On Nov 13, 1979, nine Soviet leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev, met to discuss a growing problem. There was a new Pope, a man from Poland who was capable of inspiring millions in the captive nations of Eastern Europe to resist their oppressors. It was decided that something must be done to neutralize the threat posed to their regime by the Polish Pope .
With concise information, good storytelling and excellent visuals, “The Divine Plan” tells the story of this man, Pope John Paul II, his greatest ally, Ronald Reagan, and their battle against Communism. This documentary by Robert Orlando should be recommended to anyone interested in the history of the Cold War and all who doubt the power of faith to move world events.
As a young man, Karol Józef Wojtyła had a short acting career in college before the Nazis invaded Poland and shut down his university. He witnessed the persecution of his fellow Catholics and the extermination of his many Jewish friends by an Evil Empire, an experience that moved him to seek God and become a priest. His antipathy toward totalitarianism and the communication skills he gained through acting culminated in his June 1979 visit to Poland as the new Pope. This visit electrified the Polish people, who came to see and hear his message of hope by the millions. The Communists watched in horror as talk about freedom and talk about God escalated, especially among workers.
Reagan, on the other hand, witnessed the reaction of the Polish people to the Pope’s visit and was inspired. There was now a way to breach the Iron Curtain without firing a shot.
But a shot was fired. A Turkish terrorist named Mehmet Ali Agca shot the Pope as he rode through the Vatican on May 13, 1981. The Pope was gravely injured, but by some miracle, survived. Reagan and his Catholic CIA director, Bill Casey, immediately suspected the Kremlin had a hand in the attempted assassination, and ordered the CIA to look into it. The best evidence came not from intelligence, but from the work of journalist Claire Sterling of The New York Times. She reported that Ali Agca was working with Bulgarian Intelligence, which, despite its venire of independent agency, was controlled entirely by Moscow.
Ronald Reagan, of course, was also once an actor, and a man who had taken a stand against totalitarianism. Though not as dramatic as Wojtyła’s early encounters with evil, Reagan put his life on the line to confront the violent Communist mob that tried to take control of his union, the Screen Actors Guild. That brush with the foot soldiers of tyranny had a major impact on Reagan, who dedicated the rest of his life to the battle against Communism. He also knew the pain of a bullet, as he himself was almost killed by a deranged young man just a few months into his first term.
By the time the two former actors met in 1982, both of them were veteran anti-Communists who bore the scars of gunshot wounds. There were many things they disagreed on, but they shared a conviction that now was the time to confront the Soviet empire, and that Poland was the place to do it. From that time onward, they shared intelligence on Soviet activities and cooperated in supporting the new Catholic trade union, Solidarity.
By 1985, Bill Casey had concluded the CIA’s investigation into the Pope’s shooting — determining that the Soviets were indeed involved — and shared it with the Pope himself. The Pope said that he reached the same conclusion, but wanted to keep it quiet. Most of the “smoking gun” material from all sides remains classified almost 40 years later, but there is enough in the public to support that Casey and the Pope are correct.
In the end, the shooting did not stop the inevitable. Under pressure from Reagan and his successor, George HW Bush, Gorbachev agreed to have an election in Poland, in which the Communists lost every contested seat. Against the appeal of the free world and the Church, the haunting specter of Communism never stood a chance.
There is much more to the story than what is printed here. For the whole story, see “The Divine Plan: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Dramatic End of the Cold War” by Robert Orlando, check out the book that inspired the film, “A Pope and a President” by Paul Kengor, and the upcoming companion book to the film, “The Divine Plan” by Paul Kengor and Robert Orlando.