John Paul II’s “Battle of Ideologies”: A Role Model for Chinese Democratization

RPBaiao /

Key points in this article:

  • Pope John Paul II believed that his ideology could defeat the USSR
  • Faith is a weapon that can defeat communism
  • Stalin did not understand the power of ideology

The power of ideology can, at times, surpass military and political power.

One such example was when Pope John Paul II’s visits to East Europe ignited the Revolutions of 1989 and eventually led to the dissolution of the USSR. The article on this can be read here (

Here we will look into the reason why the Pope’s ideology made such a huge impact on the course of history.


John Paul II Makes the USSR Change Their Plans

The greatest factor is that the Pope himself held the strong belief that ideologies can change reality.

John Paul II was different from his predecessors in that, while popes usually leave diplomatic matters to the Vatican Secretary of State, John Paul II decided to directly engage in it. As a NY Times article from 1999 aptly put it, he was “The Flying Pope” who visited over 100 countries during his papacy.

John Paul II also took a different stance against communism than his predecessors.

Before John Paul II, the Vatican had decided to cooperate with the communist USSR in order to continue their missionary activities in a world where conflicts continued between communist and democratic powers.

At the time, hardly anyone foresaw the collapse of the post-WWII world order established at the Yalta Conference; similarly, we do not have so many people who envision the collapse of North Korea and China.

On the other hand, from long before he was elected Pope, John Paul II had held that the world was being too naïve in thinking the communist government would keep their promises. This naiveté was leading them into the enemy’s trap. Instead of compromising, John Paul II tried to make the enemy change their plans.

This move can be likened to when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill rejected Hitler’s offer to divide the world between Germany and Britain.

John Paul II’s idealism precipitated the coming history of democratization.


Protecting the Western Civilization

The second reason why the unarmed Pope was able to change history was because he focused on protecting Catholic values instead of attacking the enemy from the front. This, he realized, was a highly effective weapon of resistance.

John Paul II’s biographer, George Weigel, made his remarks in the film entitled Liberating A Continent – John Paul II And The Fall Of Communism :

If you look through the 50 public addresses that John Paul addressed during 9 days in June 1979, he never talks about politics or economics once, what he says is: You are not who they say you are. Your people are formed by culture, the heart of which is Catholicism. If you own it again, if you take back the truth of your identity, you will find the tools of resistance that totalitarianism cannot match — and that, of course, is exactly what happened.

Through the Catholic faith, he promoted the idea that people are children of God who were made to enjoy freedom.

Cardinal Wojtyła once said:

The greatest commandment – that of love – leads the way to the fullest use of liberty. Freedom has been given to man in order to love, to love true good.

If true freedom is given by God and not by government, what communism is doing is unforgivable by depriving us of it. The reaffirmation of this idea was what ignited the Revolutions of 1989.

In fact, one man who thoroughly understands these values is U.S. President Donald Trump. In his Warsaw speech in July of last year he said thus:

The fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive. Do we have the confidence in our values to defend them at any cost? Do we have enough respect for our citizens to protect our borders? Do we have the desire and the courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?

. . . If anyone forgets the critical importance of these things, let them come to one country that never has. Let them come to Poland.


The Ideology Revolution

“The Pope? How many [military] divisions has he got?”

So said Stalin in 1935, according to Winston Churchill, when asked if he needed help winning the Pope’s favour.

Looking at these words now, it is clear that Stalin had no idea about the power ideologies can have. But it was the power of ideology that was the root cause of the unexpected Eastern Europe revolutions of 1989, 10 years after John Paul II’s pilgrimage.

Currently in China there are over 100 million Christians, and studies suggest that 85% of Communist Party members are religious (Purdue University). There are indeed many Christians amongst the communists. Even Gorbachev had an icon of the Virgin Mary hidden behind his portrait of Stalin.

During the Cold War, when the USSR economy was failing due to the arms race against the U.S., was when Solidarity (a Polish trade union mass movement inspired by the Vatican) gained power.

Likewise in our current time, the 2017 U.S. National Security Strategy deemed China a “strategic competitor” and they are now moving towards putting a stop to China’s economic hegemony. If China’s economy declines, we will begin to see a rise in domestic democratization movements, just like in Poland all those years ago.

The U.S.-Japan issues of strengthening defence and pursuing economic growth all stem from the need to protect the values of freedom, democracy and faith that are at the core of the Western civilization. The feeling of mercy towards those who suffer on the other side of the Iron Curtain, and a feeling of responsibility towards God, will give power to China’s democratization.

As John Paul II once said, “The greatest commandment – that of love, leads the way to the fullest use of liberty.” Therefore those of us who enjoy life in a free society must learn to act out of love. One possibility could be to support Liu Xiaobo’s wife, Liu Xia’s mission for China’s democratization, and getting the international community involved in continuing what Liu Xiaobo was aiming to realize, i.e., the democratization of China.

John Paul II built the Church inside the hearts of the people, and taught them the importance of freedom and love for God. There is much to learn from this great defeater of communism.

John Paul II’s “Battle of Ideologies”: A Role Model for Chinese Democratization
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