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Pope Francis considers JPII’s role in fall of Berlin Wall

Pope Francis during his weekly general audience at St. Peter's Square at the Vatican on March 20, 2024

Antoine Mekary | ALETEIA

Camille Dalmas - published on 04/07/24

In “Life: My Story Through History” Pope Francis recalls historical events that shaped him over the last 87 years, including the fall of the Berlin Wall.

On November 9, 1989, Pope Francis was working in his room at the Colegio del Salvador, a prestigious Jesuit school in the center of Buenos Aires. He was working on his thesis on the German theologian Romano Guardini — which he would never finish — when the phone suddenly rang. It was a Jesuit whom Bergoglio knew well, Guillermo Ortiz. “Fr. Jorge, quick, turn on the television…”

The 52-year-old priest rushed to his TV set, and saw images of Germans crossing the Berlin Wall, which had separated the capital into East and West since 1961.

An emotional moment

“History flashed before our eyes,” recalls the Pontiff in his recently published interview/autobiography, saying he never had imagined that such an event could happen. He remembers the Berliners dancing, drinking, and kissing: “These people were experiencing the end of all repression and violence. They were regaining their freedom.”

The Argentine Pontiff also recalls the tear-streaked faces of elderly people interviewed on television after crossing the Iron Curtain. They were unable to speak because they were overwhelmed by emotion. They “had experienced great suffering in their own flesh and had been waiting for this moment for many years.”

Fall of the Berlin Wall

In front of his television set, the future pope contemplated these scenes of joy. He had left West Germany three years ago. He had experienced loneliness there, but for him, like many people around the world, this wall symbolized “the ideological division of the whole world.”

The role of presidents and a pope

Behind this change, the Pontiff recognizes the work of peacemakers upstream, starting with Mikhail Gorbachev, “perhaps one of the greatest statesmen the USSR has ever known.” He admires him for having chosen the path of reform to “avoid further suffering for the people” of his country.

muro de berlín
There is now a road where the Berlin Wall stood until 1989.

He also remembers US President Ronald Reagan, who urged the USSR to tear down the Berlin Wall. “And it really did come down: the wind of change was finally blowing across Europe.”

Finally, he underlines the key role played by John Paul II. “With his words and charisma, he gave all those people the strength to unite and fight for freedom,” he stresses, emphasizing the Pole’s ability to “mature the conscience of millions of Eastern Europeans, who rediscovered hope.”

GermanyPope Francis
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