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On Pope John Paul's Birthday, What Could He Teach Obama?

Today would have been Pope John Paul II's 90th birthday. He was born on May 18, 1920 in Wadowice, Poland and died on April 2, 2005. He inspires us still. The leadership he brought in his fight for individual freedom is a leadership we yearn for today, as we struggle internally against the heavy hand of government and externally against the deadly hand of terrorism.

A new documentary hosted by Newt and Callista Gingrich, “Nine Days That Changed The World,” tells the story of John Paul’s “nine-day pilgrimage to Poland in June of 1979 [that] created a revolution of conscience” that “helped Solidarity become the first officially recognized free trade union in the Communist bloc” and “eventually [led] to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.”

This documentary and a review of some of John Paul II’s pronouncements demonstrate the timelessness of his vision. His was a crusade for the proper balance of societal order and religious and personal freedoms. Let us consider his words in a contemporary context:

“Radical changes in world politics leave America with a heightened responsibility to be, for the world, an example of a genuinely free, democratic, just and humane society.”

With this one quote, Pope John Paul II foresaw the continuing challenge that animates the debate over the right direction for America—at home and abroad. Many people shudder at the Obama administration’s reluctance to stress America’s exceptional leadership role among all nations. 

Others are exasperated at the Obama administration’s vacillations in plainly identifying radical Islamic terrorism as the greatest threat to our national security and the security of our allies around the world, including Israel. And hovering over these controversies is the concern that America is losing its moral fiber and authority in misplaced gestures of political correctness and political spinelessness.

John Paul II called upon America to be a beacon of freedom and rectitude. Rather than being party to the anti-Semitism that still infects the world, John Paul II became the first pope to visit the Auschwitz concentration camp in Poland, in 1979. He went to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel in 2000 and left this prayer at Jerusalem’s Western Wall: “God of our fathers, you chose Abraham and his descendants to bring your name to the nations. We are deeply saddened by the behavior of those who in the course of history have caused these children of yours to suffer, and asking your forgiveness we wish to commit ourselves to genuine brotherhood with the people of the Covenant.” Contrast this with the ambiguity verging on hostility that the Obama Administration has shown towards Israel.

Unlike the Obama administration, Pope John Paul II was unapologetic about the centrality of the Judeo-Christian tradition. John Paul said: 

“With Judaism, therefore, we have a relationship which we do not have with any other religion. You are our dearly beloved brothers, and in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.”

And unlike the Obama administration, John Paul II was willing to pass clear judgment on the impoverishing effects of socialism. The pope said: 

“The historical experience of socialist countries has sadly demonstrated that collectivism does not do away with alienation but rather increases it, adding to it a lack of basic necessities and economic inefficiency.” 

Are you listening, President Obama?

Pope John Paul II condemned economic greed and corruption. He also understood that the human spirit thrives on liberty and abhors the intrusions of big government repression. “Where self-interest is suppressed, it is replaced by a burdensome system of bureaucratic control that dries up the wellspring of initiative and creativity. The obligation to earn one's bread presumes the right to do so. A society that denies this right cannot be justified, nor can it attain social peace.”

Pope John Paul II recognized that a nanny state is no replacement for the family unit. He said: 

"As the family goes, so goes the nation and so goes the whole world in which we live.”

John Paul II knew that regardless of what government officials or overreaching judges asserted, "Faith and Reason are like two wings of the human spirit by which it soars to the truth."

In the days and months that follow, America will make a number of decisions in its legislatures and at the polling places. These thoughts from Pope John Paul II can serve to inspire us:

“Do not be afraid. Do not be satisfied with mediocrity. Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.... The future starts today, not tomorrow."

Communications consultant Jon Kraushar is at www.jonkraushar.net.

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Jon Kraushar, a communications consultant to corporate and political leaders, is at www.jonkraushar.net.