I belong to the JP2 generation
Rev. Msgr Ireneusz Skubis talks to Metropolitan of Warsaw Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz.
REV. MSGR IRENEUSZ SKUBIS: - The date of your instalment to the Cathedral of Warsaw cannot be separated from the second anniversary of the death of the Servant of God John Paul II. What was the influence of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, Archbishop of Krakow and then Pope John Paul II, on your priesthood and work?
ARCHBISHOP KAZIMIERZ NYCZ: - He had a huge influence. He accepted me to the seminary. I received all my holy orders from him. He sent me to doctoral studies and as Pope he appointed me bishop. My six years in the seminary and five years of priesthood under Cardinal Wojtyla as Metropolitan of Krakow were meetings with a true witness of faith. The thing is that we did not plan his greatness in Krakow when he became Pope. We felt that greatness before. We met that man every day in his holiness and at the same time we experienced his enormous straightforward manner.
- Which events of the life and activities of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla do you remember most?
- It was the year 1967. Cardinal Wojtyla lived in Kanonicza Street although he had already been Archbishop of Krakow and should have lived in the bishops' residence in Franciszkanska Street. I remember that the Chancellor of the Curia, who was his fellow countryman from Wadowice, decided to move him to Franciszkanska. And he asked us, seminary students, to take Cardinal Wojtyla's possessions, to the new apartment. And then I was shocked: there was so little to take. For the first time I saw how little he had! This was the style of Wojtyla. And he was like that till the end of his days.
- Was Cardinal Wojtyla made to move to his new apartment?
- Not at all! We had to use a stratagem. When Cardinal Wojtyla came from Rome the car took him to Franciszkanska and not to Kanonicza Street, and so he was moved. It was some 'argument', so I was told.
- Was that unique modesty the element that attracted and charmed you most to the figure of Archbishop Wojtyla and then the Holy Father John Paul II?
- Indeed. This was an extraordinary thing for us that this man was not attached to his possessions and always gave things away. I remember that there was a woman called Marysia from Niegowic, now she is famous because of many stories, who was to keep an eye on Cardinal Wojtyla so that he would not give everything away. But that did not help. He was out of control! His attitude towards us, priests, was extraordinary as well. I remember him calling me to come to the curia and saying, 'You will study catechetics at the Catholic University of Lublin but before that you will pursue postgraduate studies in Dogmatics under the supervision of Fr Rozycki so that you will have 'foundations'. I answered that I would like to work two more years in a parish and I was not eager to pursue doctoral studies at all... He said, naturally jokingly, 'Neither was I but nobody asked me whether I wanted or not.' He cared for us but he also demanded a lot from us.
- Did he return to that event later?
- Well, to my surprise he did! When I finished the course I lived in the parish of Raciborowice and hoped that Cardinal Wojtyla had forgotten about me. But he came for a pastoral visitation and his first question was, 'What about your course? ' I replied that I had graduated two weeks before. And he said, 'So why are you not at KUL?' So I could not wriggle out of further studies. Today I am thankful to him for that.
- Did the way of life and work of Cardinal Wojtyla have any meaning to you both in your priestly formation and later when you became bishop?
- I am convinced that the style of Wojtyla's ministry completely formed my ministry and me. When I was a young priest I remember that one did not have to make appointments in the Krakow curia (then Cardinal Macharski followed the style of Wojtyla). Everybody knew the schedule of Wojtyla's life: in the morning he celebrated Mass, then ate breakfast with his collaborators and till 10.30 he was alone. He usually stayed in the chapel. And then until 13.30 he was in his office and received people. Anyone could come to him: a priest or a layman. In fact, there came more laymen than priests. I liked that very much and I tried to follow this pattern in Krakow and Koszalin. I want to introduce this style in the Archdiocese of Warsaw, too.
Cardinal Wojtyla also taught us how to use informal meetings with seminarians or other people. He could get rid of the mood of artificiality. For example he agreed to have the so-called seminary cabarets in which the seminarians parodied their professors and superiors, sometimes they criticised them strongly. I remember Wojtyla laughing at those jokes and he had a very good time with all the people who were present.
I also learnt from him how to relate in a personal way to people during pastoral visitations in parishes. Among other things he introduced the custom of blessing married couples and renewing their marital vows. That was an extraordinary experience for people. Many a time they overcame their marital problems and stop arguing. As young priests we felt the greatness of Wojtyla.
- We are all expecting the result of the beautification process of John Paul II. Will the new Blessed influence the formation and development of the lives of priests in Poland and in the world?
- I would not limit this influence to clergy. I think that Blessed John Paul II, regardless of his papacy, exerted an enormous influence on laity, too. And he will surely be an excellent model, example and advocate for priests, bishops and first of all for all laity. He understood them well and loved them like nobody else in the world did.
- What will be the most important element in following the spiritual and inner life of John Paul II?
- I think that what people admired when he was alive and what they will always want to imitate is a testimony of prayer. He was a giant of prayer. The way he prayed involving his own personality, the way he contemplated, was remembered by all those who were close to him either in the chapel or during his pilgrimages or at the general audiences. Another thing I would like to follow is his extraordinary ability to talk to people. The way he talked to people at the general audiences or other places, regardless of the number of people, was as if one of his sentences was directed to a concrete person, as if he looked at that particular person. That was evident even when he went through the crowds in his papamobile. That was a personal cordial contact, a fatherly eye contact, which caused that every person felt he was noticed, as if he were alone at the square. And thirdly, he was a man who dedicated himself totally to the Church. He did not separate private and official time. He gave all his time to the Church. And I would like to follow him in that as well.
- Do you think John Paul II will be canonised at once?
- Yes, I do. In fact this does not matter so much because after canonisation God does not transfer man to another shelf in heaven than after beautification. The difference is the level of the cult. Beautification defines cult in one diocese or one country. And here we have no doubts that the cult of John Paul II is universal, so canonisation is possible at once.
Now I would like to share my own personal testimony. After the death of John Paul II I went to pray at his catafalque for three days. I used the possibility of being a bishop and I could come there many times. And during those three days before his funeral I could never pray for him, only through him and to him. It seemed to me that prayer for him was not necessary. Cardinal Ratzinger was right when he said that John Paul II looked from the window of the Father's House and blessed us.
- You are responsible for catechisation and pastoral youth ministry in whole Poland. How can you see the presence of the John Paul II generation in the Polish pastoral ministry? How can this generation be described?
- I am glad that this generation was made visible so beautifully on the days of the Pope's passing away. I also belong to the JP2 generation. Since all my life I was formed under the pontificate of John Paul II. I think that the young people who grew up during the last ten years of the suffering old Pope can also say that they are the JP2 generation providing they accept the teaching of Pope Wojtyla since this is the condition of belonging to this generation.