As William Shakespeare famously wrote, “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” In the drama of geopolitics, the world is literally the stage, and its players are political, social, economic, and religious leaders. Just as actors in a play have varying degrees of importance, so too do those leaders who perform on the world stage, but the stakes are far higher than mere entertainment; in some cases, the fate of millions hangs in the balance.
In the high-stakes drama of the 1980s, Pope John Paul II and President Ronald Reagan — both former actors — found themselves at the center of the dramatic final decade of the Cold War. Besides their acting careers, these two men also shared a strong faith in what Reagan often referred to as “the DP”: the Divine Plan. Their belief in the DP placed them in unique, co-starring roles in what Bishop Robert Barron calls a theo-drama, drawing on Hans Urs von Balthasar’s treatise of the same name, in which he portrays salvation as a drama.
What was the Divine Plan? Simply put, the final defeat of Communism. Having survived assassination attempts within six weeks of each other, the pope and the president believed that they had been brought through similar near-death experiences to achieve a common end. They saw their similar circumstances not as mere coincidence, but as proof of destiny. Many great historical figures have reached their goals through actions, often brought on by a pivotal moment or turn of events — what is called the “inciting incident,” a dramatic moment that begins a conflict.
In the case of the pope and the president, assassins’ bullets set in motion their respective roles. Reagan’s demand that Gorbachev “tear down this wall” was not merely a line in a speech which he had been advised to remove. The wall’s collapse symbolized the collapse of Soviet oppression the world over, as the final curtain came down on the Cold War, in an ironic echo of the Iron Curtain that had descended across Europe decades prior. But while the unfurling of the Iron Curtain had brought oppression, the fall of the Berlin Wall brought freedom and joy.
In the theo-drama, Reagan and Pope John Paul II saw themselves as locked in a deadly struggle with the forces of Soviet Communism. This struggle, they believed, was the reason they had been brought together through suffering at this time in history. Indeed, they could say, with Hamlet, “The time is out of joint. O cursed spite, that ever I was born to set it right!”
The Divine Plan: John Paul II, Ronald Reagan & The Dramatic End of the Cold War will be released in theaters November 6. www.thedivineplanmovie.com