Mary." He was
signaling to the world that as Pope, Mary was extremely important to him; his
symbol, his emblem. When he was so successfully shot and he should have died,
it took them five minutes to get the ambulance started and he almost bled to
death, and he knows he should have died, he said afterwards, "I believe this
was a blessing from the Virgin Mary" who kept him alive. He had a mosaic of
Mary placed high on the outside wall of the Vatican, right there above the
place where he was shot in St. Peter's Square. And so, he's been telling the
world that she means an enormous amount to him. He went after he recovered from
that assassination to Portugal at the shrine of Fatima to take the bullet that
should have killed him and put it in the crown of the Virgin Mary there at
Fatima. So he's sending this signal.
Now this doesn't dominate his travels. When we go on trips with him we don't
go from Marian shrine to Marian shrine. Nonetheless, they do keep happening.
We know that she's very real to him, that just as with Christ, he believes also
Mary intervened in history. There's a great deal of, I think, intellectual
excitement and interest that he gets by contemplating the relationship between
Mary and Christ and the disciples. I mean, to him, perhaps in a way that's not
so true for people in America who are separated by an ocean and another
continent from the Middle East, the Jesus story is a very real, flesh-and-blood
story. In the early Christians, the travels of Mary and the surviving disciples
afterwards are very real, flesh-and-blood stories that happened in countries
neighboring Poland in effect, just slightly to the South. So, he sees her as an
integral part of the young, early Church. He reads those parts of the Bible
which give hints that she was with them in the continuation of Christianity as
it was beginning to take hold, and taking its message of rising above the
violence of the flesh and blood of life into something transcendent. He knows
that she's parT of that.
As a non-Catholic, it's hard for me to understand it in this visceral way. And
obviously when you travel through Poland with him, you see that Mary is a very
central part of Catholicism, and of getting a sort of touchstone on real life
in the religion. More than that, I don't know. It's a bit of a mystery to
What was the geo-political purpose of the Pope's visit to Cuba?
The Cuba trip was classic John Paul. He was going to a Communist dictator, the
last Communist dictator really on the planet now. And he had a special kind of
mission there. He understood that Castro, and Washington also, had a community
of interest. Nobody wanted to see violence erupt in Cuba after Fidel Castro
eventually leaves. Fidel Castro didn't want violence to come and upset whatever
gains he sees his revolution having made. There was this militant complaint
from Miami that threatened to unsettle Cuba as well. So once again, in Cuba,
John Paul arrives, he acknowledges the regime...much that the Pope teaches
about human justice and social dignity are in line with what Fidel Castro
teaches. And the Pope was allowed by Castro to work his way through Cuba to
begin to enliven the Church again as he and Wyszinski had done in Poland to win
a few more little freedoms, little by little, slow, steady change is best, as
John Paul believes, and it began to work.
Even though the world, by coincidence, was completely distracted--at least
America was--by the Monica Lewinsky scandal, which broke out just as John Paul
arrived in Cuba, it didn't make any difference. The trip came off according to
plan. It built, the crowds were more and more enthusiastic as he went, until
finally at the end of that week, with Fidel Castro present, there in the square
in Havana, the crowds were cheering and there was this great sense of community
and solidarity, and Fidel Castro was approving. Fidel Castro, himself, had been
educated by Jesuit priests, he was beginning to talk to them again. Moreover,
there's a great community of interest between this Pope and Fidel Castro when
it comes to--'what kind of Church should exist in Cuba?' Castro has always
made a point of saying that when he first took power, the vast majority of
priests whom he kicked out were not really Cuban, they were Spanish. When he
was a bishop back in Poland, Wojtyla was famous for saying every national
Church has to live its own national life. So Castro knew there was this great
self-respect for national identity and non-violence in this Pope.
We heard from his close aides that soon after he got back to Rome after the
Cuba trip, the Pope was elated. It had come off just as he had wanted. He had
planted the seeds similar to what he had done in Poland that would begin to see
slow, steady change, little by little, winning more freedom for the Church, so
he hoped, in Cuba. And indeed, the following Christmas, for the first time,
Castro allowed Christmas again. The Pope knows this game, he knows it has to go
slowly. He knows that what he's after is a change of mind and heart in the
dictator. But he believes he's got the wedge in the door again there,
and that it's beginning to work. John Paul II believes that the old Wyszinski
formula is also now working in Cuba.
Critics of the pope describe the Castro visit as his way of doing it right
this time when he didn't do it completely right with Liberation
That's true. When he finally went to Cuba, it was after all not only to a
Communist dictatorship, but also back to Latin America where his efforts to
win liberation theology away from the Marxists, for the Church, had not been so
successful perhaps in his earlier pontificate. Now, he had the chance to come
back in and speak again to Latin America from a Communist dictatorship again,
and readjust his version of liberation theology for Latin America. He was still
trying for that next goal, to get that one right, because he knew he hadn't
quite done it convincingly in Latin America. He'd lost more followers there
than he had in Poland. And so I think that that was also part of what was
animating him as a new challenge.
And this is certainly a pope who loves his challenges. When he went back to
Cuba he was helping Castro possibly lay the foundation for a new kind of
freedom for the Church, a new kind of post-Castro Cuba that might not be so
violent, that might preach non-violence. But also sending a signal to all of
Latin America--"Look, I have a lot in common in my social teachings with some
of the ideals of Castro, in trying to bring about equality to the oppressed."
So he was perhaps trying to readjust what he hadn't done so well on his earlier
trips to Latin America.
Was there any scene that you saw personally where the Pope was moved beyond
words? That shows the passion for the Virgin Mary?
Of course there was the shrine of Guadalupe in Mexico City, his first trip
abroad where he brought out the largest crowd ever assembled on earth-- about 5
million people--to the Shrine of Our Virgin at Guadalupe. And there were
several other Marian shrines. But if we want to understand this visceral
feeling for this woman who entered history 2000 years ago, you go to Jasna
Gora, the Black Madonna, this is the centerpiece, without words, just being, of
Polish nationalism. She's the most holy relic in Poland.
He knows that he is in the line of great religious leaders who will win yet
again the freedom of the Polish people, and at the center of that is the great
redoubt of the monastery fortress of Jasna Gora, where he went immediately on
each of his trips with the most emotional crowds--and in the middle of that is
the Black Madonna. She's central to his iconography, I think, perhaps more than
any other thing, other than Christ on the cross. This Black Madonna. The
symbolism for him not just of pure human love, of the only person born with
Immaculate Conception--but of immaculate nationhood, the dream of immaculate
nationhood. They would take her out at these holy processions. She's at the
center of his political march from the beginning.
I'll tell you something interesting here. I can't say that I've ever seen him
be more moved in front of the Virgin Mary than he was in front of any other
saint or any other crowd...There's such an equanimity, such equilibrium in him,
of his religious intensity, that you don't see in his moments when suddenly
he's obviously very moved. That's a very interesting thing about his
personality. Other religious leaders or political leaders we notice sometimes,
"oh my goodness, now he's really moved." This pope's always in control, and it
may be that he's always in control in a state of ecstasy for all I know.
But...there's an equilibrium to it.
It's an interesting question, because when I think back on it, he was obviously
moved when he prayed at Auschwitz. He's obviously moved when he's talking to
the Virgin Mary. But he's always very centered and controlled. He's very
conscious of his person as a walking symbol of whatever his cause is. He's
always very conscious of that; it makes you conscious of it.
I've never seen him lose control except a little bit in joy with some crowds.
When he first got elected, we were amazed he was so happy about it all, he was
remarkably unashamed. We'd been accustomed to those long years of the Paul VI
pontificate that came across as a kind of anguished intellectual, sort of
shrinking back. We learned that he'd worn a harrish shirt; self-effacing and
struggling at being self-effacing. John Paul suddenly got elected. John Paul
II. And he came out, and he was literally, in some of those first audiences,
throwing babies in the air and beaming at people, and saying, "I'm the Pope,
you're the Catholic, let's have fun, let's do this." There was this very
unapologetic nature that was so new in those years. And except for that kind
of...early on...expression of exuberance and happiness, I've never seen him
lose control. He's always...very much the teacher this way. Even...when he's
with kids, in these enormous youth gatherings, I once heard somebody say that
the difference between a really good movie actor and a movie star is that movie
stars always have something about them you can see where they're holding
something back. They're observing themselves. They seem to be full of
self-control. John Paul has that quite visibly even when he goes into these
stadiums full of jubilant, screaming, yelling youth. He's not like a rock
star, getting loose with them. He's a very controlled figure, he moves around
amongst them, he knows that it is his symbolis...|
After about three or four years of this, always traveling in the van right
behind him, right in front of him on these trips through these enormous crowds,
we never saw anything of the countries we visited but we saw everybody who
lived there it seemed, and I asked him, "Holy Father, how does it make you feel
as a person to have these millions of people cheering for you, they're looking
at you. Does it go to your head, does it make you vain? How'd it make you
He loves these unexpected questions. He cocks his head to one side and says,
"Hmmm, well you know I don't think they're cheering for myself," in that
peculiar John Paul English. "I don't think they're cheering for myself, I think
they're cheering for Peter, the papacy, for the symbol of what I stand for.
That's why they're cheering." It...seemed an authentic answer, he does believe
that. And I think he has a very conscious sense developed in Poland in years as
a public figure. That it's his job to remain disciplined in the midst of the
jubilation so the jubilation can happen. He provides the core, the center of
Tell me about the question David Willy asked the Pope.
On one of these long trips, the Pope got bored and came to the back-end of the
plane and spent a long time with us. He got around to our little
English-language group of journalists, cameras rolling, and David Willey of the
BBC asked him, we were all just standing tight close together, nose to nose,
and he said, "Holy Father, you know that there's going to be millions and
millions of children born every year in this world...who are bound to die young
and who will live lives of depravity because of the lack of material wealth in
the world. How in Heaven's name, in a world like this, can you object to
artificial birth control?"
And the Pope looked him in the eye and said, "The answer is, as it always was,
responsible parenthood." And David Willey, not to be out-done, shot right back
at the Pope and said, "Yes, but what's responsible parenthood?" And the Pope
shot right back at him, "You know." And David didn't quite know what to say,
his smile was gone. He was just insisting on his position there. Artificial
birth control is perhaps the single most controversial position this Pope
holds. The...Catholic hierarchy, bishops and priests and cardinals in America
have delivered the Pope a thunderous silence on this subject. Not on abortion.
They'll say on abortion..."You're right," most of them will say, but on birth
control, he has brought very few people with him.
Many of the most conservative church leaders I know will talk off the record
and say, "You look back at the documents of Vatican II and it's already clear
that his ban on artificial birth control doesn't fit. It's wrong, it makes a
mistake. This is the most puzzling thing to me, and as recent research has
uncovered, it seems that it was the research done in Poland by Cardinal
Wojtyla, the future John Paul II, which most influenced Paul VI to come out
against artificial birth control in the1968. So that in upholding Paul VI now
in Humanae Vitae, John Paul is basically upholding what his own study group had
figured out in the first place.
"The Responsible Parenthood" response. What does it mean?
...As I understand it, he's referring back to a basic tenant of Catholicism
that what Catholicism teaches about moral action, certainly in interpersonal
relationships, are things that are written on our heart already and that we
know instinctively--if we don't get clouded--are right.
He seems to be arguing there, that if humans really listen to themselves about
personal dignity, bodily dignity, and natural chastity, that you would reject,
he believes, artificial intervention in what is taught by the Catholics to be
arguably the most grace-giving thing a husband and wife can do...Protestants
like myself are fascinated to learn when we begin to learn about Catholicism
that the history of it is really relatively pro-sexuality. That Catholicism's
argument with the world's attitude towards sex, is not that it makes too much
of it, but that it makes to little of it, and it treats it too loosely. I think
that's the line that John Paul seems to be trying to take when he says, "If you
listen to yourself, you will find a voice within that tells you that there's
something wrong in the nature of artificial birth control."
I haven't made much intellectual headway beyond that in trying to understand
what his argument is. But I do know that that one position of his is the one
which the vast majority of even conservative church leaders don't go along with
him on. In marriage, the idea that every single act has to be open to the
possibility of procreation, they tell me, off the record, they cannot find any
theological basis for it. It's an interesting thing to discuss.
Could we return to your memories of those plane trips with the Pope over
many years. Can you recall some more moments or conversations during those
trips which are revelatory about his character or personality?
These little conversations we had with him on the plane often stuck in my mind
afterwards as revealing in very short form, almost haiku form, something about
his nature. Because they were immediate, unrehearsed. We asked him everything
we could think of asking. After four or five years it seemed we'd run out of
questions. He would spend so long with us, we'd come back to our home offices
and sometimes be amused at seeing the big famous anchor people trying to figure
out how to be the first to get a sit-down interview with the Pope. We'd sort
of scratch our heads and say, "Why bother?" We've been talking to him at length
on the plane for a long time, always in this unrehearsed way, and he loves
tough questions, he loves them the most.
So, he told me on one occasion that it was sometimes necessary to do something
of what is too much--travel too much. That's half of what he did in Poland. He
was out in front of everybody, he was declaring that "I know what I'm doing,
you gotta follow me." The other half of what he did was, I thought, sometimes
indicated by another answer he gave us. On the fifth or sixth year we were in
our little group, and there was somebody who was new on the plane who'd not
covered him before, who asked a question. He said, "Holy Father, you already
spoke about nine languages quite fluently when you became Pope, and since
becoming Pope you've learned two more. "How, in Heaven's name have you been
able to learn two more languages since becoming Pope?" And he cocked his head
to one side and he said, "Well, you know, whenever I set out to learn a
language I think to myself, 'I'm not going to get all of it, but I'll get some
And to me, that is very much Wojtyla. It speaks of the patience of knowing
you cannot get everything, but you've got to try. That was very much the spirit
of what he did in Poland. He did something of what is too much--he's not going
to get all of it, or at least get all of it right away, but he'll get some of
it. It's a nice little window into the essentially pragmatic nature of this
This is the other thing I wanted to mention...He's very down-to-earth. For him
there's no difference between a spiritualistic world of religion up here and
the flesh and blood, down-to-earth world of cause and effect and science down
here. This Pope loves science, he's got an inquiring mind. He has a group of
scientists from around the world that he calls in every year. He's very much
aware of theories of relativity and the Big Bang, and what science is doing in
His Vatican recently named "2001: A SpaceOdyssey" as one of the
most important movies of all time. We know that he sees no division between
what science is saying and what his religion is saying. He often uses the quote
from Jesus, "The truth will make you free," or, "It's the truth that makes us
free." And...this is sort of the third corner of the triangle, if you
will--between his faith, his politics, and his science. They're all in the same
world. The political story surrounding Jesus is very real to him. The ideas of
trans-substantiation, of afterlife being mysterious, of how they might be
illuminated by the theories of relativity, of what modern science is doing to
figure out the mechanics of the Big Bang, of what Darwinian science is telling
us about how our bodies evolved.
I've heard him give talks in which it's quite clear that these things do not
threaten him in any way. He doesn't see any division here. One of the first
sermons he gave after he was elected, at the Wednesday audiences, was about the
book of Genesis. And he said very explicitly, "The Book of Genesis is a
metaphor." The word Adam doesn't mean male. It meant human. And then God, as
we developed, decided to divide the human into two halves, because the only
creature who could really feel the pain, the abyss of meaninglessness, was
Adam. And so he had pity and so he divided us into two so that man and woman
could comfort each other. But it's a metaphor he went on to emphasize.
He made it very clear to followers that you don't have to take a literalistic
view of the Book of Genesis. He's unambiguous about that. He's quite excited by
the findings of science and enjoys finding ways in which what the Bible has
written and what his religion has taught are metaphorical variations, if you
will, on what science is learning more and more about the details of.
Can you address the American/Vatican connection? There are those stories
about how there was a signficant alliance between the Pope and the Reagan
From the beginning, I believe that the Pope's spirituality was the same thing
as his politics--his understanding of how you revive your spirit in the midst
of oppression, in the midst of political disaster. Krakow in World War II with
the Nazis and the Holocaust all around him. And later, when he was putting
together Solidarity. I was much involved with the coverage from the beginning
of all of that. He was often talking to people at the American embassy to the
Vatican who were themselves always talking to the Pope. And we were aware that
they were interpreting to Washington constantly what the Pope was doing. But I
think that even if the U.S. hadn't existed, and the CIA hadn't existed, trying
to interpret what he was doing--the Pope would still have been doing the same
kind of thing in Poland. There have been some interpretations which say that it
was really an intense alliance between Reagan and the Pope, figuring out how to
collude together to overthrow the Communists in Poland. That doesn't feel right
to me at all.
Of course the Pope's a realist and he was aware what the balancing powers in
the world were, and he was certainly interested that Washington should
understand what he was doing. But he was out in front of everybody. He often
as well left it up to Washington to figure out what he was doing.
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