Assisi, Mar. 20, 2008 (www.CWNews.com) – Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has announced his Christian faith openly, with a March 19 visit to pray at the tomb of St. Francis of Assisi.
Gorbachev– who has often shown deference toward Christianity, and was deeply impressed by a meeting with Pope John Paul II in 1989– said that he considered St. Francis a spiritual patron. "It was through St. Francis that I arrived at the Church, so it was important that I came to visit his tomb," he told reporters. The former Soviet leader spent about 30 minutes in prayer at the grotto in Assisi.
During his tenure as the last leader of the Soviet Union before its collapse, Gorbachev had held to the official Communist party doctrine of materialism. But he had been baptized in the Russian Orthodox Church, and rumors about his personal religious interests swirled even while he governed the Kremlin. After one private conversation with Gorbachev, the late President Ronald Reagan told an aide that he thought the Russian leader was "a closet believer."
If Gorbachev spent a half-hour in silence at the tomb of St. Francis– and the witnesses are pretty clear on that part of the story– what was he doing? Atheists don't pray. Simple tourists aren't usually inclined to long periods of contemplation.
So what's the real story here? I wish I knew. My guess– purely a guess– is that Gorbachev, who was baptized in the Orthodox Church, is wrestling with the question of faith. It might not be a bad idea to aim a prayer in his direction right now.
– Phil Lawler www.CWNews.com