Over 1 million people, according to municipal authorities, were in Rome on Sunday for the ceremony to beatify Pope John Paul II, known as the pope who inspired the fall of communism.
Among the devotees gathered on St. Peter's Square in Vatican City and flooding nearby streets displaying banners and national flags were many people who came from John Paul’s native Poland. Poles hold John Paul II in high esteem not only for his religious leadership, but also for giving them strength and encouragement to stand up to the communist regime.
Poles call John Paul II “the father of Solidarity.” Solidarity was the first trade union in the communist bloc not controlled by a communist regime. The Solidarity movement ultimately led to the fall of communism first in Poland and then across Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
John Paul’s most famous words uttered during his first visit to the communist Poland in 1979, “Do not be afraid” appeared on many banners displayed on St. Peter's Square.
In his beatification homily Pope Benedict XVI addressed a few words to the crowd in Polish, saying that John Paul II “helped us to not be afraid of truth because truth is a guarantee of freedom.”
In footage taken by the secret service in 1981 during the meeting of Pope John Paul II and Poland's dictator, Gen. Jaruzelski, the dictator is visibly shaking when facing the pope. Gen. Jaruzelski who was also the commander-in-chief of the Polish army, imposed martial law in Poland in order to suppress the Solidarity movement and protect the communist rule.
It is perhaps ironic that John Paul’s defiance of communism lead to its fall. Even before John Paul was in the Holy See, Joseph Stalin was once challenged on the question of the power the church held in Europe, to which he famously replied: “How many divisions has the pope?"
Official delegations from about 90 countries and the European Union participated in the ceremony. Among them were King Albert II and Queen Paola of Belgium, royal family representatives from Liechtenstein, Luxemburg, Spain, and the United Kingdom, 16 presidents and heads of state, and numerous ambassadors.