Today we are proud and grateful to announce the addition of Joe and Jane Dalton to our family of contributing writers for The DAILY CATHOLIC. And family is what they are all about, with seven children and Catholic values that need to be shared. They've agreed to write a weekly column entitled FAITH IN THE FAMILY that debuts today and tomorrow and, henceforth, will run every Thursday in this publication.
We encourage you to read their inspiring words, write them and let them know if their words touch a nerve with you. You'll find their column at Faith in the Family.
We are also proud and grateful for two men who have been pillars of patriotism and piety, proper power and perspective, goodness and right, holiness and humility, respect and reason, foundation and faith.
Last week in this column, on the Feast of Saint John Bosco, we focused on the Two Pillars - spiritual pillars that serve as beacons throughout our life as loyal Catholics. Today we want to pinpoint two more pillars - pillars of strength, nobility and good. A pillar is often equated with a pedestal and if two men should be placed on the public pedestal as role models for all to emulate, these two would be the pick. The parallels between one born February 9, 1911 in Tampico, Illinois and another 9 plus years later half-way around the globe in Wadowice, Poland on May 18, 1920 are uncanny.
We are speaking, of course, of the great American and former President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II, two giants of the 20th Century who have indeed made life better for millions and millions because of their care, concern and accomplishments in bringing Justice and Peace to a troubled world. Consider the similarities between the two. Both ancestries were rooted in strong Catholic traditions, Reagan from Irish stock, Karol Jozef Woyjtyla of Polish origin. Though Reagan's father was Irish, his mother was Scotch-English Presbyterian and that is the faith he was raised in while growing up in Dixon, Illinois, a town 96 miles due west of Chicago, where he attended school and college at Eureka College.
Both were athletes and both showed a propensity for the acting profession; Karol at the Boys High School in his home town, and Ron at Eureka College in Illinois. Both had their careers interrupted by World War II; young Woyjtyla was sent to a rock quarry after the Nazis invaded Poland and Reagan took a patriotic hiatus from Hollywood to serve in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1946, the same year Karol became Father Wojtyla on All Saints Day in Warsaw. While Reagan returned to tinsel-town to resume his career, the young Polish priest was just beginning an illustrious life in Rome at the Angelicum.
Both became intensely concerned with unions for promoting human dignity and providing wages and conditions that were fair; Ronald was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild in the late 40's while Karol helped begin the Solidarity movement through the Christian Resistance (UNIA) that would fight the persecution of the Third Reich and subsequently the communist regime that usurped Poland after the war. Reagan was already raising concerns, working with the American Federation of Labor (AFL), when it was not corrupt, to seek better conditions for all. This led to running for office in 1965, the same year that Archbishop Wojtyla, as the Archbishop of Krakow Father Wojtyla was surveying the overall atmosphere of the Church and writing considerable volumes on all aspects of what Christ taught and how to apply them in everyday life.
Both had young loves. While working in the underground, a young lady struck Karol's fancy, but a greater Lady would win out - the Blessed Virgin Mary. For Ronald, he married an actress named Jane Wyman, but that ended in divorce in 1949 because she objected to his increased political activity in the unions. While divorce is wrong and we don't condone it, their break-up was amicable, unlike many, especially in Hollywood. Because he was not Catholic, he was not held to the strict measures the Church imposes. However, consider, that in 1954 Adlai Stevenson, quite possibly the greatest statesman this nation has ever had, lost the presidency to Ike largely because the Senator from Illinois was divorced. Ronald's subsequent marriage to Nancy Davis three years later has proven the mettle of the man and his loyalty, for they will celebrate their 49th anniversary on March 4th this year.
It was adversity that brought both to their mission in life.
For Ronald it was the years of the blacklisting in Hollywood when actors, writers and directors were under the microscopic eye of Senator Joe McCarthy and his band of witch-hunters. The tactics infuriated Reagan who shared an equal disdain for communism and fifth columnists within our country, and he determined he would do something to bring this socialistic curse to its knees. He had been brought up as a liberal New Deal Democrat, but saw well before most others that the Party was changing and not for the better. He realized that the only way to stop the red infiltration, which was undermining the country's institutions and businesses, was to do it within the political framework as a Republican. Thus, after introducing Barry Goldwater at the 1964 Republican Convention, a group of influential businessmen were so impressed they asked him to run for governor of California against Edmund Brown, a died-in-the-wool Democrat.
For young Karol, bruised and battered by the Nazis, he was hospitalized twice; first from a trolley accident in Krakow, and secondly, when struck head-on by a reckless Nazi truckdriver in 1940. It was during his recuperation period that a vocation to the priesthood was fostered while reading "Dark Night of the Soul" by Saint John of the Cross. This was followed by his father's death six months later from a heart attack. These two "setbacks" showed him that God was trying to tell him something. He found the answers with the help of his prayer group leader Jan Tyranowski, who the Pope called "a real master of the spiritual life," and the underground seminary under the personal tutelage of Archbishop Adam Stefan Sapieha, the man who, when Karol originally scoffed at the idea of being a priest, the prelate said to him, "What a pity. We could use a man like that in the Church." As it would turn out, Karol has led the Church during her most difficult times.
Both men overcame tremendous odds to attain the positions they did, not through intimidation and force, or ambition and avarice, but through God's guiding hand, intelligence, common sense and love. In 1962 Ronald joined the Republican Party, the same year Bishop Wojtyla became an active participant in the Second Vatican Council, writing "Dignitalis Humanae" which was a statement on Religious Freedom, in proving the false humanistic tendencies of Marx and Lenin and modernism in the west. He would follow that up with major contributions to the importan conciliar documents "Lumen Gentium" and "Gaudium et Spes" to name a few. Few realized his declarations would have such far-reaching positive effects on human rights worldwide, especially for the persecuted Church in communist countries.
The same year Reagan became governor of California, Archbishop Wojtyla received the prestigious scarlet biretta from Pope Paul VI during the latter's Second Consistory on June 26, 1967. As cardinal he was better able to be a successful instrument in diplomacy with the Polish government in allowing worship to continue in Poland.
While Reagan, who chose not to run for a third term in California, was preparing his presidential campaign against Jimmy Carter two years down the road, Cardinal Wojtyla was in the Sistine Chapel for the second time in less than two months. The first time was to choose Cardinal Albino Luciani as Pope John Paul I. The latter chose the name to honor his two predecessors who headed Vatican II. Thirty-three days later he was recalled to Rome and would not return to his native Poland for another year, this time as the 264th successor of Peter.
In early November of 1980, the man they called "the Gipper" won the presidency in a landslide over Carter. In late November of the same year, the man they called the Polish Pontiff issued his second encyclical - "Dives in Misericordia" on the Mercy of God. It was mercy that both men extended to all in striving to do right no matter the opposition. Both have always expressed a positive attitude of hope and glory for all. Both have been leading apostles for life. Reagan led the initiative he signed in Mexico City to outlaw US Taxpayer funding of overseas abortions in 1984, something Bill Clinton unabashedly and shamelessly rescinded. However, after an eight-year exile, President George W. Bush's first executive order was to reinstate the ban. Reagan said of pro aborts, "Abortion is advocated only by persons who have themselves been born."
The year 1981 offers the greatest visible parallels between these two giants of good who were the targets of separate assassins. Sixty-nine days after taking office as the 40th President of the United States, President Reagan was shot in Washington D.C. enroute to his car after a speech. By the grace of God, he was not killed.
Forty-three days later on May 13, while riding in his Popemobile through a crowded St. Peter's Square on a sunny Sunday, shots again rang out. The Holy Father was hit and miraculously preserved from what many surmised would normally be fatal. Many believe it was that special Lady in his life who once again won out.
A year later, both men fully recovered, met in the Vatican where warm, sincere talks began in establishing diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the US. That would happen two years later when Ron brought Nancy with him to Rome where the Pope and the President cemented official diplomatic connections. It was the second of several meetings both in Vatican City and in America, as well as numerous conversations between these two leaders in clearly signaling a solidarity of East and West, determined to dull and eventually smash the hammer and sickle without violence.
This, we can see in retrospect, was done through their well-aimed measures of diplomacy, well-prepared groundwork, an imparting of the respect for human life and dignity, and a plea for sanity and sensibility. No threats, just love and sincerity, the kind that won over the hearts of communist leaders like Mikhail Gorbachev and, through God's Ordaining Will, allowed the Berlin Wall to be jubilantly torn down in 1989 and the rusted relic of the iron curtain to become history.
And speaking of history, both men will go down as the most influential stars of the twentieth century and rightly-so. Reagan just turned 90 yesterday, His Holiness will be 81 this May. Time and the frailness of old-age is visiting both. Reagan remains sequestered on his ranch outside Santa Barbara with Nancy always at his side as they fight the battle of Alzheimer's Disease in whatever way they can. John Paul the Great shows visible signs of aging in his slow gait and slumping shoulders, and strong evidence of Parkinson's Disease in his movements; yet his mind remains sharp and his heart focused clearly on completing the mission God intended. Both have had hip surgery. Both suffer from debilitating illnesses. Both are still determined.
Reagan has become the third-oldest living President in US history and John Paul's pontificate the third-longest in the long and hallowed annals of the Church. Both are the stalwarts, the benchmark of conservatism and traditional values. There are most probably many other similarities we could research, but, for the sake of space, suffice it to say that we came closer to all-out nuclear war than many realize, but, thank God, wiser, holier men came to rule and the ruled as Christ did - with love, compassion and an uncompromising stance to their beliefs.
Though the seas have not been mild, though the typhoons of the seven deadly sins threaten constantly - stirred up by the legions of satan who promote the culture of death both in the affluent free world and in the impoverished third world countries as well - we truly can credit these two men for bringing us safely through treacherous waters and give a salute and prayer for these two great pillars of Church and State.