Mitt Romney’s speech in Jerusalem was necessarily political. But it was hard not to notice he was speaking not far from where Christ was born and crucified. Christ’s death-defying life involved one Nazarene young woman’s “yes.” And in his speech this morning in Warsaw, Romney reflected on the significance a simple “yes” or “no” — answering a call to courage — can have in the course of human events:
Americans watched with astonishment and admiration, as an electrician led a peaceful protest against a brutal and oppressive regime.
“It has to be understood,” as President Walesa has recently said, “that the solidarity movement philosophy was very simple. When you can’t lift a weight, you ask someone else for help and to lift it with you.”
Of course, among the millions of Poles who said “yes”, there was one who has a unique and special place in our hearts: Pope John Paul the Second. When he first appeared on the balcony above Saint Peter’s Square, a correspondent on the scene wrote to his editor with a first impression. This is not just a pope from Poland, he said, “This is a pope from Galilee.”
In 1979, Pope John Paul the Second celebrated Mass with you in a square not too far from here. He reminded the world there would be no justice in Europe without an independent Poland, and he reminded the Polish people, long deprived of their independence, from where they drew their strength.
While greeting a crowd huddled along a fence, he met a little girl. He paused and asked her, “Where is Poland?” But the girl – caught off guard – couldn’t answer. She laughed nervously until the great pope put his hand over her heart and said: “Poland is here.”
John Paul the Second understood that a nation is not a flag or a plot of land. It is a people – a community of values. And the highest value Poland honors – to the world’s great fortune – is man’s innate desire to be free.
Sometimes, a “yes,” is actually a “no”; Romney said:
Time and again, history has recorded the ascent of liberty, propelled by souls that yearn for freedom and justice. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has noted that it is often one brave man or woman who says “no” to oppression, and in doing so, sparks a revolution of courage in hundreds, thousands or millions of others.
In 1955, in my country, Rosa Parks said “no” to a bus driver who told her to give up her seat to a white person, and in doing so, started a revolution of dignity and equality that continues to this day. Mohamed Bouazizi, a street vendor in Tunisia, was denied his business wares by a government functionary, and in protest committed suicide by self-immolation. With that act of defiance, the Arab Spring was born.
Nicolai Ceausescu stood before an audience of 200,000, recounting for them his supposed works on their behalf. One elderly woman shouted out what others only thought. “Liar,” she said. Others echoed her, first hundreds, then thousands. And with the fall of Ceausescu days later, the entire nation had awoken and a people were freed.
And here, in 1979, a son of Poland, Pope John Paul the Second, spoke words that would bring down an empire and bring freedom to millions who lived in bondage. “Be not afraid” – those words changed the world.
It’s politics, of course, when it shows up in a presidential candidate’s speech, but it’s also our lives. It’s a proper connection to make because it’s why we bother with politics. We have rights granted by our Creator, as Romney said in both Jerusalem and Warsaw this week, and we are responsible to protect them and help them flourish, in ourselves, in our societies. That’s a call for this day and this election.
The concept of fiat and the real call of conscience — one that requires much more than freedom of worship and Sunday obligation — is one we do not always appreciate culturally. It is a call that we, of course, don’t always live up to … it’s a daily walk and renewal.
A day before the HHS abortion-inducing drug, contraception, sterilization Mandate goes into effect, we are reminded that we face a challenge today about the freedom to love God fully, in our public lives, with out entire lives.