One man’s belief that culture conquers all

By 
  • March 5, 2016

The main driving force of history is neither politics nor economics but rather the culture in which these human conditions exist, or so thought a pope who witnessed the phenomenon first hand.

“John Paul II viewed culture not politics and economics as the most important factor driving history,” said David Naglieri, director and writer of the documentary Liberating a Continent: John Paul II and the Fall of Communism. “John Paul II said that if Poles would be sovereign in their identity, then even if they are ruled by the communists, they are still going to be free from these communists.”

Naglieri’s film chronicles John Paul II’s role in the liberation of Eastern Europe from the control of the Soviet Union, beginning in his Polish homeland. Naglieri shows how the Polish pope’s message extended beyond Poland’s borders.

“The film doesn’t just focus on the birth of Solidarity and the path of freedom in Poland,” said Naglieri. “We explore how John Paul inspired movements for religious freedom in Lithuania, Czechoslovakia and Ukraine. I hope viewers take away a deeper understanding and appreciation of John Paul II’s legacy in liberating a continent.”

Liberating a Continent makes its cable television debut on March 7 at 8 p.m. on PBS Buffalo, which is available in much of southern Ontario, with reruns scheduled for March 13, 15 and 25. National broadcasting is scheduled for June. The documentary, about 90 minutes in length and narrated by Jim Caviezel, who portrayed Jesus in The Passion of the Christ, will premiere in Poland in April in more than 100 theatres.

As the end of the Second World War neared, the Soviet Red Army, advancing on the soon-to-bedefeated Germany, steamrolled across Eastern Europe, taking over from the Nazis the occupation of Poland. With the occupation came communist rule and the outlawing of religion in the staunchly Catholic nation that had already seen about 20 per cent of its Catholic priests perish at the hand of the Nazis during the war.

“You could not contest Soviet power by armed struggle,” said Naglieri. “It had to be overcome through spiritual power. That is a history lesson that we cannot ever forget.”

It’s a lesson the late Pope John Paul II, who died a decade ago, taught long before he was elevated to the Chair of Peter in 1978. One powerful example he put forward for his people came in 1967 when, as the recently elected Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyła began a campaign to build the Arka Pana (Ark of the Lord) Catholic Church despite the disapproval of the communists.

To emphasize John Paul II’s role in the liberation from communism and to bring the story to life, the film has interviews from many people who were close to the action — John Paul II biographer George Weigel, Cardinal Stanislaw Dzwisz, John Paul II’s longtime personal assistant, Solidarity founder Lech Walesa and Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the director of the Holy See Press Office during John Paul II’s papacy.

“No film has ever brought together such a wide array of interviews including numerous heads of states, esteemed historians, foreign policy experts as well as a bevy of personal eyewitnesses to these dramatic events,” said Naglieri, noting that the executive producer Carl Anderson served as project manager for the 1987 papal visit to America.

Naglieri has also accessed unprecedented historical film footage for Liberating a Continent.

“Our film features many archives from the communist era that have never been seen before in a documentary film. When you combine the archival footage with the eyewitness testimony of those who lived through these events, it can be a powerful tool for reminding us of the not so distant past and the clear implications for our collective future.”

And while the film’s crew relied on historical footage and people who experienced the historic times for content, the intended audience is much more modern.

“There is now a generation graduating from universities and entering the work force that was born after these dramatic events occurred,” he said. “(So) this film’s aim is as simple as it is far reaching. It’s to demonstrate to future generations that the fate of nations is not determined by just political and economic factors.”

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