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Gingrich screens film on Pope John Paul II

Ellie Hall | Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich screened his Catholic documentary “Nine Days That Changed the World” Monday night in Washington Hall and urged the audience to carry the film’s lessons into an increasingly secular nation.  

“Nine Days That Changed the World,” produced and narrated by the former speaker and his wife, Callista, chronicles Pope John Paul II’s historic first visit to Poland in June 1979 and the subsequent beginnings of the solidarity movement that overthrew the Polish Communists in 1990.

“You cannot understand the history of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War without understanding the power of religion and in particular the influence of Pope John Paul II,” Newt said as he introduced the film.

He said the film and the pope’s messages are still relevant today.

“The message of this film is not just for those places that might have overt dictatorships such as Cuba or China but are also for those places in the West that have aggressively and abundantly used courts and bureaucracies to weaken the religious impulse and the right of individuals to approach God on their own terms,” Newt said.

“Conflict between a secular government determined to impose its power and a free people seeking the right to approach God on their own terms and seeking the right to openly profess their face is a conflict that has gone on for most of human history, and a conflict that goes on in the United States today.”

At the end of the screening, the Gingriches greeted audience members and posed for photos with members of the College Republicans.

“It’s easier to be an atheist in America than a Christian,” Callista — a lifelong Catholic — told The Observer after the screening.

Callista said there are many parallels between Poland under its communist regime and America today.

“You see people that want to take down crosses or cover crosses. You see opposition to school prayer,” she said. 

America is “going through a cycle [of secularism],” Newt said, “and cycles like this have been overturned before.”

He referenced St. Paul, who spread “seeds of Christianity” during a time of widespread paganism.

“We need a new Aquinas, a new Benedict, new Wesley brothers,” Newt said. “We need politicians who will take on secularism and defend belief in Christ.

“If you’re willing to endure the scorn of the news media, you’ll win the support of the American people,” he said.

Newt, who converted to Catholicism in March 2009, acknowledged the personal and political implications of his new faith.

“The power of being accepted by the Church and receiving the Eucharist into your life … certainly shapes how you look at the world in general,” he said.

In addition to speaking generally about Catholicism, Newt also said positive things about Notre Dame as a Catholic university.

“I can’t imagine any place better in America to show the film,” he said.