Solzhenitsyn on the election of Wojtyla as Pope

Professor Mahoney put me on to some passages in the new book by George Weigel, The End and the Beginning. When Cardinal Wojtyla was named Pope, Solzhenitsyn

was convinced that something important had happened. When the news of Wojtyla’s election reached the Nobel laureate in his exile in Cavendish, Vermont, he threw out his arms and exclaimed, “It’s a miracle! It’s the first positive event since World War I and it’s going to change the face of the world!” Solzhenitsyn, who admired Stefan Wyszynski, did not know Karol Wojtyla personally, but he knew what his election meant: the Catholic resistance to communism would be rooted in religious conviction and expressed through the instruments and symbols of culture, which Solzhenitsyn believed were the strongest and most effective weapons available. (101)

An Italian journalist has previously said Moscow “would prefer Alexandr Solzhenitsyn as Secretary-General of the United Nations than a Pole as pope.” (100-101)

The KGB reported as follows: “Wojtyla holds extreme anti-communist views. Without openly opposing the Socialist system, he has criticized the way the state agencies of the Polish People’s Republic have functioned, making the following accusations: basic human rights of Polish citizens are restricted; that there is an unacceptable exploitation of the workers, whom “the Catholic church must protect against the worker’s government;” that the activities of the Catholic Church are restricted and CAtholics treated as second class citizens; that an extensive campaign is being conducted to convert society to atheism and impose an alien ideology on the people; that the Catholic Church is denied its proper cultural role; thereby depriving Polish culture of its national treasures.” (100)

I have shared with my friends an anecdote about Cardinal Wojtyla’s visit to the Catholic university of America in 1976. He impressed us all with his intelligence, humor, and humanity. A fellow graduate student said — “that man ought to be Pope.” I said, “are you crazy, he is Polish and he is a philosopher.” The Holy Spirit knew better. Now we know. He was named Pope BECAUSE he was Polish and a philosopher. As a Pole, he confronted communism from within the soviet system on the grounds of the Church’s strengths — culture and popular support; as a philosopher, he understood precisely the claims of the Marxist ideology and he could formulate a more authentic and humanistic account of work, solidarity, and justice..

  1. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Pope John Paul II are two of my spiritual and intellectual heroes. So far as I know they met only once, in 1993 or 1994, when Solzhenitsyn made a tour of Europe before he returned to Russia from exile in the West. He had an audience with the pope at the Vatican — I have a framed photograph of the two of them shaking hands. I would love to have been a fly on the wall for that conversation!

  2. If anyone knows whether there is a transcript available or an account of that meeting between Solzhenitsyn and John Paul II, please let me know.

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