He carried Christ to everyone
Fr Tadeusz Styczen is relating to us
He was with the Pope to the end. He watched over the dying John Paul II in his last days. He was with him in the very last seconds of his life. He was reading fragments of the Holy Scriptures; he recited the rosary for the Dead One. On Tuesday, 5 April 2005, Fr Styczen said in Lublin, 'The Pope smiled. He was getting cold with this expression. Nobody dared to interfere. Everyone waited according to the procedure. I could not bear the tension. I had two rosaries in my pocket. I touched the hands. I was delicately reminded that I was not allowed any longer'.
Fr. Tadeusz Styczen, Professor of Ethics at the Catholic University of Lublin, was a friend of the Holy Father.
He spent every Easter and Christmas with him, except those holidays he himself was sick. He accompanied the Pope to the end.
In three words
Fr. Styczen recollects: ' At 19.15 the telephone rang. Who was that? The Dean of the Faculty of Philosophy, late Fr. Stanislaw Kaminski. He uttered only three words: 'Karol Wojtyla - Pope'. And he remained silent. After a while we both hung up. No words. I imagined the face of Pope Paul VI and I remembered Cardinal Wojtyla giving Lenten retreats in the Vatican. Then he focused on the complete loneliness of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. He appealed for an attempt not to miss the lost chance to comfort God-Man, the only chance in the history. Christ himself appealed to the three chosen apostles to keep watch with him. Peter, the future pope, was among those three men. It was the only occasion God asked people to support him, to comfort him. And his request was not fulfilled. The chosen ones fell asleep and it was not a long time ago, in the upper room when he knelt and washed their feet on the threshold of redemption... That was why the Cardinal from Krakow kept calling with grief to Pope Paul VI to try to catch up the chance, which was lost two thousand years ago. He repeated, 'The prayer in the garden of Gethsemane is continuing'. I remembered those words well. So when on 16 October 1978, Fr Kaminski said, 'Karol Wojtyla - Pope', I thought that God seriously treated the appeal of the Cardinal from Krakow to the Pope. But the Holy Spirit changed the addressee of his request. He exchanged Paul VI for Pope John Paul II: 'You will be this pope, try to catch up the lost chance to comfort God. You asked me and I answered you'.
God at feet
- I panicked, cried. I am not ashamed of tears - Fr Styczen continues - The feeling of anxiety left me only on Saturday when I met my Master during dinner in the Vatican. In a completely good mood, full of joy, without any fear. He was joking all the time during that dinner. When he saw his face on the television he made a gesture of humorous disapproval pointing towards the TV set, 'What kind of pope is that? Who dared to elect such a pope? Too young!' He added immediately - in the same humorous tone - that he would write encyclicals so that we might have something to comment on. He appeared to be a butterfly, which was emerging from a chrysalis and could freely go up. The next day, on the day of the inauguration of his pontificate in St Peter's square, he was calling, 'Do not be afraid! Open the door to Christ!'
We know that soon there was the special hour - the failed assassination attempt on 13 May 1981. While visiting the Holy Father in the clinic I thought how he would go to that square again. Bishop Dziwisz spoke about this with concern, too. But he went - according to the programme of his first encyclical: man is the way of the Church - to all roads of the world. From that moment he was called the Parish Priest of the world. He was fearless because Jesus Christ, Redeemer, God-Man, comes to meet us on all those roads. It was him who gave worth to every human being, to each of us, bending down to man's feet in the upper room and in the context of the Eucharist he became bread to eat.
I think that the gesture of kissing people's footprints on the lands John Paul II visited was not only his first greeting word, without words. It is also an attempt to repeat the gesture from the upper room - God at feet! Who dares not to honour God who is present in people? How can we honour man otherwise? This is the commentary on all his later gestures and words as well as on the looks, face to face. Is not the attempt to show man his worth an attempt to catch up that chance in Gethsemane?
Who carries whom?
Fr Styczen was fascinated with the accuracy of some, extremely interesting, remarks and comments concerning the pope:
- 'He knows what he holds', one man said looking at the pope leaning against his cross. Someone else added, 'He knows Who holds him'. I think that these two men understand the core of his pontificate. I can hear, more and more often, people's voices, especially women's voices - and women, according to the Holy Father who spoke about the genius of women, can read more deeply than men - calling to the pope, 'Pietro, Pietro, Ciao!'
What made them do so? I think that the Holy Father has been revealing something by contrast, in the background of the fragility of his body. The poet Rozewicz says, 'you can best describe a sunflower in winter when it is planted deeply in snow on a frosty day, describe bread with hunger and a bird's flight with a stone'. I am thinking of a tired pope who is falling under the burden of the challenge and the hardship of his fragile body. Carrying such burdens he is radiant... Whom? I think that in his fragile body he is revealing the One whom he wants to be with in Gethsemane, in our name, desiring to catch up the chance, which was lost by all of us, the best representatives, the first pope... Free of fear of anybody by Christ's love for each man, he is carrying him - Christ - to every man. He is carrying him in his fragile body, indefatigable in the hardship of carrying. The Shepherd of the world, of the five continents...
He knows Whom he holds. He knows Who holds him. How wonderful the words of St Augustine are: 'My love is my burden but I am lifted by what I carry'. It means that I am carried by what I carry. Referring to the Holy Father we can say, 'I am being carried by the one who has chosen me to carry him. And I need not worry. He is able to carry me'. This is, I think, the key to the mystery of his pontificate, to the mystery of this Pope, the Cardinal from Krakow, who wanted the pope to catch up the chance to comfort lonely Christ, the chance Peter had lost.
The material was prepared by Jolanta Chwalczyk and Malgorzata Kolodziejczyk.
Based on the broadcast by Malgorzata Kolodziejczyk, correspondent of the Vatican radio, on the occasion of the 20th anniversary of the pontificate.