The mystery of the Pope’s grave
Milena Kindziuk, Rome
A gold wedding ring. It attracts attention among pieces of paper and letters on John Paul II’s grave. Someone has left it here, surely today. I keep recollecting the words of Karol Wojtyla’s drama, ‘A wedding ring alone means nothing – only two rings have sense…’ I can as if touch human dramas, concrete stories that focus on the Pope’s grave.
Silent ‘Hail Mary’ can he heard
The Vatican Grottos are filled with people; the first come here at dawn. Numerous young and old people arrive from various parts of the world to visit the tomb of John Paul II.
– Why have you come here? – I ask a short petite woman wearing a checked coat. – To pay tribute to Pope Wojtyla. I am a non-believer but for me he was a great man – she says. A man standing next to her adds – And I have come to thank the Pope. Thanks to him I understood that life does not end on earth.
Crowds are getting thicker. Every day 20,000 people come here. ‘Every day I observe them from the window of my office. People stand in a line that extends throughout St Peter’s Square, regardless of rain or heat. And it has lasted since the Pope’s death,’ says Cardinal Angelo Amato, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Long, narrow corridors of the Vatican underground are filled up with emotions. They become silent witnesses of ‘what one man can do and of what holiness means.’ One can see that most clearly at the Pope’s grave. Although the guard keeps repeating loudly that one cannot stop here he allows people to pray behind the barrier opposite the grave. And there people remain longer. Some stand, some kneel; they make the sign of the cross and abide in silence. At the moment some woman is taking a piece of paper from her handbag and writing something on it. Next to her a group of young people are sitting with their legs crossed over. Holding rosaries they are forming a chain of prayer. One can hear silent ‘Hail Mary, full of grace…’ A woman carrying a disabled boy is standing nearby. The child is crying, waving his hands and bending like an acrobat. Tears are falling down the mother’s cheeks. The woman is kneeling, stroking the child’s head. And she is kneeling for several minutes.
During this time pilgrims are passing the grave. Suddenly some man over 20, wearing a black shirt with a picture of the Pope, is breaking the rule and omitting the barrier is approaching the tomb. He is bending and putting a rosary on the gravestone and he is leaving. Another man is throwing a teddy bear and a rolled card towards the gravestone.
‘To JP II’
There are numerous cards and letters on the Pope’s gravestone. Among the pile of ‘correspondence’ one can see a white envelope with a picture instead of a stamp and address ‘To JPII.’ Next to it there is a child’s drawing: orange sun and a portrait of the Holy Father. It is a common sight. ‘Every time I kneel at John Paul II’s grave I can see masses of letters,’ confirms Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, the President of the Pontifical Council for the Laity. ‘It is a proof that even after his death the Pope becomes an interlocutor for so many people, that he is a trustworthy and reliable intercessor before God. ‘For 27 years of his pontificate John Paul II wrote a wonderful book of love for the people of God and now it brings rewards,’ adds Cardinal Leonardo Sandri, the Prefect of the Congregation for the Eastern Churches.
In their letters pilgrims ask for prayers, healings and conversions of their dearest ones. There are many letters from childless couples. What is meaningful is that no request remains unanswered. The Vatican clergymen care about that. ‘We remember the Pope attaching so much importance to people’s requests for prayer he received from all over the world and which he prayed over kneeling. As he treated them seriously we try to pray over every request that has been left on his grave,’ Fr Rylko explains. Every day new letters and cards from John Paul II\s grave are carried to the office of the postulator of the beatification process Fr Slawomir Oder. ‘We treat every letter with great respect,’ Fr Oder says. It is him that sends all these intentions to several contemplative monasteries in the world with which he has made ‘agreements’ that they will pray for these people through the intercession of John Paul II. He also celebrates Masses in the intentions pilgrims leave on the Pope’s grave. Fr Oder is convinced that everybody that participates in the beatification of John Paul II will experience something great. ‘Making a pilgrimage to Rome has always been connected with special graces, indulgencies and in my opinion it applies more to those that are going to participate in the ceremony of raising the Pope to the altars,’ he says and ensures that intercessory prayer of John Paul II is really powerful.