A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century

A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century

by Paul Kengor


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Even as historians credit Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II with hastening the end of the Cold War, they have failed to recognize the depth or significance of the bond that developed between the two leaders.

Acclaimed scholar and bestselling author Paul Kengor changes that.

In this fascinating book, he reveals a singular bond—which included a spiritual connection between the Catholic pope and the Protestant president—that drove the two men to confront what they knew to be the great evil of the twentieth century: Soviet communism.

Reagan and John Paul II almost didn’t have the opportunity to forge this relationship: just six weeks apart in the spring of 1981, they took bullets from would-be assassins. But their strikingly similar near-death experiences brought them close together—to Moscow’s dismay.

Based on Kengor’s tireless archival digging and his unique access to Reagan insiders, A Pope and a President is full of revelations. It takes you inside private meetings between Reagan and John Paul II and into the Oval Office, the Vatican, the CIA, the Kremlin, and many points beyond.

Nancy Reagan called John Paul II her husband’s "closest friend"; Reagan himself told Polish visitors that the pope was his "best friend." When you read this book, you will understand why. As kindred spirits, Ronald Reagan and John Paul II united in pursuit of a supreme objective—and in doing so they changed history

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781610171526
Publisher: ISI Books
Publication date: 09/24/2018
Edition description: 1
Pages: 656
Sales rank: 57,974
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.40(d)
Age Range: 3 Months to 18 Years

About the Author

Paul Kengor, PhD, is the New York Times bestselling author of God and Ronald Reagan, The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism, 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative, Dupes, The Communist, and other books. A professor of political science and the executive director of the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College, he writes regularly for publications ranging from the New York Times to the Wall Street Journal to Political Science Quarterly. Kengor has appeared on Fox News, MSNBC, NPR, C-SPAN, and many other outlets. He and his family live in Pennsylvania.

Read an Excerpt

A Pope and A President

John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century

By Paul Kengor

ISI Books

Copyright © 2017 Paul Kengor
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-5040-4691-6


MAY 13, 1917


The sounds of the bullets that pierced the afternoon air of Saint Peter's Square on May 13, 1981, were an echo of a message that began resounding sixty-four years earlier, on May 13, 1917. The message was said to have come from Mary, the mother of Christ.

Before we go any further, an explanation is in order. This book is a work of historical investigation, not a religious apologetic. Given that, it may seem odd to examine the role of the Virgin Mary in crucial events of the twentieth century. To some readers it will be off- putting. But I ask you to stick with me, even if you do not believe in the supernatural or are a religious person skeptical of Catholic claims of Marian apparitions. The fact is that many of the figures in this book believed devoutly in what I am about to share. They believed that these forces underlay important political and historical developments. John Paul II, in particular, connected the appearance of the Virgin Mary at Fátima to his attempted assassination and to the crimes of communism. Non-Catholics like Ronald Reagan lent their ear to this account.

And so the Virgin Mary features prominently in this book for the simple reason that key players saw her as being significant to how the long story of communism played out. This book does not seek to convince you of the Marian connection. The point is that you must understand the role the "secrets of Fátima" played in the thought of John Paul II and Ronald Reagan to gain a full understanding of how the special relationship between the pope and the president changed world history.

I am reporting nothing new when I say that John Paul paid special heed to Our Lady of Fátima. He consecrated himself and his papacy to the Virgin Mary, because doing so brought him closer to her divine Son and His will. "Her mediation," John Paul wrote in his classic encyclical on Mary, Redemptoris Mater, comes "in the nature of intercession." The pope argued that the Church had "great trust" in Mary, just as God himself, the Eternal Father, had trusted the Virgin of Nazareth, giving her his only begotten Son. That is why Karol Wojtyla entrusted himself to the Virgin Mary, the "God-bearer," for her "special and exceptional mediation." The sainted pontiff's papal motto was "Totus Tuus," which is Latin for "Totally Yours," meaning totally Mary's, and totally Jesus's via Mary. In a 2003 Angelus address, the pope affirmed his commitment to "entrusting everything" to Mary. He stated unhesitatingly that the Blessed Virgin "directs our daily journey on earth" and makes comprehensible "certain events" in "human history." Her hand helped him comprehend events from 1917 to 1981, from his first to his final days on earth.

But if this Marian dedication to Jesus is something we have long known about John Paul II, we have not known the interest Ronald Reagan had in the Virgin Mary. In 2004 I published a bestselling book on the faith of Ronald Reagan without knowing the intriguing Marian element to his thinking. I learned it only later.

The story begins a century ago, in 1917.


Between May 13 and October 13, 1917, three children in a tiny Portuguese village called Fátima claimed to have had six encounters with the Virgin Mary — with the actual spiritual-physical presence of the Mother of Christ. Through the centuries innumerable faithful have claimed encounters with Mary, but it is rare for the Roman Catholic Church even to investigate such claims, and far rarer still for the Church to certify them. The Church approaches claims of apparitions with a prudential skepticism that would surprise a Richard Dawkins or the late Christopher Hitchens. Of nearly four hundred serious claims of Marian apparitions in the twentieth century, in less than a dozen instances the Church gingerly concluded that some supernatural character was apparent. Non-Catholics cannot conceive of the frustration many Catholics feel over the Church's delay or rejection of this or that perceived appearance that a large number of Catholics are convinced is genuine.

Fátima is one of the few approved apparitions, having survived the highest level of rigor. The three children who claimed that the Virgin Mary appeared to them faced a barrage of interrogations, often cruel, and sometimes by outright hostile clergy. Thousands of eyewitnesses offered testimony in support of the claims. No less an authority than Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who as Vatican secretary of state was the second highest-ranking official, behind only the pope, said that "what happened at Fátima has been studied, microscopically scrutinized, and thoroughly analyzed."

That is why John Paul II and so many others accorded these events the utmost seriousness.

The three children, Lúcia dos Santos and her younger cousins Jacinta and Francisco Marto, said that Mary first appeared to them on May 13, 1917, a Sunday. At the time, May 13 was the Catholic Church's liturgical celebration of Our Lady of the Most Blessed Sacrament — that is, Mother of the ongoing Real Presence of Jesus in the world. Only eight days earlier, on May 5, Pope Benedict XV had made a direct appeal to Mary to intercede in ending the Great War, which would claim some seventeen million lives.

The three children had gone to Mass before taking their flock of sheep to a spot outside the village called the Cova da Iria, which means "Cove of Irene" or "Cove of Peace." They ate their lunches and played. It was a beautiful afternoon, but then they saw a flash of lightning. Turning to head home to escape what they thought was an impending storm, they saw another flash. This time they were shaken by the sudden manifestation of a lady in white, whom Lúcia later described as "more brilliant than the sun," radiating a "clear and intense" light. The most radiant light of all emanated from a crucifix on a rosary the Lady held, a rosary with beads glimmering like stars. Lúcia later estimated the young woman's age to be about seventeen.

Sensing the trepidation among the children, the Lady repeated the words that a startled earthly Mary had received from the Angel Gabriel. "Do not be afraid," she told them.

Lúcia, at age ten the oldest of the three children, was the only one who communicated with the Lady. "Where are you from?" Lúcia asked. The woman answered, "I am from heaven." The girl then asked what she wanted; the Lady replied that she wanted the children to come to the same spot on the thirteenth day of each month for six consecutive months. "Later," she vowed, "I will tell you who I am and what I want."

On that May 13, Mary asked the children whether they were willing to endure the trials that lay ahead, the divine plan that God had in store. Were they willing to suffer as sacrifice and in reparation for the sins of the world that were offending Him? If so, would they provide supplication in a way that would convert sinners? The children gave their assent.

During each of the next five months, typically on the thirteenth day, the Lady returned. On June 13 she told the children something they must have struggled to assimilate: she said that Jesus Christ wanted the world to make special devotion to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, which had pumped blood into His earthly body as it formed in the womb. On July 13 the Blessed Lady gave the children a vision of hell. As she did, the children were allegedly infused with a protective grace that enabled them to observe the vision without being so terrified as to perish at the sight.

More than that, the Lady provided predictions. According to Lúcia, the Blessed Mother delivered three dramatic prophecies:

First, the Lady of Fátima predicted that the earthly hell of the Great War would soon end but would be followed by an even deadlier war.

Second, she warned about the coming eruption of atheistic communism: "Russia will spread its errors throughout the world," said the Lady, "raising up wars and persecutions of the Church" in the century ahead. Russia would be an "instrument of chastisement." She reportedly shared this prophecy on July 13, only three months before the Bolsheviks shocked the world by taking power in Russia. Over the next several decades, Lenin and his disciples fulfilled the warning of "wars and persecutions" and "chastisement."

Thus, this book will explore not only the extraordinary events that Ronald Reagan and John Paul II faced but also the crimes and errors that the communists committed throughout the twentieth century. Communism made victims of priests, cardinals, bishops, reverends, nuns, rabbis, Buddhist monks, and Muslim imams, and also of leaders like John F. Kennedy, Pope Pius XII, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Lech Walesa, and Pope John Paul II. It is crucial to understand this history of communist "persecutions" and "errors" to grasp why both Pope John Paul II and Ronald Reagan saw communism as the great evil of the twentieth century and came together to confront it.

What was the third secret of Fátima? As we shall see, the Vatican sealed that secret in a vault, where it stayed for the remainder of the long century. Some feared it predicted a third world war, or Armageddon. It turns out that it envisioned another communist crime: the assassination, or at least an attempted assassination, of a man robed and hatted in white — that is, a pope.

The Lady also told Lúcia that her two cousins would be leaving this world "soon," whereas Lúcia was to "stay here some time longer." Both Jacinta and Francisco died within three years, victims of the influenza epidemic that followed the war. Lúcia did live longer — to the age of ninety-seven, in fact, long enough to see the three predictions come true. As an adult — by which point she was Sister Lúcia, a Carmelite nun — she would record the three secrets in writing.


The last of the Virgin Mary's six alleged apparitions in Fátima occurred just a week and a half before the outbreak of the Bolshevik Revolution.

What materialized on October 13, 1917, became the most significant Church-approved miracle of the century. Some enthusiasts among the Catholic brethren contend that it was the greatest supernatural feat since the Resurrection.

A miracle, by its nature, is hard to believe; it's a miracle, after all. But it is imperative to recall the rigorous, skeptical approach that the Roman Catholic Church takes to investigating reports of Marian apparitions. And after having "microscopically scrutinized and thoroughly analyzed" the Fátima case (in Cardinal Bertone's words), the Church concluded that something miraculous transpired in that tiny Portuguese village.

On October 13 a crowd of some seventy thousand, pilgrims and skeptics alike, descended on Fátima. Lúcia, Jacinta, and Francisco had told people to expect a miracle, and word had gotten around. Some four thousand people had been present for the July 13 visitation and twenty-five thousand for the September 13 appearance, though only the children could see and communicate with the Lady. Now there were so many more because the Lady had promised a miracle for all to see in October.

It had rained all morning. Throughout the dreary day, the throng was getting antsy, angry. Where was this miracle? Surely this was a hoax. How could these mere children mislead so many?

Then something suddenly changed. The children became locked in, fixated, staring upward. Something was there, communicating to them. Fulfilling her July 13 promise to Lúcia that she would eventually reveal her true identity, the mystical woman told the children, "I am the Lady of the Rosary." Reiterating what she had said earlier, she told them that the current war would end soon, with fathers returning from the frontlines. She urged reparation and penance.

Then came what everyone was waiting for. As Lúcia later described it, the Lady of the Rosary opened her hands and "made them reflect on the sun, and as she ascended, the reflection of her own light continued to be projected on the sun itself." Lúcia cried out to the gathered to look at the sun.

Two unbelievable things happened. The three children watched the Lady vanish "into the immense distance of the firmament" (as Lúcia later explained it), only to behold in the sky Saint Joseph with the Child Jesus aside the Lady robed in white with a blue mantle. It was the Holy Family. The Christ child and His earthly father traced the Sign of the Cross with their elevated hands as if to bless the world.

This was surreal enough, but as the three children were mesmerized, the stunned thousands were felled by another spectacle altogether: they saw the sun do incredible things, beyond scientific explanation.


If the children had been the only witnesses, no one would remember the scene today. But what happened next was backed by the testimonies of those who were there.

Here are merely a few eyewitness accounts among the many collected and published. One witness was Dr. José Maria de Almeida Garrett, a professor in the Faculty of Sciences at the prestigious University of Coimbra, the oldest institution of higher education in Portugal. Dr. Garrett had gone to Fátima a skeptic, but what he witnessed changed his outlook. He recounted:

It must have been 1:30 P.M. ... The sky, which had been overcast all day, suddenly cleared; the rain stopped and it looked as if the sun were about to fill with light the countryside that the wintery morning had made so gloomy. ... The sun, a few moments before, had broken through the thick layer of clouds which hid it and now shone clearly and intensely.

Suddenly I heard the uproar of thousands of voices, and I saw the whole multitude spread out in that vast space at my feet ... turn their backs to that spot where, until then, all their expectations had been focused, and look at the sun on the other side.

With all spectators shifting their gaze, Dr. Garrett did the same. He was amazed at what he watched unfold:

I could see the sun, like a very clear disc, with its sharp edge, which gleamed without hurting the sight. It could not be confused with the sun seen through a fog (there was no fog at that moment), for it was neither veiled nor dim. ... The most astonishing thing was to be able to stare at the solar disc for a long time, brilliant with light and heat, without hurting the eyes or damaging the retina. The sun's disc did not remain immobile, it had a giddy motion, not like the twinkling of a star in all its brilliance for it spun round upon itself in a mad whirl.

During the solar phenomenon which I have just described, there were also changes of color in the atmosphere. Looking at the sun, I noticed that everything was becoming darkened. I looked first at the nearest objects and then extended my glance further afield as far as the horizon. I saw everything had assumed an amethyst color. Objects around me, the sky and the atmosphere, were of the same color....

Then, suddenly, one heard a clamor, a cry of anguish breaking from all the people. The sun, whirling wildly, seemed all at once to loosen itself from the firmament and, blood red, advance threateningly upon the earth as if to crush us with its huge and fiery weight. The sensation during those moments was truly terrible.

As he recorded his account, the professor knew that he now would be among those that nonwitnesses would forever dismiss or disrespect. In affidavit-like language, he sought to assure future readers that he had not been overcome with madness or hysteria:

All the phenomena which I have described were observed by me in a calm and serene state of mind without any emotional disturbance. It is for others to interpret and explain them. Finally, I must declare that never, before or after October 13 [1917], have I observed similar atmospheric or solar phenomena.

As this testimony suggests, Garrett was no wailing zealot. He was a refined and respected scholar, the son of a prominent Portuguese family. Even as he witnessed something miraculous, he opted to describe it clinically, in the language of a scientist. Not given to hyperbole, he nonetheless saw and reported precisely what countless others attested.

Another hardened skeptic who offered an eyewitness account was Avelino de Almeida, editor in chief of O Seculo, an atheistic, anticlerical newspaper in Lisbon. Almeida had ventured to Fátima with the intent of mocking the wild expectations of the superstitious. He was shocked at what he encountered, which he shared in his newspaper:

One could see the huge crowd turning toward the sun, which, standing at the zenith unobstructed by clouds, looked like a piece of opaque silver. One could gaze at it without the least difficulty. It could have been an eclipse, but all of a sudden there was a great cry, and the nearby spectators started shouting, "A miracle! A miracle!" Before the stupefied eyes of the people, who anxiously peered into the sky with uncovered heads like the multitudes described in the Bible, the sun trembled and darted this way and that. Its brusque movements, which were truly astonishing to behold, defied every known law of astronomy. The sun "danced," as the people typically put it.


Excerpted from A Pope and A President by Paul Kengor. Copyright © 2017 Paul Kengor. Excerpted by permission of ISI Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


May 13, 1981 Moscow Takes Its Shot 1

Part 1 Warnings and Beginnings

1 May 13, 1917 An Echo 13

2 October 26, 1917 The Devils Take Over 28

3 May 1920-June 1922: A Birth in Poland and a Rebirth in the Midwest 40

Part 2 Persecutions and Errors

4 1924-1939 The "Satanic Scourge" of Communism 53

5 1939-1945 "Blood, Blood, Blood, and Again Blood" 68

6 1945-1952 The Iron Curtain Descends 85

7 1956-1963 Crushing Hungary and Smearing Pius XII 94

8 November 22, 1963 Communism's Errors Reach Dallas 109

Part 3 Wojtyla and Reagan Rising

9 1946-1959 Battling Communists in Poland and Hollywood 125

10 The 1960s A Time for Choosing 137

11 May 6, 1975 The Dry Martyrdom of Cardinal Mindszenty 150

12 Summer of 1976 Two Freedom Fighters in America 156

13 1977-1978 "We Win and They Lose" 167

14 1978-1979 "Be Not Afraid" 177

15 1980-1981 An Era of Renewal 200

Part 4 Game Changers

16 March 30, 1981 A Bullet for a President 213

17 March 29-30, 1981 The Soviet Invasion That Wasn't 223

18 May 13, 1981 A (Soviet) Bullet for a Pope 245

19 May-September 1981 Commencement 259

20 December 13, 1981 Martial Law 269

21 January-June 1982 Face to Face in the Vatican 286

22 July-December 1982 Moscow Under Suspicion 306

23 1983 Dealing with an "Evil Empire" 319

24 March 25, 1984 The Consecration of Russia 344

25 May 1984 Together Again 353

26 October 19, 1984 The Martyrdom of Father Jerzy Popieluszko 363

27 March 1985 A New Kind of Soviet Leader 375

28 May 1985 A President in Portugal 380

29 May 1985 "The Russians Did It" 391

Part 5 Ending an Evil Empire

30 November 1985-Decembcr 1987 The President and the "Closet Christian" 421

31 December 8, 1987 An Immaculate Peace 431

32 June-December 1987 Reagan's Fátima Briefing 442

33 May-June 1988 Reagan's Mission to Moscow 462

34 June 1988 Ending the Soviet "War on Religion" 477

35 1989-1991 The Collapse of the Evil Empire 484

Part 6 Revelations and Goodbyes

36 May 13, 2000 The Third Secret of Fátima-Revealed 505

37 June 5, 2004 Ronald Reagan's Silent Goodbye 513

38 April 2, 2005 Divine Mercy for John Paul II 522

Epilogue: June 27, 2011 Kindred Spirits, Kindred Souls 535

Afterword for the Paperback Edition: 2018 New Answers to Lingering Questions 541

Acknowledgments 547

Notes 553

Index 623

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