Close to John Paul II
On the other side of the window
Milena Kindziuk talks to Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, Metropolitan of Krakow.
MILENA KINDZIUK: - 'Let me go to the Father's home', these were the last words of the Holy Father. What was your reaction then, on 2 April 2005?
ARCHBISHOP STANISLAW DZIWISZ: - I had hope. People think that the last moments, which I spent with the fading Holy Father, were dramatic, full of horror. That was not so. Since the Holy Father created an atmosphere, which was full of peace. He really believed he was going to the Lord. He was fully aware of that. In those last moments when we were with him we saw that death was for him some transition to another life.
- Hence the hope?
- It ran out from the whole life of the Holy Father, too. He believed to the end. All his life, day by day, he was convinced that his ultimate goal was God. Therefore, the last transition was for him just the way to someone close, beloved, whom he served all his life and whom he missed. That is why there was peace during the last moments. There was no fear felt. Only great confidence, dedication. We felt so, being on the other side of the papal window. On the last day the Holy Father asked to read the Gospel to him. Someone did it. And then, about 8 p.m. we celebrated the Divine Mercy Mass because the Divine Mercy Sunday was approaching. And we gave him the last communion, a few drops of the Blood. The Gospel reading was exceptionally beautiful: The Lord came to the upper room. We stood by the Holy Father until 9.37 p.m. when his heart stopped beating. Then we sang Te Deum.
- A song of thanksgiving and not a mourning one...
- Yes. On the one hand the Holy Father invited the world to contemplate death but on the other hand his last days and hours were the triumph of life.
- Thus the Pope as if repeated Horace's words 'I am not dying. What is imperishable in me lasts...'
- This sentence, recollected in the 'Roman Triptych - Meditations' indicates that death remains an element of human life but it is not its last word. Therefore, this sentence is always valid. The Holy Father showed clearly that nobody lives for himself and nobody dies for himself.
- And what were the last words of the Holy Father to you? What gesture do you remember most?
- It is hard to say, it is hard to separate things in my memory. We were simply there. We heard many words and saw many gestures. They cannot be simplified and one cannot say about one thing and forget others. Everything was important. Everything was extraordinary. Everything happened for the first time. Additionally, there were as if two realities. On the one hand, 'our' reality in the Apostolic Palace and on the other the reality on the other side of the window, in St Peter's Square where people prayed and the youth sang.
- Did the Holy Father know that and did he hear everything?
- Yes, we could hear everything very well. It was the same during the last Holy Father's stay in hospital. He reacted to the youth's singing in front of the windows of the Gemelli Policlinic. And then he spoke the well-known words, 'I have looked for you. And you have come to me'.
- So the Pope did not say those words on his last day as it has been commonly reported?
- No. But that does not change anything. The intentions of these words are the same. The Holy Father loved young people very much. And they followed him. Why? Since they looked for God through his mediation. I think that young people discovered God through their contacts with the Holy Father. And they found God.
- What is the most memorable event of the whole pontificate?
- I think there are three moments, which made the world stop because of this pontificate. The first one, the election of Cardinal Wojtyla, the second one, the assassination attempt and the third one, passing away to another life. And for me? Well. The whole pontificate, its every day was different and unique. The whole life of the Holy Father was exceptional. I remember Masses during which he prayed for others and people experienced various graces and miracles. I was charmed that many couples that wanted children had that gift after the papal prayer or blessing. The Holy Father prayed a lot for others. I often put cards with prayer requests of people from all over the world in his chapel. He always took them and prayed. And then we heard about positive effects of his prayers. I experienced the great power of the Holy Father's prayer. Therefore, I tried to allow all the people who asked for prayer to approach him.
- Can we say that the Pope was a mystic?
- Yes. People already spoke about this when he was alive. There were people who said that they felt God's presence during Mass in his private chapel. I also think that his sainthood was felt because he was so natural. Both towards people and towards God.
- Was the Pope's funeral the most difficult thing in your life?
-The most difficult moment was to cover the Holy Father's face with a veil, just before closing the coffin. It was very hard...
- In your homily at Installation Mass you expressed your confidence that the Pope would take you by your hand and lead you, saying 'sursum corda'. Can you already feel the touch of the papal hand?
- Yes, of course. I am here with the Holy Father through the mystery of the communion of saints. I cannot imagine that the Holy Father passed away and did not think about us. That is impossible.
- Who was he really to you?
- Father. Although at first, he was a professor and then bishop. But most of all, father.
- Is the life without the Father different?
- Definitely yes. My role has changed, too.
- Are you feeling lonely?
- emptiness has remained?
- I am trying to fulfil it by being spiritually and prayerfully united with the Holy Father. It was hard to return to Krakow because I left for Rome with the Holy Father and I came back alone. But I am aware that he also returned with me. He returned to Krakow with me. This builds me up and gives me strength.
- You have stressed many times that the role of the Polish Church is to preserve the legacy of the Holy Father. How should it be done?
- One should remember that this legacy is extremely rich. This is his literary output, scientific and theological achievements. This is his official teaching as the Pope and his teaching before his papacy. There is continuation between these two periods. When his pontificate began there was not a new beginning of the thoughts of the Holy Father. It was some kind of completion of what had been before although there were new challenges. The Holy Father had to face all-important doctrinal issues and the contemporary things in the life of the Church. He elaborated on the great themes, which appeared during his pontificate: human rights, rights of nations, and protection of human life from conception till its last moment. This is an enormous output, which has been left. And we should explore it. My duty is to help people to present the thought and legacy of the Holy Father.
- Is this the reason why the centre to promote the Pope's thought has come into being in Krakow?
- Yes, I would like this centre to be for Krakow and for all Poland as well as for all people of good will in the whole world. I would like it to be creative and therefore, a place to study and organise conferences. So that people who will come here could find the Holy Father alive through his thought and activities. Currently, the contemporary generations know the Holy Father but it is important to pass on his output to next generations.
I hope that 'Niedziela' will also contribute to building the John Paul II Centre. My desire is to involve all people in this endeavour so that they feel it is our common thing. For today and for future.
- Thank you very much for the conversation.