A SECRET MEETING OF THE POPE WITH POLISH GREEK-CATHOLICS

GRZEGORZ POLAK

Who thinks that everything has already been written about pilgrimages of John Paul II, is wrong. The photographic query in December in the Museum of John Paul II and the Primate Wyszyński in Wilanów in Warsaw brought an astonishing result. It results from the photograph taken by prominent deceased Ryszard Rzepecki that during his second pilgrimage to Homeland in June 1983, still during the martial law, John Paul II met secretly with representatives of de-legalized Greek-Catholic Church in the countries of the so-called people’s democracy.

This meeting, which could not be in the itinerary of the papal pilgrimage, is not mentioned by any works devoted to pilgrimages of John Paul II to Poland. Besides a narrow group of participants, nobody knew about it. There were not any ‘leaks’ of information either, not to tease the communist authorities which might have strengthened repressions against the Greek-Catholic Church functioning half-legally in Poland. Also the Pope and his people might have had troubles form the communist authorities. It explains why that meeting was not registered in reports of the papal pilgrimage in 1983. And when the Yalta order collapsed, this episode was forgotten, because many events happened, which led to an official acknowledgment of the Greek-Catholic Church and renewal of its hierarchy.

Not these ‘uniforms’

Describing photos to the Museum of John Paul II and the Primate Wyszyński, being established near the Centre of Divine Providence, is a fascinating photo to me. In my memory historic and less important events from the life of the Polish Church get enlivened from the last nearly forty years, as well as their main ‘actors’. The photographic material from these years is enormous thanks to unusual diligence and determination of a photo-reporter Ryszard Rzepecki, for whom the Catholic Church in Poland should erect a monument for what he did.

I started having doubts about one of photos from a pilgrimage of John Paul II in June 1983 in conditions of the suspended martial law during the stay of the Pope, although first I started dictating my collaborator: ‘Paweł, please, write: the first one on the left is the auxiliary bishop of Gniezno Jan Czerniak. However, no, it is not bishop Czerniak…’ – I stopped here. There was something odd here. When I started looking at it more thoroughly, I noticed faces of priests known to me, but somehow not in their ‘uniforms’. Soon after that I felt emotions when on the photos I saw my Greek-Catholic friends younger than me by 30 years, who could not wear clothes suitable for Greek-Catholic ceremonies, dressed like Roman-Catholic priests. Anyway, they wore such clothes everyday not to arouse any suspicions from functionaries of the Security Office (Greek-Catholic priests were officially employed in Latin parishes). If they had worn traditional Eastern clothes during the general audience to the Pope, and if prelates had worn mitre – they might have not been allowed to pay a visit to the Holy Father.

The photo presents John Paul II surrounded leaders of clergy and Greek-Catholic laity at that time. One can recognize vicars of the Primate of Poland for believers of Greek-Catholic religion: prelate priest Stefan Dziubyna and a provincial of Basilians – Fr. Jozafat Romanyk (as the only one in his religious attire). Those prominent priests did not have any chance to become bishops because there was not a Greek-Catholic hierarchy in the communist times in Poland. But among the people of the Holy Father one could see priests who were appointed Greek-Catholic bishops in Poland by John Paul II, which renewed the hierarchy of this rite. It was prelate priest Jan Martyniak, who was the first to be consecrated Greek-Catholic priest, and at present the metropolitan of Warsaw-Przemyśl of the Byzantine-Ukrainian rite and Łemko prelate priest Teodor Majkowycz, the first bishop of Wrocław and Gdańsk eparchy. At the meeting there was also cardinal Józef Glemp, who, as the primate of Poland, like his predecessors: cardinal August Hlond and cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, was the superior for the Greek-Catholics and other eastern rites which did not have their Ordinary.

‘The Holy Father gave us strength’

Archbishop Jan Martyniak hardly remembered that event, which was the first meeting of John Paul II with Polish Greek-Catholics. However, he emphasizes two important things: - The meeting was not from our initiative. The Holy Father could do very little in that political situation, but he gave us strength, courage and blessing for further work – he said to ‘Niedziela’. Archbishop Martyniak did not remember the date of that secret meeting with the Pope, which took place in the residence of Primates of Poland in Warsaw. Probably the general audience took place on 17 June 1983, because in the same place and on the same day John Paul II met with representatives of the Polish Council of Ecumenism and also the delegation of the Catholic University of Lublin.

This meeting proves determination and courage of Polish Greek-Catholics and their faithfulness to the Holy Father and, on the other hand, is another proof that for John Paul II the fate of the heroic Greek-Catholic Church was important, which was pushed aside to catacombs although it was not so bad in Poland. From the beginning of his pontificate he was trying to gain improvement of this rite by opposing to powerful rulers in Kremlin.

As archbishop Martyniak mentioned, in that situation very little could be done. But four years later, during his another pilgrimage to Poland, the Holy Father made another step forward. Although it was not an official point in the program of the visit, John Paul II, to astonishment of order services, made his steps to orthodox churches of Basilian Fathers in Miodowa street in Warsaw in order to pay tribute to the tormented Greek-Catholic Church.

This year we have celebrated the 25th anniversary of renewal of hierarchies and structures of the Greek-Catholic Church in Poland. At present, the Byzantine-Ukrainian Church is developing, despite some difficulties and gives a testimony of its faithfulness to the Gospel and the Holy See, making its contribution in the work of reconciliation of Poles and the Ukrainians.

Today many people, especially the young ones, may be surprised why 30 years ago the Greek-Catholics had to meet with the Pope in secret. Thanks to the discovered photograph, being a document of an unknown episode from the papal pilgrimage, we recall not so old times when the Greek-Catholics, sentenced to non-existence by the Soviet Union, could not publicly confess their faith, which proved that freedom of conscience and faith confession written on communist flags was only a pure phrase.

It is the second discovery done during a source query in the Museum of John Paul II and the Primate Wyszyński. Two years ago, thanks to copies of source materials gained from the military archive in Vienna, it was possible to determine the date of birth and death of Olga Wojtyłówna, birth-sister of the Pope.

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„Niedziela” 4/2015

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Lidia Dudkiewicz • Translation: Aneta Amrozik • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl