When Pope John Paul II visited Czechoslovakia last week, he came bearing not only blessings but the vision of a new Europe.
As his spokesman, Dr. Joaquin Navarro-Valls, explained, "Europe is unique because it is a continent with a shared Christian heritage. Since 1981, the Holy Father has been talking about a common European home from the Urals to the Atlantic. Now (the collapse of communism) makes it possible to put his idea into practice."
To that end, the Pope announced that within the year he will call an unprecedented synod of all Europe's bishops. One vital topic they will take up is John Paul's worry that, having rid themselves of communism, Eastern Europe's new democracies will replace it with the kind of "secularism, indifference, hedonistic consumerism, practical materialism and formal atheism" he believes disfigures Western society.
The people of the East did not throw off totalitarianism simply to stand in Christian rather than Marxist bread lines. However, as communism's most unyielding adversary, the church enjoys unprecedented moral authority throughout most of Eastern Europe. How it chooses to wield it is a question of the greatest moment. Between the World Wars, for example, the politics of most of the region's countries were vexed by so-called people's parties. Their programs--unforeseen mutations of the Catholic Action movement--were nationalist, populist and, invariably, anti-Semitic. Their remnants have begun to stir again, particularly in Hungary and Poland.