Newt Gingrich, a Catholic convert, co-produces film on Pope John Paul’s II

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Newt Gingrich promotes film on Pope John Paul II

WARSAW, Poland — Former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich — a recent convert to Catholicism — is in Poland promoting a documentary he co-produced on Pope John Paul II’s role in defeating communism.

Gingrich, a Republican, is preaching to the converted: the Polish-born pope is revered, and Poles credit him with inspiring the struggle that eventually helped bring down the Soviet-backed communists in eastern Europe.

Gingrich said Wednesday that his film, “Nine Days that Changed the World,” is still needed to remind young Poles, secular historians and people worldwide of John Paul’s anti-totalitarian convictions. The film, which will be screened at American universities this fall, is also being translated into Chinese and Spanish in hopes it will inspire people in Cuba and elsewhere, Gingrich said.

“We believe the pope’s message of freedom through faith and his principle that no government can get between you and God is a principle that is relevant in every country, for every person around the world,” Gingrich said at a news conference in Warsaw attended by the film’s director and the other producers, among them his wife, Callista Gingrich.

The film tracks a visit John Paul made to Poland in 1979 — his first back to his homeland after being elected pontiff — and the electrifying effect it had on Poland’s anti-communist opposition.

Within just over a year, Lech Walesa’s Solidarity freedom movement was born. Walesa and other activists have said the massive crowds that came out during the nine-day visit to see the pope encouraged opposition activists by giving them a sense of the large-scale opposition to the communist regime. John Paul’s sermons, though subtle, also challenged the communists’ authority and called for freedom.

Gingrich, a Georgia congressman, said he converted to Catholicism last year. Previously he was a Baptist, but started growing closer to Catholicism after marrying Callista — a lifelong Roman Catholic — 10 years ago. He was also inspired by seeing Pope Benedict XVI during his 2008 visit to the United States.

“It was a process which had occurred over about a nine-year period,” he said. “I was catching up with what had happened to me, I wasn’t making a decision. The decision was sort of unveiling itself.”

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