God’s guiding hand in history

St. John Paul II. Photo: L'Osservatore Romano/CNA

Thirty years ago this November, the Berlin Wall tumbled down and thousands of East Germans celebrated their new freedom. 

Back home, a local grocery chain later sold fragments of the wall, and my dad purchased one of them for me as a memento of that extraordinary event that occurred on my 11th birthday. Already having developed a strong interest in politics and history as a boy, it was a special gift. 

Box containing a fragment of the Berlin Wall. Photo: Paul McKibben/Bayard, Inc.

The only pope during the first quarter of my life — St. John Paul II — is one of the key figures whom historians credit with defeating communism, an atheistic system that stressed the state over God. It’s this great pope and his role in winning the Cold War for the West that we remember in our November print issue.

Historian Paul Kengor recalls St. John Paul II’s powerful visit to his native Poland a decade before the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. Kengor focuses on a homily the Holy Father gave in Victory Square in Warsaw on June 2, 1979. St. John Paul II’s words also could apply to our growing secular culture today. For example:

Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe at any longitude or latitude of geography. The exclusion of Christ from the history of man is an act against man.

Ave Maria

Approximately two years before that stunning night of Nov. 9, 1989, St. John Paul II, who had a strong devotion to Mary, declared a special Marian year for the Church from Pentecost 1987 to the feast of the Assumption in 1988 so that “the Catholic faithful may look more and more to Mary, who goes before us on the pilgrimage of faith.” He went on to say, “I wish to entrust to her and to her intercession this difficult moment of the modern world” (Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, The Social Concern of the Church, 49). 

The Hail Mary is my go-to prayer. I turn to the Blessed Mother in my prayers after receiving the Eucharist at Mass, or at times when I’m anxious, or even as something as innocent as going up the steep hill of a roller coaster that I’ve never ridden before.

Let’s ask for the intercession of Mary in our troubled times, as St. John Paul II did when he confronted the difficulties of his era. 

You’re in my prayers, 


Berlin Wall. Photo: Heiko Kueverling/Shutterstock

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