Politics & Policy

John Paul The Great

Reminiscences and reflections.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece is the cover story in the April 25, 2005, issue of National Review.

As our great Pope is buried, I feel sorry for the Polish people most of all–sorry, and joyous with them. Today, my telephone correspondents in Poland tell me, they feel like orphans. Papa Wojtyla has been such a Protector to them, such a shelter, such a tower of strength at their side and at their rear and in their forefront. Someone told me during the week my father died that losing a father is like having a big tree on the edge of the forest come down, and feeling the wind upon one’s own face. The Poles feel like that today. So do we all.

Karol Wojtyla was born three or four hours by car from the villages across the border in Slovakia where all four of my grandparents were born. He told me once that he had gone skiing not far from those villages in the Tatra mountains that are shared by Poland and Slovakia. And, actually, I first met the Pope when he came to consecrate Saints Cyril and Methodius, the new Slovak cathedral in Toronto.

He once kidded me: You say you are Slovak, but you are really Polish. Coming from him, that was a high compliment. Still, I felt plain genetics obliged me to argue against him. “By the magisterium,” I said, “I may be Polish. But by genetics I am undoubtedly Slovak, from all four grandparents.” All four of whom were born within a few kilometers of one another in central Slovakia.

Then, that summer, visiting the family villages, I discovered a plaque on the nearby castle’s inner wall (the castle for whose noble owner my great-grandfather had been game warden in the nearby forest). It announced that the eleven counties of that district had belonged to Poland for nearly 300 years after about 1450 (as I now retain the date). Laughing aloud, I wrote to the Pope to apologize. That darn infallibility again!..

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Michael Novak was a Catholic philosopher, journalist, novelist, and diplomat.

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