The Pope We Never Knew
Crusade's director for Eastern Europe, Bud Hinkson, met Blachnicki in Poland and they agreed for a delegation of about 10 Americans to join Oasis retreats in the summer of 1976. The Americans attended Mass and sat in on small group discussions afterward. In the evenings, they put on typical evangelical meetings for the Poles, where they sang, performed skits, and each gave a personal testimony.
They left Oasis leaders a set of Campus Crusade's basic training materials so they could become more familiar with Crusade's program. Impressed by Crusade's staff and systematic curriculum, Oasis leadership invited Crusade to return and help revise their entire level-one retreat program.
Together, the Poles and Americans developed a new retreat manual using Campus Crusade's core discipleship training series, Ten Basic Steps Toward Christian Maturity. The problem was getting approval from the church hierarchy to print such Protestant content. To help grease the wheels, Losiak passed on a cassette tape version of Crusade's curriculum to Cardinal Wojtyla in Krakow. Subsequently, in 1977, the new hybrid Oasis edition of Ten Basic Steps Toward Christian Maturity was fully approved by the Catholic hierarchy and printed with a run of 25,000 copies.
When 27,000 Oasis pilgrims showed up for their retreats the next summer, what they experienced was a strange unabashed mix of Polish CatholicismMarian devotion includedand American evangelical revivalism. Campus Crusaders returned with 30 staff and trained student leaders, who Blachnicki now invited to teach the main morning sessions covering standard evangelical topics that included salvation by grace and assurance of salvation.
While some might wonder whether Campus Crusade was theologically naïve, the same could not be imagined of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School professor Norman Geisler, whom Hinkson recruited as guest speaker for the Polish summer retreats. After returning from Poland, Geisler wrote of his trip in The Christian Herald: "What I experienced was a dynamic, joyous, Christian, and evangelistic community of believers who were more eager than most American evangelicals I know to learn and live the Word of God." Geisler described that summer as the most gratifying experience of his then 25-year ministry.
In January 1978 Blachnicki came to America to visit Bill Bright at Campus Crusade's headquarters in Arrowhead Springs, California. Bright probed Blachnicki about the usual evangelical concerns: "I asked him," Bright remembered, "What about the Virgin Mary? What about praying to the saints? He gave me answers which for one with my background were satisfying and amazing."
Except for a "few fine points," Bright concluded, "there was basically no difference between what he believed and what I believed." Little more than a decade later, in 1994, Bright was one of the signers of Evangelicals and Catholics Together (ECT)a statement of shared convictions by 40 Protestant and Catholic leaders. Bright attributed his support to his personal confidence in the spiritual authenticity of Catholic reformers like Wojtyla and Blachnicki, a trust that was established through their history of working together.