Gorbachev and St. John Paul played a key role in ending the Cold War and enjoyed each other greatly


VATICAN CITY (CNS) – Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, who died August 30 in Moscow after a long illness, met St. John Paul II several times, and the two often exchanged words of appreciation. one for the other.

The two leaders met in 1989 and again in 1990, when Gorbachev was still president of the Soviet Union and was introducing political and economic reforms in his country, as well as on other occasions. Both men played key roles in the collapse of the Soviet Union and Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for his efforts.

Joaquin Navarro-Valls, who served as the papal spokesman for Saint John Paul II and often reported on their meetings, later called Gorbachev the most important figure in the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the wall’s collapse in an article published Nov. 5, 2009, in Rome’s La Repubblica newspaper, Navarro-Valls cited Pope John Paul’s support for Poland’s Solidarity trade union as a key development in pro-democracy . movement in the region. But he said Gorbachev saw that the political movement in Eastern Europe was popular and unstoppable, and that the Soviet leader avoided military repression and even verbal opposition.

Navarro-Valls said that when Gorbachev first met Pope John Paul in December 1989, less than a month after the wall came down, the two leaders “immediately understood each other”.

Papal spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said that when Gorbachev first met Pope John Paul in December 1989, less than a month after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the two leaders “immediately understood”.

“Both clearly understood the direction the story had begun to take. Both believed that freedom was not a political fact but a human dimension that was essential and could not be suppressed,” Navarro-Valls said.

A transcript of that 1989 meeting showed that St. John Paul and Gorbachev expressed broad agreement on the need for greater religious freedom in the Soviet Union, a renewal of ethical and moral values, and improved Catholic-Orthodox relations.

The two leaders also agreed that at a time of turmoil in Eastern Europe, the region should not be expected to simply import Western stocks wholesale.

“It would be wrong to claim that changes in Europe and in the world must follow the Western model. It goes against my deep convictions,” the late pope said.

“Europe, as a participant in the history of the world, should breathe with two lungs,” the pope added, using one of his favorite metaphors for harmony between East and West on the continent.

“It’s a very appropriate picture,” Gorbachev replied.

After Saint John Paul’s death in 2005, Gorbachev called him “the number one humanist on the planet”.

Pope John Paul pressed Gorbachev on the possibility of the Vatican and the Soviet Union exchanging diplomatic representatives, which he said would help address religious freedom and other issues. Gorbachev responded positively, saying “we approve of such an approach” while warning against acting too quickly.

In the year following the papal hearing, Gorbachev acted on several issues raised by the pope: the Soviet Union enacted a law to protect religious freedom, allowed the Ukrainian Catholic Church to exit the underground and hosted a Vatican ambassador in Moscow.

After Saint John Paul’s death in 2005, Gorbachev called him “the number one humanist on the planet”.

Gorbachev, 91, served as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1985 to 1991 and Soviet President from 1990 to 1991. At its peak, the Soviet bloc included 15 countries in Central and Eastern Europe and, in most countries, Catholicism was suppressed.

The then Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, summed up what Gorbachev meant to the Church: “We are always ready for dialogue. What was missing was a partner. Now a partner exists.

But in 1988, Gorbachev hosted a high-level church delegation in Moscow for ceremonies commemorating the millennium of Christianity in the region. Early 1989 saw the restoration of the Lithuanian Catholic hierarchy, the return of Vilnius Cathedral, and the release of a Lithuanian archbishop from house arrest.

At that time, the then Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, summed up what Gorbachev meant to the Church: “We are always ready for dialogue. What was missing was a partner. Now a partner exists.

Under Gorbachev’s leadership, in 1990 the Soviet Union passed a religious freedom law that reversed decades of communist restrictions on churches, including those against religious instruction and freedom of association. He legalized the Ukrainian Catholic Church of 5 million members and restored some of its churches and other properties.

Several bishops were appointed in the Soviet republics without government interference. The government issued an invitation for a papal visit—which never took place—and political statements by Soviet officials indicated a growing recognition that religion was a cultural force.

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