On 13 May 1981, the memorial of Our Lady of Fatima, then Pope John Paul II was shot at point blank range in St Peter’s Square by Mehmet Ali Agca. The bullet that entered the Pope’s abdomen missed the main abdominal vein by 5 or 6 millimetres. If that vein had been severed, the Pope would have bled to death in 5 minutes. When another bullet hit the Pope’s finger, it was deflected so that it missed, hitting the Pope’s spinal cord and paralysing him from the waist down.
Two and a half years later, on 27 December 1983, Pope John Paul II visited Mehmet Ali Agca in his prison cell. The precise conversation between Mehmet Ali Agca and the Pope will never be known, though it is clear Pope John Paul forgave his would-be assassin. Pope John Paul II took seriously the urging of Jesus of Nazareth to forgiveness.
On the 2000 Great Jubilee, at Pope John Paul II’s request, the Italian Government announced an amnesty for the would-be assassin. Agca was taken from prison in Rome to a prison in Turkey for outstanding crimes committed in Turkey. Eventually, in 2010, Mehmet Ali Agca was released from his Turkish prison.
The liturgical memorial of St John Paul II on 22 October is an opportunity to consider forgiveness. Just living, we all experience various wrongs, injustices. Do we harbour up resentment, hatred that never goes away? or do we forgive?
George Weigel, papal biographer, has assembled evidence that supports a reasonable suspicion of communist support for Agca’s attempt to murder the Pope. Weigel does not prove communist involvement, merely establishes grounds for reasonable suspicion. Given what appears to be an attempt to distance the communist puppeteers from Agca, and to create false trails, the full story is unlikely ever to come out. What was at stake was the future of communism in Poland, indeed in Eastern Europe, yes, as later events demonstrated, in Russia itself.
Turning Back the Velvet Revolution
The Putin regime in Russia represents a continuation of that same tradition of autocracy, imperialism, disregard for law, and disregard for the human person, previously pursued by the Romanov dynasty, by Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin, by Boris Yeltsin. Despite the change of regime from the Romanovs to communism to post-communism, there is a fundamental continuity in Russian politics.
But Nikita Khruschev (yes indeed!) and Mikhail Gorbachev, despite everything, demonstrated a more humane, approach. The Russian contribution to culture in the writing of Alexander Pushkin, Nilolai Gogol, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn – and in the works of musical composers such as Borodin, Khachaturian, Mussorgsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Rimsky-Korsakov, Shostakovich, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky – is in the same humanist tradition.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine this year is an attempt to turn back the clock on the Velvet Revolution which began in Eastern Europe in 1989. The Velvet Revolution is itself a rejection of the 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact for the dismemberment of Poland, and subsequent Soviet imperialism in eastern Europe.
The Polish Pope John Paul II represented an existential threat to the communist empire. The assassination attempt did not deter Pope John Paul in his support for human freedom. The Velvet Revolution, beginning in 1989, encouraged by Pope John Paul II, saw communist tyranny in Eastern Europe come to an end, in a broadly peaceful fashion.
Fr John Lander
I lived in the Sydney suburb of Brighton-le-sands until I was seventeen. For some ten years I saw the then parish priest, Fr John Lander, several times a week. To my observation, Fr Lander was a holy priest who thought with the Church, and valued the Church’s culture. Fr Lander epitomised the Catholic tradition. Fr Lander was parish priest of Brighton from 1954 to 1991. The fabric of St Thomas More’s Brighton is very much due to Fr Lander, in particular, the parish church, blessed in 1964. Fr Lander died on 8 September 1993, having reluctantly retired two years previously.
Cardinal Gilroy had three sisters living in Brighton, and used to visit his two unmarried sisters, when he was able, each Sunday night. Fr Lander was a priest in the Gilroy tradition.
Chiselled into my mind is the reverence with which Fr Lander celebrated Mass, and the prudence with which he dealt with the affairs of the parish. I recall Fr Lander’s concern that the phone be answered day and night, so if there was some sick or dying person in need of the Last Rites, there would always be a priest available. Daily Masses were short for persons who had to get off to work–and at a time when workers could attend. Fr Lander was available 24/7 for the sick and dying, indeed for anyone who needed his help.
Close to Airport
Brighton is close to the Airport. On 15 February 1973 a person came to the presbytery (with a group of others) wanting to say Mass. Apparently, that person had just got off an international flight, taken a taxi, more or less randomly looking for the nearest Church to say Mass, the first thing he wanted to do after touch down in Australia. Fr Lander had previously the experience of unknown and undesirable persons, indeed shysters, turning up in Brighton, wanting to “say Mass”. Not everyone who claims to be a priest in good standing is what he claims. On Fr Lander’s account to me, Fr Lander took some convincing of the traveller’s bona fides. That traveller turned out to be Archbishop Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II! On Fr Lander’s account to me, and knowing Fr Lander, the request for permission to say Mass was considered cautiously. This incident bespeaks, both Fr Lander’s prudence, and Archbishop Wojtyla’s love for the Eucharist – and perhaps Archbishop Wojtyla’s humility!
One could not find two more different persons – the dinky-di Australian parish priest whose world was Sydney, especially Brighton-le-sands – and the much travelled multi-lingual Polish philosopher Cardinal, at home in the world of ideas, used to running up against communist apparatchiks, equally at home in Krakow and in Rome, a keen skier, kayaker and hiker, in his youth a poet and dramatist. Yet, what each had in common was his love for the Eucharist and the priesthood.
At least for Fr John Lander, this was no chance meeting, but the hand of God, reaffirming his priestly vocation.
Although, prior to his election as Pope, Cardinal Wojtyla was unknown to most Catholics outside Poland, his frequent travels before his election enabled Cardinal Wojtyla to form a number of friendships (for instance with the French theologian Henri de Lubac SJ) which became important to him as Pope.
Love and Responsibility
In 1960 Karol Wojtyla published in Polish, Love and Responsibility. Love and Responsibility is today a classic of Catholic literature. Had Wojtyla not been elected Pope in 1978, Love and Responsibility might never have come to international attention. Love and Responsibility may have gathered dust in its native Poland, a fate encouraged by the refusal of Polish communists to allow further editions. Love and Responsibility deserves a detailed commentary providing historical context and analysis. In writing Love and Responsibility, Wojtyla draws on his pastoral experience with young Poles, engaged and married couples, as well as his philosophical reading and reflection.
The best I can do here is provide an outline of portion of Chapter 1. According to Wojtyla:
Subject and Object
- Every subject also exists as an object, an objective ‘something’ or ‘somebody’.
- As an object, a man is ‘somebody’, and this sets him apart from every other entity in the visible world, which, as an object is always only ‘something.’
- The term “person” has been coined to signify that a man cannot be wholly contained within the concept “individual member of the species”. There is something more, a particular richness and perfection in the manner of his being, which can only be brought out by the use of word “person.”
- The most obvious and simplest reason for this is that man has the ability to reason, he is a rational being, which cannot be said of any other entity in the visible world.
- Only in persons do we find any trace of conceptual thinking.
- Speaking figuratively, we can say that the person as a subject is distinguished from even the most advanced animals by a specific inner self, an inner life, characteristic only of persons.
- In man, cognition and desire acquire a spiritual character and therefore assist in the formation of a genuine interior life, which does not happen with animals. Inner life means spiritual life. It revolves around truth and goodness.
- A person is an objective entity which has a definite subject, has close contact with the whole (external) world, and is intimately involved with the external world, precisely because of the person’s inwardness, his or her interior life.
- Man possesses the power of self-determination, based on reflection, and manifested in the fact that a man acts from choice. This power is called free will.
- The incommunicable, the inalienable, in a person, is intrinsic to that person’s inner self, to the person’s power of self-determination, free will. No one else can want for me.
- To use means to employ some object of action as a means to an end.
- In the nature of things, the means is subordinated to the end, and at the same time, subordinated to some extent to the agent.
- In his treatment of animals, since animals are beings endowed with feelings and sensitive to pain, the human person is required to ensure that the use of animals is never attended by suffering or physical torture.
- Is it permissible to regard a person as a means to an end and to use a person in that capacity?
- Does an employer use a worker? Does not an officer use a soldier under his command to obtain certain military ends, planned by himself, and sometimes known only to himself? Do not parents who alone know the ends for which they are rearing their children, regard them as means to ends of the parents’ choosing?
- Yet both the worker and the soldier are adults, and fully developed persons, while a child, even an unborn child, cannot be denied personality in its most objective ontological sense – although it is true it is yet to acquire, step-by-step, many of the traits which will make it psychologically and ethically a distinct personality.
- A person must not merely be the means to an end for another person. This is precluded by the very nature of personhood, by what a person is.
- Anyone who treats a person as a means to an end does violence to the very essence of the other. We must never treat a person as the means to an end. This principle has universal validity.
- God helps the human person to learn His supernatural end, but the decision to strive towards an end, the choice, is left to the human person’s free will. God does not redeem the human person against their will.
- A person, unlike all other objects of action, may not be a mere instrument. Whenever a person is the object of your activity, remember that you may not treat that person as only the means to an end, simply as an instrument, but allow for the fact that he or she, too, has, or at least should have, distinct personal ends. This principle is at the basis of all human freedom, properly understood, especially freedom of conscience.
- A human being cannot be solely or mainly an object to be used. The role of the blind tool, or a means to an end determined by a different subject, is contrary to the nature of the person.
- When two different people choose a common aim, this puts each on a footing of equality, and precludes the possibility that one of them might be subordinated to the other.
- The human person’s capacity for love depends on his willingness consciously to seek a good together with others, and to subordinate himself to that good, for the sake of others, or to others, for the sake of that good. Love is exclusively the portion of the human person.
Love and Responsibility established Wojtyla as an exponent of Polish personalism.
The Acting Person
In 1969 Wojtyla published The Acting Person. There is still no adequate translation of this work in English, the only available “translation” having significant flaws, and not being faithful to Wojtyla’s work. The Acting Person considers human acts phenomenologically in the context of an anthropology which takes into account both human subjectivity and objectivity. Where Aquinas focused on the objective, Wojtyla is equally concerned with human subjectivity – the unique and unrepeatable of each and every person, as it were, from within. Wojtyla’s concern with human subjectivity is a development of Catholic thought.
As Juan Manuel Burgos describes it, personalism is a twentieth century philosophical approach which embraces many different thinkers with quite different perspectives. Indeed, there are many different personalisms. In France the writers most associated with personalism include Jacques Maritain, Gabriel Marcel, Emmanuel Mounier, Maurice Nedoncelle. Personalism also has its exponents in Italy, Germany, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States. Personalism has roots in the thought of St John Henry Newman. In the United States, the principal exponent of personalism, in particular Karol Wojtyla’s personalism, is John Crosby of the University of Steubenville, Ohio.
Personalism is expressed in the Hebrew Bible, for instance in Genesis where it is said man (in the generic sense) is made in the image and likeness of God; and in the Gospels, in the second of the two commandments, echoing Leviticus, to love one’s neighbour as oneself, and in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
The Personalism of John Paul II
John Crosby has written a wonderful book, remarkable both for its brevity and its clarity, The Personalism of John Paul II, published in 2019. The Kantian influence is evident. Wojtyla studied the twentieth century phenomenology of Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), as well as the writings of Max Scheler (1874-1928). Wojtyla wrote his first doctorate in Rome under the Thomist Garrigou-Lagrange. His doctoral thesis involved the Spanish mystic, St John of the Cross. While Wojtyla’s intellectual formation was anchored in St Thomas Aquinas, he was familiar with early twentieth century European philosophy, and was able to glean the wheat from the chaff. The subtlety of all this came together in Pope John Paul II’s 1998 “philosophical” encyclical, Fides et Ratio: on the Relationship between Faith and Reason.
Karol Wojtyla is concerned with human selfhood. What is it to be a person? John Crosby highlights Wojtyla’s recognition that, in a sense, we create ourselves, we make ourselves the persons we are, by our choices, by our choosing.
We first experience ourselves in the intimate way of being present to ourselves, not from without, but from within, not as an object, but as a subject, not as something presented to us, but as a subject presented to itself. That is, we are possessed of interiority or subjectivity. What Wojtyla is not saying is that reality can be reduced to feelings and experience.
Persons are not roses. If a rose withers, one can replace one rose with another. But a particular person is unrepeatable, mysteriously that person, and no other. If that particular person ceases to be, he or she cannot be replaced. There is something ineffable, unrepeatable, about each and every person. If one is asked why one loves one spouse, one struggles to answer. One can only stutter “Because she is she, and I am I.” Thus, when one loses a parent, a child, a spouse, one suffers a loss which is unique, which cannot be replaced, which cannot be assuaged.
When one also speaks of employees as “human resources”, one closes one’s mind to the interiority, the subjectivity of this or that person – who has his or own aspirations and fears, his or her own goals, who makes his or her own choices – and who is someone’s child, someone’s spouse, someone’s parent – one closes one’s mind to the dignity of that person. Before God, each of us is unique, unrepeatable, not a mere instance of human nature, an item like millions of others. At best, we cherish each other unconditionally, our family and friends, for themselves, not simply for their usefulness.
When we make choices, we create ourselves. We are free. We are capable of freely choosing the good. We do not have to drink excessively; we can choose to be temperate. We can decide to make less money, or spend more time with our spouse, our children. As lawyers, we can choose, on occasion, to do less remunerative work, to help someone in need. We can choose not to engage in gossip. We can decide not to send our children to the “best” school, but to a school where they are more likely to develop human virtue. We can decide to drive a less expensive car, to give to those in need.
Freedom is always possible. For Wojtyla, freedom involves choosing the good, which may mean forsaking some immediate satisfaction.
Wojtyla proposes an important distinction between coercion and persuasion. As free and reasonable beings, we have the possibility of understanding that certain things are good for us, certain things are not good for us. As reasonable beings we must enter into dialogue with the best of human thought, to understand why we ought overcome our narcissism, our hubris, not to be the plaything of our desires. We need to move beyond our sensible desires, beyond our hubris, to the good. God wishes us to do and pursue the good, and, as rational beings, to understand what we are doing and pursuing. Karol Wojtyla proposes that we gently speak the truth to others, abstaining from coercion, appealing to the best in others.
As aside from human selfhood, Wojtyla is concerned with self-donation. Wojtyla sees human fulfilment as involving self-giving. As Pope John Paul II, he constantly refers to par 24 of the Second Vatican Council’s Gaudium et Spes:
Indeed, the Lord Jesus, when, He prayed to the Father, ‘that all may be one as we are one’, opened up vistas closed to human reason, for He implied a certain likeness between the union of the Divine Persons, and the unity of God’s sons in truth and charity. This likeness reveals that man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for himself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of self.
Second Vatican Council
Karol Wojtyla managed to attend all sessions of the Second Vatican Council. In 1972 Cardinal Wojtyla wrote Sources of Renewal as a way of promoting application of the Second Vatican Council in the Archdiocese of Krakow. The documents of the Second Vatican Council provide an interpretative key to the papacy of John Paul II. The relation between the teaching of Pope John Paul II and the teaching of the Second Vatican Council is seamless.
In his first and programmatic encyclical, Redemptor Hominis (1979), Pope John Paul takes up many themes which became recurring motifs of his pontificate. Redemptor Hominis opens with the words: “The Redeemer of man, Jesus Christ, is the centre of the universe and history.”
In some ways, Redemptor Hominis, is Pope John Paul II’s intellectual response to Karl Marx and Frederick Engel’s Manifesto of the Communist Party (1848), albeit 131 years later. Redemptor Hominis is a precursor of the Velvet Revolution (1989 – 1991), which ended communist tyranny in Eastern Europe, an ending which President Vladmir Putin regrets, and which he seeks to reverse in the Ukraine.
Pope John Paul II’s openness to others, his open-mindedness, is highlighted in Redemptor Hominis:
It is a noble thing to have a predisposition for understanding every person, analysing every system, and recognising what is right; this does not at all mean losing certitude about one’s own faith, or weakening the principles of morality, the lack of which will soon make itself felt in the life of whole societies, with deplorable consequences besides.
Chapters 2 and 3 of Redemptor Hominis are, in a sense, a summary of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate:
- The Redeemer of the world! In him has been revealed in a wonderful way the fundamental truth concerning creation to which the Book of Genesis gives witness when it repeats several times: “God saw that it was good.”
- Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, has become our reconciliation with the Father.
- The human person cannot live without love. He remains a being who is incomprehensible to himself, whose life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it, and make it is his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.
- The fundamental task of the Church to enable the union of Jesus, Son of God, with each person. The role of the Church is to enable everyone, each person, to find Christ; that Christ may walk with each person on the path of life.
- Jesus Christ is the way of the Church.
- The Church cannot abandon the human person, for his ‘destiny’, that is to say his election, calling, birth and death, salvation or perdition, is closely and unbreakably linked with Christ.
Second Vatican Council
- The Second Vatican Council did immense work to attain an understanding in the Church of the mystery of Christ, as the basis of the Church’s mission, and the mission of Christianity.
- All Christians must find what already unites them, even before the full communion is achieved.
Not Bound to Any Political System
- The Church must in no way be confused with the political community, nor bound to any political system. The Church is at once a sign, and a safeguard, of the transcendence of the human person.
Restatement of Catholic Position
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1992), and the Compendium of the Catechism of the Catholic Church(2005), in the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (2004), Pope John Paul II restated in accessible fashion the Catholic Church’s position on various issues. Prior to publication of these documents, it was often difficult for ordinary Catholics to know where the Church stood. Theologians, priests, even bishops, media personalities came up with conflicting answers which left the ordinary Catholic, confused as to where the Church stood. The vacuity of so much preaching is something Pope Francis has sought to address. No longer after publication of the Catholic Catechism, and of each Compendium! An authoritative answer in contemporary language is easily available to anyone who wants to know what the Church teaches.
Encyclopedia of Catholicism
Pope John Paul II’s encyclicals, apostolic exhortations, letters, and addresses, even his homilies, are an encyclopaedia of Catholicism, expressing what might be called a transcendental personalism. Pope John Paul II’s writings recognise that the appeal to truth, goodness and beauty addresses the deepest longings of the human heart. Pope John Paul II’s style is not to engage in polemics, but to admit the Church’s mistakes; to look for the deepest reasons; to enter into dialogue; to accentuate the positive; to discover truth wherever it may be found.
Voice of Christ
Pope John Paul II brought his personal history, his particular culture, his particular intellectual formation, his personality, to the papacy. But he exercised the Magisterium, the teaching authority of the Church, like any other pope, speaking as Peter, in the name of Christ. We should listen to Pope John II. Similarly, we should listen to Pope Francis, when Pope Francis exercises the Magisterium of the Church (not necessarily when he has a casual conversation with some journalist). We should listen to the Pope, whoever he may be, as we would listen to Christ. Hence, there is always a distinction to be made between what the Pope says in the exercise of the Magisterium, and what the Pope says, in a personal capacity, even as a theologian, or commentator on current affairs, or in some off the cuff remark. There is a continuity in the Magisterium, and that continuity enables one to understand what is said today in the light of what was said before, always allowing for development of understanding. There are those who interpret the teachings of the Church as a narrow political agenda of their own making, heedless of others, especially those most in need. This is not to understand the teaching of the Magisterium. Peter is appointed by Christ to challenge us, to broaden our horizons, so that we see things with the mind and heart of Christ, so that we view others, especially those who are most afflicted, with the mind and heart of Christ.
Why was Pope John Paul II canonised? Because he was the first Slavic pope ever? Because he was the first non-Italian pope for over 450 years? Because his papacy was only exceeded in length by that of St Peter, and by that of Pope Pius IX? Because of his work as a philosopher? Because of his intellectual brilliance? Because he brought communism in Eastern Europe to its knees in the Velvet Revolution? Because of his restatement and development of the Catholic position? Because of his contribution to the new evangelisation?
For none of the above! Pope John Paul II was canonised because he demonstrated heroic virtue; because of his constant prayer; because of his love of the Mass; because of his forgiveness of his would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Agca; because he devoted time and energy through his writing, his addresses, his personal encounters, his travels, to engage the world, and everyone in it, with Jesus of Nazareth; because of his fortitude in dealing with communists, both before he became Pope and after; because he exercised the human virtues of prudence, justice, fortitudeand temperance, and the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity in a heroic manner.
28 September 2022
|966||Kingdom of Poland became Christian.|
|1386||Alliance between Poland & Lithuania (inaugurates Polish “Golden Age”).|
|1569||Union of Lublin joined Poland & Lithuania in a single state.|
|1772-79||Successive partitions of Poland involving destruction of Polish state by Russia, Prussia & Austria.|
|1798||Polish poet and nationalist Adam Mickiewicz.|
|1863||Unsuccessful Polish revolt against Russia.|
|1914-18||First World War.|
|11 November 1918||Newly independent Poland reborn under Jozef Pilsudski, following release from German prison.|
|1920||Karol Wojtyla born in Wadowice, Poland.|
|16-17 August 1920||Red Army invasion repelled at “Miracle on Vistula”.|
|1929||Mother, Emilia, died.|
|1932||Older brother, Edmund, died.|
|1938||Wojtyla moved to Krakow to begin studies in Polish philology at Jagiellonian University.|
|1939||Unpublished volume of poetry, Renaissance Psalter.|
|23 August 1939||Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact involving partition of Poland by Germany & USSR.|
|1 September 1939||Germany invaded Poland, beginning World War II.|
|17 September 1939||Red Army invaded Poland.|
|November 1939||Wojtyla, now a labourer in a stone quarry linked to a chemical plant, began resistance activities.|
|1940||Katyn massacre of Polish leaders by Soviet forces.|
|1941||Father, Karol, died.|
|1942||Wojtyla accepted into clandestine seminary.|
|1945||Wojtyla’s name first appeared in communist secret police records.|
|February 1945||Yalta Conference involved partition of Europe.|
|1 November 1946||Wojtyla ordained priest and shortly thereafter left for doctoral studies in Rome.|
|17 January 1947||“Election” confirmed communist control of Poland.|
|1948||Return from Rome.|
|17 March 1949||Academic chaplaincy at St Florian’s Church, Krakow.|
|1950||Play – Our God’s Brother.|
|1953||Lectured at Jagellonian University.|
|1953||Czeslaw Milosz, published The Captive Mind critiquing Stalinism.|
|5 March 1953||Stalin died.|
|25 September 1953||Cardinal Wyszynski, Archbishop of Warsaw, and Primate of Poland, began three years of house arrest.|
|12 October 1954||Fr Wojtyla began teaching philosophy at Catholic University of Lublin.|
|1956||Chair of Ethics, Catholic University of Lublin.|
|25 November 1956||Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s cult of personality at twentieth Soviet Communist Party Congress.|
|4 July 1958||Auxiliary Bishop of Krakow.|
|24 December 1959||Bishop Wojtyla celebrated Christmas Midnight Mass in Nowa Huta.|
|1960||Love and Responsibility.|
|1960||Play – The Jeweller’s Shop.|
|June 1962||Department IV formed in Polish Secret Police to combat Church.|
|16 July 1962||Temporary administrator of Archdiocese of Krakow.|
|1962-65||Second Vatican Council.|
|October 1962||Cuban missile crisis.|
|1963-78||Pope Paul VI.|
|1964||Archbishop of Krakow.|
|28 June 1967||Cardinal.|
|1968||Polish Communist Party expelled most of its Jewish members.|
|August 1968||Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia, crushing “Prague Spring.”|
|1969||Published The Acting Person.|
|14 December 1970||Strike at Lenin Shipyard.|
|1970||Published Sources of Renewal.|
|19 November 1973||Independent Group D of Polish Secret Police formed with aim of “disintegrating” Catholic Church in Poland.|
|16 April 1974||Cardinal Wojtyla defied Czech communist regime at funeral Mass of Cardinal Stefan Trochta.|
|15 May 1977||Consecration of the Ark Church in Nowa Huta.|
|1978||Vaclav Havel’s essay “The Power of the Powerless” urged living in the truth, not living a lie by conforming to state ideology.|
|25 May 1978||Cardinal Wojtyla defends human rights of all Poles, believers and unbelievers, at annual Corpus Christi procession in Krakow.|
|6 August 1978||Pope Paul VI died.|
|25 August 1978||Pope John Paul I elected.|
|28-29 September 1978||Pope John Paul I died during night.|
|16 October 1978||Cardinal Wojtyla elected Pope and took name John Paul II – the first Slavic Pope, the first non-Italian pope in more than 450 years, the first Pope to be a professional philosopher.|
|June 1979||Pope John Paul II visited Poland and speaks before massive crowds.|
|1980||Founding of Solidarity (Poland) led by Lech Walesa a Catholic electrician.|
|7 August 1980||Sacking of Lenin Shipyard worker Anna Walentynowicz elicits widespread protests by Polish workers.|
|13 December 1981||Declaration of martial law in Poland.|
|November 1982||Solidarity leader Lech Walesa released from prison.|
|1983||Lech Walesa received Nobel Peace prize, but Polish Government refused to allow him out of Poland to receive it in person.|
|1983||Martial law lifted in Poland.|
|1983||Pope John Paul II visited Poland and 10 million Poles came to see him.|
|1984||President Ronald Reagan doubled defence spending, and proposed Strategic Defence Initiative (Star Wars).|
|October 1984||Father Jerzy Popieluszko murdered by Polish Secret Police.|
|1985 – 1990||Mikhail Gorbachev General Secretary of Communist Party of Soviet Union.|
|1985||Mikhail Gorbachev President of USSR proposed glasnost (opening to constructive criticism) and perestroika (restructuring involving measure of democracy).|
|1985||Mikhail Gorbachev told communist leaders in Eastern Europe that the USSR would not interfere in their domestic affairs.|
|26 April 1986||Reactor at Ukraine’s Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded.|
|5 May 1986||Health warnings belatedly issued by Soviet authorities.|
|31 August 1987||Gdansk Agreement: acceptance of free trade unions independent of the Communist Party; guarantee of the right to strike, and of the security of the strikers and those aiding them; freedom of speech and publication etc.|
|7 June 1988||Pope John Paul II wrote personal letter to Mikhail Gorbachev indicating openness to wide-ranging conversation.|
|1989||Solidarity won election in Poland.|
|4 June 1989||Tiananmen Square Massacre, China.|
|23 August 1989||2 million people held hands across 370 miles in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania protesting against 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact.|
|17 November 1989||Student protest in Wenceslas Square Prague.|
|1989||Vaclav Havel playwright and writer sworn in as Czechoslovak President.|
|November 1989||Collapse of Berlin Wall.|
|December 1989||In Romania Nicolea Ceausescu ordered army to fire on protestors, resulting in further protests, arrest and execution of Ceausescu.|
|1 December 1989||Meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev and Pope John Paul II.|
|1990||Further meeting between Mikhail Gorbachev and Pope John Paul II.|
|1990||Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev passed a Freedom of Religion law that rolled back decades of communist restrictions on churches, including those against religious instruction and freedom of association, inter alia, legalising the 5 million member Ukrainian Catholic Church and restoring some of its churches and other properties.|
|11 March 1990||Lithuania declared independence.|
|1990||Former East Germany re-joined Germany and became part of NATO.|
|August 1991||Attempted coup against Mikhail Gorbachev.|
|8 December 1991||Agreement to dissolve Soviet Union between leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, Ukraine & Belarus becoming independent states.|
|25 December 1991||Mikhail Gorbachev resigned as USSR President.|
|1994||Ukraine signed Budapest Memorandum agreeing to hand over nuclear weapons to Russia in return for security assurances from Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom and France.|
|1999||Vladimir Putin became leader of Russia.|
|1999||Czech Republic, Hungary & Poland become part of NATO.|
|1999||Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic became NATO members.|
|2004||Ukrainian leader Viktor Yuschenko poisoned by Russian agents.|
|2004||Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia joined NATO.|
|2 April 2005||Pope John Paul II died.|
|2009||Albania & Croatia joined NATO.|
|2014||Pope John Paul II canonized.|
|2014||Russian forces annexed Crimea, and eastern portions of Ukraine.|
|July 2014||Malaysian Airlines Flight 17 shot down in Ukraine near border with Russia.|
|2017||Montenegro joined NATO.|
|2020||North Macedonia joined NATO.|
|2022||Russia invaded Ukraine.|
|2022||Mikhail Gorbachev died.|