Page 1301 - Week 05 - Tuesday, 5 April 2005

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In Solidarity, of course, most of the people were very strong Catholics. They adopted a non-violent stance, which I think was eminently sensible. The pope also had a great rapport with General Wojciech Jaruzelski. He supposedly crushed Solidarity but I think, as much as anything, he was desperately keen to stave off a lot of bloodshed, a possible Soviet invasion and the ensuing fighting that would have gone on between the Poles and the Russians had that occurred.

We did not have to wait too long for the efforts of the pope and movements such as Solidarity, which he inspired, to bear fruit. In 1988-89 in the Eastern bloc the Iron Curtain effectively came tumbling down. This was probably one of his finest achievements—the destruction of an insidious, evil ideology that had gone completely off the rails and was totally oppressive to the various persons and countries that it took over.

He became pope. He was a great traveller and a great communicator. As the Chief Minister said, he spoke eight languages. He was able to relate to all kinds of people. I do not think any other pope, let alone a lot of world leaders, have travelled as much as the pope did.

He promoted understanding between peoples. Not only was the pope an excellent spiritual leader, a fine Polish patriot and a man who believed strongly in freedom, peace and goodwill, he was also a fine human being. He was actually a good bloke. He was good at sport: he played soccer; he was a magnificent hiker and skier. He loved to go off and hike in the Tatra Mountains in the south of Poland.

As my colleague Brendan Smyth has said, the pope played prop for Poland. That was a bit of trivia which Gordon Bray, I think, let out during the World Cup. His resoluteness, stubbornness and dedication to the task at hand I think made him an ideal prop. Again, he was a fantastic sportsman, and he related to all people. He was a people’s person. He got on with virtually anyone, even though he was no spring chicken. He was a man in his 70s and 80s for much of the time he was pope.

He related particularly to young people. He loved to sing and dance. He had an excellent voice. I recall meeting him briefly in 1973 when, as cardinal of Cracow, he opened the White Eagle club. I remember the warmth in his face, the twinkle in his eye and the humorous, pleasant manner of the man. Sadly, I did not stay around—I think I had something else on like uni or whatever—to attend the dinner dance that was on afterwards.

My father, who was then president, came home and said what a wonderful night it had been and what a fantastic voice the cardinal had. He thought he was a great bloke. They were singing and dancing and everyone was having a fantastic time—he just mingled and got on well with everyone.

The pope had an unswerving devotion to duty. I do not know who is going to fill his shoes—they are huge shoes to fill. There are few individuals, I suppose, in world history who have had a very significant impact—and some of those are evil impacts. We think of Hitler, Stalin and Pol Pot and the evil impact they had on the world. We think of other people who have had a much more positive impact on the world. My colleague

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