Author explores friendship of President Reagan and Pope John Paul II

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Both President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II survived assassination attempts, forgave their shooters, suspected Russian involvement in the assassination attempts and wanted to defeat communism. Reagan, a Protestant, considered Pope John Paul II a close friend and the feeling was mutual.

Author Paul Kengor wrote A Pope and a President: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan, and the Extraordinary Untold Story of the 20th Century about the unique relationship between the two world leaders. Kengor presented his findings May 24 at the Catholic Information Center in Washington, the same day President Donald Trump and Pope Francis met at the Vatican.

Kengor is a professor of political science and executive director of the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College in Grove City, Pa. He is also the author of 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative, The Communist: Frank Marshall Davis, The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s MentorandDupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.

Kengor began his presentation by noting similarities between Reagan and Pope John Paul II before they were in positions of power. Both were involved in sports and acting. Kengor elaborated on other similarities throughout his presentation. The two men met in person five times in eight years, though they corresponded throughout their lives.

Unlike Reagan and Pope John Paul II, Kengor said Trump and Pope Francis have little common ground. “They may find common ground on the issues of religious liberty and religious persecution,” he said in an interview after the event.

There is a possibility of collaboration between Trump and Pope Francis, Kengor said. “Their first meeting together made that clear,” he said.

“Some people were looking for and maybe hoping for fireworks and acrimony,” he said. “But I figured they would probably get along. The Holy Father is gracious and merciful and gets along with people.” 

Unlike Trump and Pope Francis, Reagan and Pope John Paul II were kindred spirits.

“They agreed on so much, from economics to philosophy, to their understanding of the human person,” he said. “They both felt going into their first meeting that their lives had been spared for a special divine purpose for this unity of mind and mission to defeat atheistic Soviet communism.”

Kengor said Pope Francis would have to be pleased with Trump doing things such as banning funding of Planned Parenthood. “They might disagree on immigration, building walls and climate change, but I think (with) some of these religious liberty and human life issues they can find areas to collaborate.”

Kengor’s 648-page book details the similarities and spiritual bond between Reagan and Pope John Paul II, and provides new information on the attempted assassination of the pope and consideration of Moscow’s involvement.

Pope John Paul II was shot 64 years to the day after the first apparition of Our Lady of Fatima, Kengor said.
“Frank Shakespeare, the second ambassador to the Vatican, gave Reagan a one-on-one Fatima briefing in June 1987 before Reagan’s second Vatican meeting with the pope,” said Kengor. “Reagan was even interested in the alleged apparitions of Mary in Medjugorje.”

When Pope John Paul II was shot, it deepened the affection between him and Reagan, Kengor said. Reagan delivered a personal message to the pope as he was recovering.

An audience member asked how Reagan and the pope were different from what Kengor expected at the beginning of writing the book.

Although he had written a previous book on Reagan, he later learned their relationship was closer than he realized.

“From a Catholic perspective, the Marian bond was something I did not expect at all,” he said.  

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017

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