A few weeks ago it was my privilege to visit the Eternal City of Rome. While in the Vatican, I had the honor to be in the personal presence of His Holiness Pope John Paul II.
As I sat near the papal throne in St. Peter's Square, I was surrounded by a group of about 30 college students from the Pope's hometown of Krakow, Poland. Those young people had traveled for five days on a bus without air conditioning in the sweltering summer heat of Southern Europe to see their Pope.
When the Holy Father approached us, the young people rose to their feet and sang to him songs of liberty and songs of hope for freedom for their homeland. The words of the songs were translated for me by a Polish-speaking friend who stood nearby. The Supreme Pontiff was visibly moved.
The young people from Poland raised their hands with the well-known "V" sign of the Solidarity Movement. John Paul II greeted them warmly and blessed them.
Among those students was a boy named Peter who spoke English. We talked to one another and I invited him and a classmate to dinner that evening.
During our time together and conversation he told me about current living conditions in Poland. He told of the restrictions on worship, human liberty, economic pursuit and free movement. He also told me that he had spent a month in the West last year. He had been in England.
Peter said to me: "Now that I have breathed the fresh air of freedom of the West, it is all but impossible to live in my homeland under the repression of Communism."
These were the words of a young person yearning for liberty and the recognition of human dignity. They haunt me even after I have returned to the comforts of our Orange County community.
The tyranny of Communism too often becomes for us a distant concept. I am very grateful to that young man named Peter whom I met in Rome. He reminded me that we have an obligation to oppose Communism throughout the world--not just for our own national interests, but for the future of all the world's youth.
THOMAS A. FUENTES