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Newt Gingrich: The Cross, the Pope and the Fall of Communism

By Randy Sly
November 9th, 2009
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

Newt and Callista Gingrich are hosting a new film, coming in January, that shows the impact of the visit of Pope John Paul II to Poland.


WASHINGTON (Catholic Online) – The visit of Pope John Paul II to his native Poland June 2-10, 1979 did more than just encourage a nation. It was the beginning point for the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of Communism’s grip on Eastern Europe, and a new Europe.

Thirty years later the full impact of this historic papal journey is the subject of a new film, “Nine Days that Changed the World.” Produced by Citizens United, Gingrich Productions, and Peace River Company LLC, the documentary is hosted by Newt and Callista Gingrich.

Catholic Online had an opportunity to talk with former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich about the film as well as what he envisions as its impact on audiences here in the United States and around the world.

Initial thoughts about a documentary on the Pope’s visit to Poland began about five years ago when Callista Gingrich was part of a trip to Rome with the Choir of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. Newt had been reading George Weigel’s book, “Final Revolution: The Resistance Church and the Collapse of Communism.” Through the book and conversations with Msgr. Walter Rossi, rector of the D.C. basilica, parallels between issues of Western Europe under Communism and increasing secularism in America began to crystallize.

The project really became clear during the filming of another documentary – "Ronald Reagan: Rendezvous with Destiny." As Gingrich said, "When doing that film we saw the important influence of John Paul II had on the people.

“Even in his famous ‘Tear Down This Wall’ speech, Reagan referred to the role of faith in the last part of the speech – the importance of faith.”

“One-third of Poland saw the Pope during that visit,” Gingrich went on to say. “He reminded them that their roots and their identity were Christian. They were a Catholic people.”

Communist leaders pressured Poland to block the visit, but the persistence of the Vatican won out. As “Time” Magazine stated, “Returning to his homeland for the first time since he was chosen Pope last October, Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II, stirred an outpouring of trust and affection that no political leader in today's world could hope to inspire, let alone command.”

The film’s webpage put this historic visit in perspective.

“The Polish trade union movement languished for years prior to June of 1979, attracting only modest popular support. Sixteen months after John Paul II’s nine day visit to Poland, and the 1980 Gdansk shipyard strike, the Solidarity movement became the first officially recognized free trade union in the Communist bloc, with over 10 million members.

“What transpired during these nine days that so moved a nation to begin to free itself of its Communist shackles? Why did millions of Poles, almost one third of the entire nation, come to see the Pope during his public appearances? What was the nature of the Communist system in Poland that made John Paul II’s visit a liberating moment?

“Nine Days that Changed the World is a story of human liberation. It reveals how Pope John Paul II’s historic visit helped the Poles not only find their courage, but also reclaim their culture. This film presents the Pope’s message -- that after the lies of Nazism and Communism, authentic human freedom is only possible through a true understanding of our humanity.”

While the trip was televised, authorities did not allow media to film the event. The Church, however, had planned ahead and purchased cameras they distributed to the people. Much of this archival footage was used in this new documentary.

“We got some terrific footage from the bishops,” he said. “One of the most powerful scenes in the film shows a huge number of Polish crosses.”

The former Speaker of the House likened the conditions in 1979 Poland, where the cross was being systematically eliminated by the government, to the contemporary attempts by the ACLU to remove this most important Christian symbol from public view, such as the one in the Mojave Desert.

“The very existence of the cross creates a problem. Groups who want it removed are threatened by the very existence of God.”

When asked what the producers hope a viewer will take away from “Nine Days,” Gingrich responded, “History introduces us to concepts we can relate to today. We want people to apply the insights of the film to themselves.”

The film, scheduled for release in January, will be available in multi-lingual versions, including English and Polish.

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Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online. He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.



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