Interview with the Holy Father Benedict XVI
'I am thankful to him...'
The interview was given by the Holy Father Benedict XVI to Polish Television and broadcasted at 8.10 p.m. on 16 October 2005.
Fr Andrzej Majewski, SJ: - Holy Father, thank you very much for this interview on the occasion of the Papal Day in Poland. On 16 October 1978 Cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope. From that date, for over 26 years, John Paul II as Successor to Saint Peter (like you now) ran the Church with bishops and cardinals, including Your Holiness as the person that was extremely valued and respected by John Paul II. The person that John Paul II wrote about in his book 'Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way' (I quote): 'I thank God for the presence and help of Cardinal Ratzinger - he is a reliable friend'. Holy Father, how did the friendship begin? When did you get to know Cardinal Karol Wojtyla?
Holy Father Benedict XVI: - I met him personally on the occasions of the two conclaves in 1978. Of course, I had heard about Cardinal Wojtyla earlier, first of all with reference to the exchange of letters between the Polish Episcopate and the German Episcopate in 1965. The German cardinals told me about the great merits and contribution of the Archbishop of Krakow. I was told that it was actually him that was the 'soul' of the historical exchange of letters. On the other hand, my university colleagues told me about his philosophy and about his personality as a great thinker. But as I have already mentioned we met during the first conclave in 1978 and immediately I felt great sympathy for him and he, being a cardinal, made friendship with me from the very beginning, which I did not deserve. I am thankful to him for that confidence he had in me, I do not deserve the credit. But most of all, when I saw him pray I did not only understand but also I saw that he was a man of God. That made the most profound impression on me that he was the man who was living with God, and what's more, he lived in God. I was also under the impression of his sincere non-stereotyped cordiality, which he showed towards me. Finally, at the cardinals' meetings before the conclave he spoke many times. So I had the opportunity to get to know Wojtyla's greatness as a thinker. And so, without great words, our warm friendship developed. Soon, after the election, the Pope invited me to Rome several times and in the end he entrusted me with the office of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
- And so the nomination, the invitation to Rome was not a surprise for you?
- It was rather difficult for me because I regarded the beginning of my ministry as Bishop of München, the solemn consecration in the München cathedral, as the responsibility of a lifetime, almost a marriage to that diocese. Moreover, I was reminded, not without reason, that after several decades I was the first bishop coming from that diocese. Therefore, I was closely connected with that diocese. I also faced many issues that needed to be solved. I did not simply want to leave the diocese without having solved its matters. I openly told the Holy Father about all of this, having full confidence in him. He showed me fatherly understanding. He gave me time to think it over and he himself wanted to think about it. Finally, he convinced me that that was God's will, and so I had to accept my nomination. The thing was a great and not an easy responsibility, beyond my natural capacities, but trusting the fatherly goodness of the Pope and dedicating the work to the Holy Spirit, I could say 'yes'.
- And that lasted over 20 years?
- That's right, from my arrival in February 1982 till the Pope's death in 2005.
- What in your opinion was the most essential thing in John Paul II's pontificate?
- We can look at this in a twofold way: at first ad extra - directed towards the world and then ad intra - directed towards the Church. As far as the world is concerned I think the Holy Father through his speeches and his presence, through his ability to convince people, made them sensitive anew to religious problems, made them discover the necessity of religious dimension of man, but most of all the authority of the bishop of Rome increased enormously. All Christians, regardless of their differences, including those who do not recognize Peter's succession, accepted that it was the Pope that was the advocate of Christianity, that nobody in the whole world could speak on behalf of Christianity as he did and could speak about Christianity to the contemporary world in such a decisive way. Furthermore, he became an advocate of great all-human values for the Christian world and followers of other religions. Remembering this one must say that he created a climate for dialogue between great religions and a feeling of responsibility for the world, which we all bear. He made us realize that violence and religion cannot be connected and that we all must pave the way for peace by sharing our responsibility for humanity.
Now getting down to the subject of the Church I would say first of all that the most important thing is that he was able to arouse enthusiasm for Christ in young people. It was something new (when we think about the youth of '68 or of 1970s), the fact that he made young people enthusiastic for Christ, the Church and also for difficult values. Only somebody that had such a strong personality and charisma was able to mobilize young people for the cause of God and love for Christ. I think he made us love the Eucharist anew (we are still in the Year of the Eucharist, which he desired to have so lovingly), he rediscovered the sense of greatness of the Divine Mercy and deepened our love for the Mother of God, at the same time leading us to express our faith more openly, and that faith had bigger influence on people. Naturally, one must mention what we know very well, namely his contribution to the great changes in the world in 1989 and the fall of the so-called real socialism.
- Which things impressed you most during the last meetings and talks with John Paul II? What can you say about your last, perhaps this year's, meeting with John Paul II?
- Well... the last meetings. One was in the Gemelli Policlinic, on 5 or 6 February, and another meeting was on the day before his death, in his bedroom. On the first occasion the Pope suffered evidently but he was conscious and knew what was going on. I, to tell you the truth, (it was cruel!) came to him with some business matters: I needed his decisions in many issues. The Holy Father, although he was suffering, listened attentively to what I said, and using several words he communicated his decisions, he blessed me, greeted in German, which I welcomed as an expression of confidence and friendship... Deeply moved, I looked at his suffering and I saw his unity with the suffering Lord and that, in fact, he bore suffering with Christ and for Christ and at the same time, being fully conscious, he was radiant with inner cheerfulness. When I saw him the second time, one day before his death, he suffered even more, which was evident. Doctors and friends surrounded him, he was still conscious. He blessed me. He could hardly speak but for me his endurance in suffering was, I would say, 'a great lesson'. But most of all I felt, I saw that he was in God's hands. He submitted to his will and that is why he was peaceful, in spite of visible pain, because he was in the hand of God's Love.
- Your Holiness, you often mention the person of John Paul II in your numerous addresses (we see and hear that in Poland). You say about John Paul II that he was a great and most regrettable Pope, your reverend Predecessor. We will remember your words at the Mass on 20 April, which I want to quote 'I seem to feel his strong hand clasping mine; I seem to see his smiling eyes and hear his words, at this moment addressed specifically to me, "Do not be afraid!" Holy Father... now a very personal question. Are you still feeling the presence of John Paul II? If so, in what way?
- Definitely! At first I will reply to the first part of your question since speaking earlier about the Pope's legacy I did not mention numerous documents, which he left: 14 encyclicals, abundance of post-synodal letters and other documents. This contributes to a rich legacy, which has not been assimilated yet. My fundamental mission is not to promulgate new documents but rather to help assimilate the existing ones because they constitute an extremely rich treasure - they are authentic interpretation of Vatican Council II. We know that this Pope was the man of the Council and he took its spirit and letter to heart. Through his texts he makes us realize what the real intention of the Council was and what was not, and he helps us truly become the Church up to standards of the present and future.
Now coming to the second part of your question: John Paul II is close to me through his texts since I can see and hear him in them, and thus I can carry out a continuous dialogue with him. He continuously speaks through these words to me. I know the origin of many texts, I remember talks we had over a certain text, and in this way I can continue talking to the Holy Father. Naturally, that closeness through words is not limited to the text but is a contact with a person. Behind these texts I can feel the presence of the Pope himself, the man who passed away to the Lord but he is not distant... I feel more and more that if somebody passes away he gets even closer to us, and I feel that being close to Christ he is at the same time as close to me as I am close to the Lord. So I am close to the Pope and he helps me come closer to Christ. I am entering, at least I am trying to enter, in the mood of his prayer, love for the Lord, love for the Mother of God. I also ask him for his prayers, talking to him continuously and feeling the closeness in a new and very deep way.
- Your Holiness, we are waiting for your visit to Poland. Many people ask when you will be coming to Poland.
- Yes, I intend to come to Poland, God and time willing. I have already talked about this, and a possible date, to Archbishop Dziwisz. We speak about June as the most convenient date. That needs to be arranged by suitable offices. Therefore, it is only a preliminary arrangement but it seems that, God willing, I will be able to come to Poland next year.
- Holy Father, on behalf of all our viewers I would like to thank you wholeheartedly for the interview. Thank you.
- I want to thank you as well.
After the interview the Holy Father addressed all Poles: 'I want to greet you, dear Polish people, who are united with me on the Papal Day through the Polish Television. I wish this day of unity with the Pope would arouse your faith and sensitivity to every human being. I know about the very useful activities of the Foundation of the Polish Bishops' Conference 'Work of the New Millennium'. Thank you for your prayers and I bless you all from my heart.
The interview was recorded in the papal summer residence in Castel Gandolfo on 20 September 2005. The programme was prepared by Krzysztof Tadej, with the collaboration of Brother Emanuel Kubiatowski and Marcin Sepiak. The producer was Mariusz Sikorski. The programme was made for the Catholic Programmes Sections, Polish Television.