( April 13, 1990) Oxford, England -- from the start of his pontificate, Pope John Paul, the first Slav pope, has shared a dream. He proclaimed the "spiritual unity of Europe," called for open frontiers and demanded religious freedom for Catholics of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.
In 1989, the year of peaceful revolutions, that dream came several giant steps closer to realization. Eastern Europe has become once more Central Europe. Democracy has poked through. Yet the Vatican's euphoria about the events has been muted and tempered by alarm at their possible negative consequences.
Of course Pope John Paul II rejoiced. " Warsaw, Moscow, Budapest, Berlin, Prague, Sofia, Bucharest," he told the diplomats accredited to the Holy See Jan. 14, "have become stages in a long pilgrimage toward liberty." The list was instructive.
Warsaw rightfully came first, because there the first breakthrough occurred; Moscow deserved an honorable mention, as a tribute to Mikhail Gorbachev; the omission of the capitals of Soviet republics such as Lithuania or Armenia was tactful in the presence of the Soviet diplomat Yuri Karlov, last week formally named as the Kremlin's man in the Vatican.
What made it all happen? John Paul said "the irrepressible thirst for liberty had speeded up developments, made walls tumble down and opened gates." He noted, without dwelling on it, the role churches played.
He struck a note of anticommunist triumphalism: "In countries in which for years a single party has dictated the truth to be believed and the meaning to be given to human history, these brothers have shown that it is impossible to stifle fundamental freedoms which give meaning to human life; freedom of thought, of conscience, of religion, of expression, of political and cultural pluralism."