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The XXI century will be a сentury either of total all-embracing crisis or of moral and spiritual healing that will reinvigorate humankind. It is my conviction that all of us - all reasonable political leaders, all spiritual and ideological movements, all  faiths - must help in this transition to a triumph of humanism and justice, in making the XXI century a century of a new human renaissance.

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18 May 2020

Mikhail Gorbachev’s tribute to John Paul II


Mikhail Gorbachev contributed an article to the special edition of the newspaper Osservatore Romano, published by the Holy See. The article, titled He Remains Our Contemporary, was also carried by Italy’s leading newspaper La Repubblica.

In the years of perestroika and later I had the opportunity to meet outstanding people, among whom were some truly historical figures. But even among them few left such a vivid mark in my memory as His Holiness Pope John Paul II.

We began to communicate at a turning point in world history. After years of alienation and hostility between East and West, the leaders of major nations finally realized that we have a common enemy - the threat of nuclear holocaust. And, with joint efforts, we began to move from confrontation to cooperation and, in the future, to partnership.

John Paul II fully supported this process. Today it seems symbolic to me that our first meeting took place in December 1989, on the eve of my meeting with the U.S. President. Then, in Malta, George W. Bush and I stated that our countries no longer considered each other enemies.

I must say that even before I had paid close attention to the activities and statements of the head of the Roman Catholic Church, and he, as I was informed, followed the changes that were taking place in our country. We established contacts, which paved the way for our meeting. And when the meeting was held, I told the Pope that the same or similar words are often found in my and his statements. "And this means that there must be something in common in the basis - in our thoughts," I suggested. Today, more than thirty years later, I note that this commonality was not only preserved, but deepened throughout the years.

I think I can say with good reason that during those years we became friends. And, probably, many other people can say so too, because he was distinguished by warm, genuine interest in each person.

Pope John Paul II combined the high mission of a spiritual leader with a subtle understanding of social and political processes underway in the world. He

regarded perestroika as a phenomenon of great significance not only for our country, but also for the whole world, as “a search for a new dimension of human life that better meets the needs of the human person and the interests of different peoples”. These words of his are memorable to me.

His understanding of European history and Europe's role in the modern world was particularly profound. In the same conversation, His Holiness said:

- No one should pretend that the changes in Europe and in the world must follow the Western pattern. That runs counter to my deep convictions. As a participant in world history, Europe must breathe with two lungs.

A very apt image! I supported this idea and quoted these words more than once, speaking about Europe's present and future. Today they are extremely relevant.

And another thought of Pope John Paul II sounds today not just relevant, but as a call and reminder to world leaders and to each of us. I am referring to his remark that we really need a new world order - more stable, more just and more humane.

I am sure that if, after the end of the Cold War, world politics had been based on that thesis, if politics had been brought closer to and inspired by morality, many mistakes and failures that cost the world so much in recent decades could have been avoided.

The spiritual and intellectual legacy of His Holiness should be present in our reflections on the destinies of humankind and the challenges facing the world in this millennium. He reflected deeply on the global world, on our common responsibility to preserve life on the planet and to preserve planet Earth itself.

Today more than ever, it should be clear that the challenges faced by humankind cannot be addressed by means and methods that were used or appeared to be appropriate before. I spoke about this back in 1988 when I addressed the United Nations General Assembly.

I allowed myself to quote these words here because I am convinced that new challenges and threats require new thinking, based on the values shared by all world religions, all major currents of modern thought.

The world is now experiencing an acute, all-encompassing crisis caused the COVID-19 pandemic. Under these circumstances, there is much that we must rethink. I am sure that today His Holiness would have supported the call for demilitarization of international relations and political thinking, for the reduction of military spending.

Human security, the protection of people's health and of the environment and the creation of conditions for a decent life for every person living on our planet should come first in the policy of states.

The world is going through a difficult time. It makes special demands on every human being, and above all on political leaders. The role of spiritual leaders is also of great importance and responsibility. I hope that they will measure up to this responsibility, by following the inspiring example of Pope John Paul II. He remains our contemporary even today.