- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 15, 2005

Pope John Paul II did more than inspire millions with his devout faith and preaching throughout the world. His visits to his native Poland in the early 1980s helped fuel a movement that eventually would free the country from communist oppression.

For his remarkable stand against tyranny, the late pontiff received the Truman-Reagan Freedom Award on Tuesday night from the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, the apostolic nuncio (ambassador) of the Holy See, accepted the medal on the late pope’s behalf.

The group’s seventh annual event, which took place this year at the Polish Embassy in Northwest, also bestowed honors on Lt. Gen. Edward L. Rowny, who advised President Ronald cwing the START (Strategic Arms Reduction Talks) meetings.

More than 150 persons gathered for the ceremony, including Polish-American leader Zbigniew Zimmerman; Afghan Ambassador Said Jawad; Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, Michigan Republican; former Cuban political prisoner Ramon Couto; Maj. Gen. John Singlaub, a former Truman-Reagan Medal of Freedom awardee; and the evening’s host, Polish Ambassador Janusz Reiter.

The foundation’s mission is to honor the memory of the more than 100 million people who died under communism and educate the public about communism’s crimes against humanity. The group’s upcoming memorial, a 10-foot bronze replica of the Democracy statue in Tiananmen Square created by Chinese students in 1989, will be installed on the corner of Massachusetts and New Jersey avenues Northwest. Construction is expected to begin by April.

Gen. Rowny, 88, who used a cane but spoke in a full-bodied voice, said he was moved to be honored along with Pope John Paul.

“I’m not worthy to loosen his sandal straps,” he said.

The night also spontaneously honored activist Anna Walentynowicz, whose dismissal one month before retirement for anti-regime activities at the Gdansk shipyard in 1980 sparked the Solidarity movement.

“The Catholic Church brought big support to our struggle,” she said through a translator.

The frail woman’s speech inspired many in the room to sing the old Polish song “May You Live a Thousand Years,” the same tune Poles sang to Pope John Paul II during his historic visits to their country.

Later, foundation board director Anhthu Lu, a Vietnamese American, said most Americans can’t fathom the depravity of Marxist totalitarianism.

“Until you live under communism, you can’t imagine the brutal tyranny,” Ms. Lu said. “It’s such a crime to humanity.”

Foundation Chairman Lee Edwards said one-fifth of the world’s population is still living under communist rule in countries such as China, Cuba and North Korea despite how much is known about the horrors wrought by past communist regimes.

“No war, no plague ever came close” to matching its devastation, Mr. Edwards said.

Christian Toto

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