By Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON — Senior White House officials gathered June 21 with leaders of various faith groups and nonprofit organizations as well as community leaders to commemorate the 40th anniversary of St. John Paul II’s first pilgrimage to Poland with a screening of “The Divine Plan,” a documentary released June 15.

The film by Robert Orlando, an award-winning writer and filmmaker, is based on a book of the same title that he co-wrote with Paul Kengor, a New York Times best-selling author and political science professor.

The film and book explore the “deep spiritual bond” between the pontiff and President Ronald Reagan. While the two world leaders didn’t share the same religious faith — Reagan was a Protestant — they did “share the same moral convictions that led them to confront atheistic communism,” say the authors.

On June 2, 1979, St. John Paul celebrated a historic Mass in Warsaw and began a nine-day visit to his home country. During the Mass on the eve of Pentecost, the pope prayed God would send down his Spirit to renew Poland, which was then under communist domination.

“This anniversary,” a release from the White House said, “marks the remembrance of the long struggle of the Polish people against communism and the millions of people who now live in freedom because of St. John Paul II and his extraordinary life as a follower of Jesus Christ and a champion for human dignity and religious liberty. Similarly, this administration works relentlessly to preserve Americans’ rights in the present and future.”

The White House Domestic Policy Council and Office of Public Liaison hosted a policy discussion surrounding current parallels between the past and present in communist and socialist countries and the film.

In a statement, Joe Grogan, director of the Domestic Policy Council, said Reagan and St. John Paul had a “remarkable partnership.”

“These two great leaders brought about the historic collapse of the Soviet Union and the miraculously peaceful end to the Cold War,” he said, adding that the Trump administration “will continue to advocate for the protection of religious liberty and free speech.”

As Poland’s native son, St. John Paul had a special interest and a key role in the demise of European communism. For years he criticized the moral bankruptcy of the system, to applause in the West. His visits to his homeland helped light the fire of reform, which eventually led to the first noncommunist government in the Soviet bloc.

Reagan gave one of his best-known speeches June 12, 1987, when he challenged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall!” He meant the Berlin Wall, which had divided West and East Berlin since 1961. East German officials ordered it opened in November 1989. Its demolition officially began June 13, 1990, and was completed in 1992.