Communism-Defeat Led By
Excerpts of an article by Paul Kengor in the National Catholic Register Newspaper
by Paul Kengor
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I've been writing and talking quite a bit recently on Pope John Paul II, Ronald Regan, and their extraordinary partnership to win the battle of the 20th century against the destructive fore of atheistic Soviet communism - and evil that Our Lady of Fatima had warned about 100 years ago. But if there's a third person in that story, it's a bishop, an American Catholic renowned throughout the 20th century - a remarkable priest named Fulton Sheen.
In retrospect, Archbishop Sheen began the good fight that John Paul II and Ronald Reagan would pick up and carry across the finish line . . . consider Archbishop Sheen's place in this historical-spiritual picture . . . in Archbishop Sheen. There was a no more effective catholic apologist in the United States, teaching and preaching on every aspect of the faith, but he was especially effective in dissecting, atheistic communism.
At the direct request of Pope Pius XI during a meeting they had together in Rome in 1935 the Holy Father advised Father Sheen to speak on communism "at every opportunity" and warn Americans of its dangers." Sheen never failed to heed the request. It became central to his mission, message and outreach. Sheen read several languages and thus unearthed from Karl Marx's obscurest writings various untranslated tidbits and introduced them to the English world. For instance, Sheen exhumed this Marx quotation from the original French, "Communism begins where atheism begins. . ."
Sheen dramatically forecast that Soviet Communists had "put before the world a dilemma," And "apocalyptic" one: "They have thrown down the gauntlet to the world. The voice is either brotherhood in Christ or comradeship in anti-Christ." Communism was inspired not by the spirit of Christ, but by the anti-Christ. Sheen said communists had failed to convince the world there's no God. Rather, he quipped, 'they succeeded only in convincing the world that there is a devil.'"
When Sheen was saying these things, Ronald Reagan and Karol Wojtyla were young men. Five months earlier, he had openly expressed his suspicion of a possible alliance between the two dictators. they could find common ground in their joint hatred of good and God. "There is not a vast difference between them," Sheen said. "What class is to Russia, race is to Germany; what the bourgeois are to the Russians, the Jews are to the Germans."
Here, too, Sheen foreshadowed words by fellow Illinoisan Ronald Reagan, who would say there's "not a dime's worth of difference" between a fascist and a communist, as both were, at their essence, about the tyrannical power of an abusive state that controls and kills certain categories of citizens. It was a warning the Karol Wojtyla expressed to dismayed countrymen who were hoping for "liberation" from the Nazis by the Red Army. All three men recognized these evils. Hitler and Stalin were "two gangsters" -period. Both were "assassins of justice." They were modern equivalents of "Pilate and Heron - Christ haters.
"The anti-God regime is always the anti-human regime" said Sheen. Once the Nazis were defeated, Sheen zeroed in on the communist threat. In the ensuing decades, he would call out that danger more ardently than any communicator - until, that is, the arrival on the world stage of Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II. President Reagan's dad and brother were devote Catholics, But, it is unknown if Ronald Reagan and Bishop Sheen ever met each other.
Archbishop Sheen and John Paul II, did meet. It was October 2, 1979, at St. Patrick's Cathedral. Archbishop Sheen was weak, nearing life's end, but he wouldn't miss this moment, overjoyed as he was at the election of this Polish Pontiff. As Sheen's biographer Tomas Reeves described it, the "feeble" Sheen made his way to the Holy Father. John Paul II hugged him and thanked him for having "written and spoken well of the Lord Jesus." He told his grateful servant that he had been a "loyal son of the Church."
When John Paul II got back to Rome, he sent Archbishop Sheen a formal letter. In turn, the archbishop wrote the Holy Father what Reeves called, "a lengthy, learned and extremely moving letter powerfully predicting that this new pope was one among four holy popes who had come along every 500 years (Gregory I the Great, Gregory VII, Pius V, who helped defeat the Ottoman invasion of Europe; and now John Paul II, who would help to bring down the Soviet Empire)" specially appointed by God for a great historical purpose - here coming at the end of a 20th century with two world wars and a nuclear charged Cold War.
After an extraordinary life, Archbishop Sheen laid down his earthly life Dec. 9, 1979, in front of the Blessed Sacrament in his private chapel. He was declared "Venerable" by the church in 2012. From there, the torch was, in essence, passed to John Paul II and Ronald Reagan to defeat the communist menace Sheen fought so brilliantly and valiantly. When the pope and president proceeded to do so, they stood on the shoulders of Sheen.
A pope, a president and a bishop: Here were three great achievers and master communicators - bold, fearless, courageous and also winsome, witty and likeable - all from small towns, who waded into the wider waters of the world. The confluence of their efforts changed the century and the world for the better.
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