Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II (1920-2005), spent nearly his entire life battling the two most frightening evils of the 20th century, National Socialism and Soviet Communism.

He was still in his teens when his native Poland fell into the thrall of the Nazis, who turned it into a charnel house where Jews mostly, and other dissidents as well, were transported in cattle cars from their own native lands to be extinguished by the millions in the scorching cold of Auschwitz. No sooner were the Nazis cleared out when the Soviets essentially annexed Poland, and as their puppet regime continued on and on and on for more than 40 years, the common wisdom, the wisdom of our intellectual betters, was that it was permanent, and that we should get used to it. That was the common wisdom, which was known as “detente.”

Except that Karol Wojtyla, the bishop of Krakow who became pope in 1978, didn’t believe it. Neither did an upstart Polish dockworkers’ union that called itself “Solidarity” and joined religious faith to a yearning for democracy in a cause nearly everyone dismissed as hopeless. Neither did an American president who called himself Ronald Reagan. By 1989, Soviet Communism had collapsed in Poland, and by 1991, it had collapsed in the Soviet Union, the beast’s very belly, as well. “How many legions does the Pope have?” the Soviet fuhrer Stalin once famously asked. John Paul II, who survived a Soviet effort to murder him right in St. Peter’s Square in Rome, was the living answer to that question.

Here is what Michael Ledeen writes about John Paul II today in National Review Online:

“We were in Rome when John Paul II was elected Pope, and, like most people, I didn’t know much about him. Most of the commentary at that time described the Conclave’s decision in political terms, and Karol Wojtyla was said to be a ‘detente Pope,’ a gesture of peace toward the Soviets. I went over to Communist Party headquarters in Via delle Botteghe Oscure to ask them what they thought of it, and one of the real hardline Stalinists put it nicely: ‘well,’ he said, ‘at least our Polish comrades won’t have him around to (and here he used a colorful Roman phrase that roughly means ‘give them a hard time.’). The Communist knew what he was talking about, and the scribblers and kibbitzers didn’t.”       

This is a hard day for me. This very day, indeed at almost the very hour that Karol Wojtyla went to God, a beloved uncle of my husband, and a dear, dear friend to me, passed away in California. Robert Allen was a young naval officer during World War II fighting in the Pacific theater the same axis of evil that the future Pope was resisting in his native Poland. Indeed, they were almost the same age when they died; Uncle Bob was 90 and the Pope, 84. In the Battle of Santa Cruz Island, Oct. 26, 1942, during the darkest hour of the war in the Pacific, Uncle Bob’s ship, the USS Hornet (an illustrious craft whose Torpedo Squadron 8 was cited for heroism in the Battle of Midway), was sunk by the Japanese. This young man, who had a wife and baby son at home in San Diego, spent several hours in the water saving the lives of several crewmates and wondering if he would ever see his family again. The greatest generation–that was Uncle Bob’s generation, and it was the Pope’s. He and John Paul II shared a bond of hope and bravery and faith in the future, the likes of which we may not see again soon.

John Paul II, who had lost his mother at the age of 8, was always a friend of women, and he not only believed passionately in women’s right to pursue the same careers and educational opportunities as men if they so desired, but he surrounded himself with brilliant women scholars and intellectuals as advisers. The hardline feminists, of course, didn’t care for John Paul because he didn’t have much truck for their victimological ideology that holds that women are absolutely identical to men, and that any differences between the kinds of lives that men and women lead must be due solely to patriarchal male oppression. John Paul knew that when women become mothers, motherhood–unconditional devotion to their children–always comes first and should come first, and that it deeply affects the choices that women make in leading their lives.

Here is something John Paul wrote about women in 1995 (I’m lifting it from The Anchoress, who is liveblogging on the Pope’s death today):    

“It is a ‘sign of the times’ that woman’s role is increasingly recognized, not only in the family circle, but also in the wider context of all social activities. Without the contribution of women, society is less alive, culture impoverished, and peace less stable. Situations where women are prevented from developing their full potential and from offering the wealth of their gifts should therefore be considered profoundly unjust, not only to women themselves but to society as a whole.

“Of course, the employment of women outside the family, especially during the period when they are fulfilling the most delicate tasks of motherhood, must be done with respect for this fundamental duty. However, apart from this requirement, it is necessary to strive convincingly to ensure that the widest possible space is open to women in all areas of culture, economics, politics and ecclesial life itself, so that all human society is increasingly enriched by the gifts proper to masculinity and femininity.

“…In fact, woman has a genius all her own, which is vitally essential to both society and the Church. It is certainly not a question of comparing woman to man, since it is obvious that they have fundamental dimensions and values in common. However, in man and in woman these acquire different strengths, interests and emphases and it is this very diversity which becomes a source of enrichment.

“…[W]oman is endowed with a particular capacity for accepting the human being in his concrete form….Even this singular feature which prepares her for motherhood, not only physically but also emotionally and spiritually, is inherent in the plan of God who entrusted the human being to woman in an altogether special way….The woman of course, as much as the man, must take care that her sensitivity does not succumb to the temptation to possessive selfishness, and must put it at the service of authentic love. On these conditions she gives of her best, everywhere adding a touch of generosity, tenderness, and joy of life.”

Generosity, tenderness, and joy of life. John Paul, I hope that I can live up to your expectations for my sex, just as you lived up to every expectation for your sex in one of the most brutal and murderous centuries that the human race has ever seen.