If you happen to be visiting the Southern California area, head to Simi Valley, north of Los Angeles, home of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Library. Situated on a hilltop with beautiful views of the surrounding countryside (yes, there still is countryside in the Southland), it’s an interactive walk through Reagan’s personal, professional and political lives.
Included in the tour is the Air Force One Pavilion, where the plane that took the former president on his trips around the world is mounted intact on huge pylons in a glass-walled hangar, with a pub and gift shop underneath. Visitors can tour through it and also through a Marine One helicopter in the same building.
The Library also houses traveling exhibits, and running from Jan. 31 until May 1, 2015, is “Amazing Automobiles: The Ultimate Car Exhibit,” a partnership with L.A.’s Petersen Automotive Museum, whose new home is under construction and set to open in December. In the meantime, it’s opened the vault and allowed several cars important in world and entertainment history to be on display at the Library.
They include cars owned or driven in movies by Steve McQueen and Elvis, the 1946 custom Ford from the movie “Grease,” the famous 1966 Ford Thunderbird from “Thelma and Louise,” a 1942 Lincoln limo used by presidents Roosevelt and Truman, and a 1938 Packard Super 8 Parade Phaeton used by Argentinian leaders Juan and Evita Peron.
There’s also the the car pictured above, a 1998 Cadillac (click here to see it profiled in Popular Mechanics), situated in the Air Force One Pavilion. The plaque next to it at the Library reads:
This lavish parade car was specially built for Pope John Paul II to ride in as he entered the Estadio Azteca in Mexico to deliver an important address. Lengthened and modified into an open car, it was equipped with an elevated platform for the armchair-like papal seat, wide doors, retractable steps, and official Vatican seals and flags. Although General Motors de Mexico began work on the car, Cadillac contracted with the American coach-building firms of Eureka Coach and Roush Technologies to complete the project. The pope personally blessed the Cadillac upon its completion but was not permitted to use it in public because it did not have the same level of protection afforded by an enclosed vehicle with armor plating and bullet-resistant glass.
In its piece, Popular Mechanics added:
The papal seat sits on a hydraulic system that can raise or lower the seat by up to 20 inches.
One wonders if this car could come out of mothballs, since Pope Francis is willing to run the risk of riding in open vehicles all around the world, including the Jeepney popemobile he used during his just-concluded visit to the Philippines.
If you’re curious why a popemobile is included in an exhibit at the Reagan Library, you’re too young to remember that President Reagan joined now-Saint Pope John Paul II and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to form a powerful triumvirate that helped to hasten the fall of the Soviet Union and the collapse of communism — symbolized by this fragment from the Berlin Wall that sits just outside the Library.
Click here to see an EWTN story on Saint Pope John Paul II’s 1999 visit to Mexico, during which he celebrated Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City.
Several years before that, Ronald Reagan visited John Paul II in Rome. In a piece titled “The Holy Alliance,” originally published in TIME magazine on Monday, Feb. 24, 1992, Carl Bernstein (of “All the President’s Men” fame) recalls the meeting:
Only President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II were present in the Vatican Library on Monday, June 7, 1982. It was the first time the two had met, and they talked for 50 minutes. … Reagan and the pope spent only a few minutes reviewing events in the Middle East. Instead, they remained focused on a subject much closer to their heart: Poland and the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe. In that meeting, Reagan and the pope agreed to undertake a clandestine campaign to hasten the dissolution of the Communist empire. Declares Richard Allen, Reagan’s first National Security Adviser: “This was one of the great secret alliances of all time.”
Read the rest here.
EWTN also has the full text of Reagan’s address to Saint Pope John Paul II, on Monday, June 7, 1982. You can read the president’s remarks here; the text of the pope’s address is here.
Excerpt from Reagan:
Ours is a nation grounded on faith; faith in man’s ability, through God-given freedom, to live in tolerance and peace, and faith that a Supreme Being guides our daily striving in this world. Our national motto, “In God We Trust,” reflects that faith.
Many of our earliest settlers came to America seeking a refuge where they could worship God unhindered. So, our dedication to political and individual freedoms is wedded to religious freedom as well. Liberty has never meant license to Americans. We treasure it precisely because it protects the human and spiritual values we hold most dear: the right to worship as we choose; the right to elect democratic leaders; the right to choose the type of education we want for our children; and freedom from fear, want and oppression. These are God-given freedoms, not the contrivances of man.
And from Saint Pope John Paul II:
The American people are indeed proud of their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. They are proud of civil and social progress in American society, as well as the extraordinary advances in science and technology. As I speak to you today, it is my hope that the entire structure of American life will rest ever more securely on the strong foundation of spiritual and moral values. Without the fostering and defense of these values, all human advancement is stunted, and the very dignity of the human person is endangered.
At this moment in time, 1982 sure seems very far away, especially considering the state of faith and virtue in American society. But the achievements of Reagan, John Paul II and Thatcher stand witness to what world leaders, with the help of Divine Providence and their own determination, can do to advance the causes of human life and freedom.