Some observers believe that John Paul II helped precipitate Eastern Europe's break on the communist stranglehold when he visited Poland early in his Vatican reign.
Then recently the pope returned to Poland for meetings that could influence events in Europe. The Los Angeles Times reported: "In an extraordinary gathering, Pope John Paul II brought seven European presidents together, telling them during an open-air mass in Gniezno attended by 250,000 Poles that a wall of economic and political selfishness as divisive as the Communist-era Berlin Wall threatens unity in Europe. The presidents from Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania and Ukraine later had a private meeting with the Pope."
Apparently this is the first time a pope has met with so many presidents of countries at once. John Paul's private comments to them were believed to reinforce the importance of Europe retaining its identity.
Also seen as particularly significant were the observations of Germany's President Roman Herzog: "What links us in Europe is the Christian roots, our common culture. This is why I see all the nations that want to join the community joining in." No one should forget the pontiff's remarks during mass: "Europe will never achieve authentic unity if its Christian roots are ignored."
Unlike in the United States, the secular and the religious are not necessarily seen as separate entities in Catholic Europe. The church is viewed as having a strong role to play in uniting Eastern and Western Europe. The pope sees Europe as one entity "from the Atlantic to the Urals." (Sources: The Associated Press, The Los Angeles Times.)