VATICAN CITY —
The release of a transcript of the 1989 meeting between Pope John Paul II and Mikhail Gorbachev offers a fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse of one of the more important papal audiences of the 20th century.
It’s a translation of the Russian record of the private meeting, released by the National Security Archive, an independent institute in Washington. For background on this and other documents being made public, look here.
Record of Conversation of M.S. Gorbachev and John Paul II
Vatican, December 1, 1989
For the first several minutes the conversation was one-on-one (without interpreters).
Gorbachev: I would like to say that I appreciate your words at the beginning of the conversation regarding the fact that this is a meeting of two Slavic people, among other things. I don’t mean to appear as a pan-Slavist, but I believe in the mission of Slavic people to strengthen the understanding of human values of life, peace, and goodness everywhere.
John Paul II: Yes, this is so. Peace and goodness.
Gorbachev: We welcome your mission on this high altar, we are sure that it will leave a great footprint in history. I am familiar with your addresses to the world, with your reflection upon its problems. I even noted that we often use similar expressions. This means that there is agreement at the source—in our thoughts. I do not know why, but I was sure that this meeting would take place. Not only because it is in the interest of humanity, although this is important as we are contemporaries. But first and foremost it is because we have a great deal of unifying thoughts and concerns.
I thank you for the invitation to visit the Vatican, and in the name of the vast country that I represent I would like to express respect for your peace-making efforts.
John Paul II: We are trying.
From my side I would like to thank you, Mr. President, for your last message, which I read several times and kept coming back to. It is a very important message, full of content where I saw many thoughts similar to my own.
Gorbachev: For my part, I thought about your message for a long time before responding to it.
John Paul II: Naturally, the main problem that interests all of humanity is the question of war and peace. We are grateful to God that lately the danger of war has decreased and the tension in relations between the East and the West has gone down. We know and value highly your work for the sake of world peace and wish it a good continuation.
Gorbachev: I thank you for that.
John Paul II: We all need peace and solidarity among nations. It is especially important to have movement forward in relations between the great powers on different fronts, including on the problems of developing countries. The situation in the Third World is one of the issues I am concerned about the most. I wrote about this in my encyclical “On Social Concerns.”
I would like to speak about the elements related to the word “perestroika,” which has deeply touched all aspects of life for the Soviet people, and not only them. This process allows us together to look for a way to enter a new dimension of people’s common existence, which would reflect to a greater degree the requirements of the human spirit, of different nations, of the rights of individuals and nations. The efforts you are making are not only of a great interest to us. We share them.
Naturally, one of the fundamental human rights is the freedom of conscience, from which stems religious freedom. For obvious reasons this aspect is of the greatest interest to me, the Church, and the Holy See. After all, our mission is religious. In order to have the opportunity to carry out our mission in different countries with various political systems, it is necessary for us to be sure that freedom of conscience is observed in those countries.