Found though Chrenkoff a wonderful Opinion Journal essay highlighting the huge differences in the world the Pope leaves, as opposed to the world he inherited:
In the post-Berlin Wall world this man did so much to shape, it's difficult to recall the much different circumstances that obtained when he assumed the chair of St. Peter. Former Italian prime minister Aldo Moro had been kidnapped and executed by terrorists. In Iran bloody protests were brewing that would within months pull down the Shah and usher in the ayatollahs. In the Soviet Union the dissident Anatoly Shcharansky (now the Israeli Natan Sharansky) was dispatched to the gulag, while Afghanistan had already endured the leftist coup that would, in short order, lead to a full-fledged Soviet invasion.
Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were still in the future, and so was a workers' strike called by an unknown Pole named Lech Walesa. Everywhere one looked, the truth of the Brezhnev Doctrine seemed brutally self-evident: Once Communist, always Communist. Oh, yes: The Catholic Church which this first Slavic pope found himself bequeathed was thought by many to be hopelessly irrelevant to the crises of modern times.
I'm old enough to remember that world vividly, but young enough that I didn't appreciate the implications of the events surrounding me. It was an amazing, and surreal, walk down memory lane to read this article.