A friend of blessed John Paul II
On 1 May 2011, there gathered over one and a half million of believers on the Saint Peter's Square and the neighbouring streets. They came to Rome from all parts of the world to worship the Polish Pope loved by them. His 27-year old pontificate became a part of their life. The Beatification Mass starts at 10 o'clock and is celebrated by Benedykt XVI - the closest co-operator of John Paul II for many years. At 10.35 the Pope says A Latin beatification form: 'Fulfilling our brother and our general vicar for Rome diocese- Cardinal Agostino Vallini's desire - other brothers in episcopate and lots of believers, after consulting the congregation of canonization matters, we -apostolic authority agree on the Venerable Servant of God, John Paul II, the pope to be named Blessed from this moment. We also agree on celebrating His person in many places and according to the rules stated by law on 22 October every year. In the name of the Father and Son and the Holy Spirit'.
John Paul II is blessed! An enormous portrait of the Polish Pope is uncovered on the facade of the basilica. It is a moment of great happiness and joy for the believers: they are clapping, giving cheers in the honour of the newly Blessed, waving flags of the world's all nations; an enormous and attached to red balloons banner with the inscription' Deo gratias' is rising over the Square.
At the coffin of blessed John Paul II
While the whole world's attention was focused on the Saint Peter's Square where the Eucharist was being celebrated, three men left the Vatican Saint Charles' Palace: a Cardinal in a wheelchair pushed by a young tall priest, and an elderly bishop. This small retinue walked through the Saint Martha's Square and headed towards the basilica through an antique door called a 'Prayer Gate'. Silence and a slight light contrasted with the atmosphere on the Saint Peter's Square, flooded with the sun rays of Roman spring and animated with the noise of the celebrating crowd. The small retinue approached the altar of confession at which there had already been the coffin with the mortal debris remains of blessed John Paul II. Four Swiss guardians were standing at the coffin. One of the guardians might have recognized the first three people who had appeared in the basilica to pay the tribute to the nearly canonized: cardinal Andrzej Maria Deskur, a retired chairman of the Pope's Council for Mass Media, an Italian bishop Pierfranco Pastore, a secretary of the same council for many years and a priest Stefano Ocelle, the cardinal's secretary and his irreplaceable and faithful nurse. The priests were praying in silence for a longer while and after that the bishop Pastore and the priest Stefano came up to the wooden coffin and touched it devoutly. Also the cardinal Deskur was trying to touch it but he could not, no matter how much he was stretching out his right healthy arm (his left one is paralyzed). He could not come nearer in his wheelchair as a wide ramp platform and a flower decoration were a big obstacle to him.
Then the priest Stefano took a white shawl and Rosary out of his pocket, put them on the lid of the coffin and after a while gave them to the cardinal who kissed the objects with great emotion.
It was a very important moment for the cardinal Deskur who had been waiting for it for a long time. When the date of John Paul's II beatification was given, it had been written in the cardinal's calendar every day how many days were left till 1 May: 100, 99, 98...The Cardinal was aware of the fact that it was not obvious for him that he would live till that historical moment especially when considering his health condition and old age.
But God's Providence wanted him to witness the beatification of his best friend and trustee.
A special mission in the Church
It was the end of the cardinal Deskur's mission entrusted by John Paul II at the beginning of his pontificate. On the following day- 17 October 1978, after his election to Vatican, the Holy See, the Pope visited the seriously ill bishop Deskur in Gemelle's polyclinic. On that occasion he made an impromptu speech in which he said among the others: 'I have come here to visit my friend, my colleague, bishop Andrzej Deskur, the chairman of the Pope's Council for Mass Media, who has been in a serious health condition in hospital for several days and since the day preceding conclave. I wanted to pay a visit to him and also to all the ill people'.
When the bishop Deskur returned home, he got a letter from the Holy Father beginning with these words: 'Now you know what your mission in the Church is....' It was, certainly, about the mission of prayer for John Paul II and his pontificate. He was fulfilling that mission for 27 years till John Paul's II death and then, after the Pope's leaving for the Father's Home, the bishop Deskur continued on praying for John Paul' II beatification.
The visit in the Gemelle polyclinic made the world's public opinion learn about the friendship between the two great Poles: Karol Wojtyla and Andrzej Maria Deskur. The friendship which was born in 1945 in the Metropolitan Seminary in Cracow, was renewed at the time of the work of the Vatican council and got strong at the time of the Polish Pope's pontificate, becoming a real communion of hearts. They were in a constant touch and met each other as long as the Holy Father's work allowed to. Every Sunday, the cardinal Deskur was at the Pope's dinner when the Pope , certainly, was in Vatican. Their continuous meetings also included celebrating the cardinal Deskur's name -day - John Paul II went to the Saint Carol's Palace (just behind the apse of the Basilica) where the Cardinal lived. In the recent years, when the Pope found it difficult to move, the Birthday cardinal used to come to the Pope's apartment. When they were sitting at the table, they looked similar - their illnesses made them use wheelchairs and they both had paralyzed left arms and speech difficulties but they understood each other without words.
A private letter
John Paul II never forgot his friend's birthday either, but the problem was that Andrzej Deskur was born in 29 February 1924, that is a leap year, and he could celebrate his birthday every four years. The pope put it into a joke saying that, considering the number of his celebrated birthdays, the cardinal Deskur was a very young person.
When in 2004 the Cardinal was 80, he got a very personal letter from John Paul II. When I visited him a few days later, he showed it to me, saying: 'Make a copy of this letter. You may be able to use it later'. I kept the copy of that letter in my drawer for many years but I think that a moment of his publication has come. Here is what John Paul II wrote to his friend: 'On the day when you thank God for your 80 years of life, I unite with you in the prayer of praise for any good which was born thanks to His grace. And I thank you, first of all, for those last 25 years during which you have been accompanying my ministration in Vatican in a special way: through your sacrifice of your suffering endured in a quiet devotion to Christ and His Mother, in a patient prayer and in the spirit of love to the Church and through the sincere friendship and brotherly advice. Let your birthday be also an occasion to express our gratitude for everything you have achieved with the God's help as a priest, bishop and cardinal. It is not easy to mention everything. As the President of the Pope's Council for the Social Mass Media you were trying to teach the people of the Church to use them in such a way so that they would be an effective means of evangelism. As the President of the Pope's Academy of Virgin Mary you get plenty of treasure of your Mary's spirituality in order to give a testimony and raise all believers' love to Mary who gave the beginning to our redemption through her word 'fiat'. Let me mention also an active participation in the beatification and canonization processes of our Polish Saints. The General Church and the Church in Poland owe you a lot. Let the good God rewards your effort with abundant good graces. Let your 20th birthday be a special occasion to experience love from those who are friendly to you and your further years of your ministry in the Church be as fruitful as the last eight decades. I pray for you to the Merciful God and I bless you from all my heart'.
Who was the cardinal Andrzej Maria Deskur
He was born on 29 February in 1924 in Sancygniow, near Kielce, in a noble family of French origin. During the World War II he studied at clandestine Jagiellonian University - he graduated gaining the Master degree in the Roman and Church Law in 1945. In the same year he joined the Metropolitan Seminary in Cracow where he met Karol Wojtyla, a seminarian older than him by 4 years. On 20 August 1950 Deskur was ordained priest by the cardinal Pierre Gerlier, the archbishop of Lyon in Saint-Bonnes-les-Oules in France. He continued his theological studies at University in Fryburg and then he began his pastoral work in Switzerland and France. In 1952 he was asked to work in Vatican. - he divides his work in Roman Curia and his studies in the Pope's Academy of the Church where future diplomats of Vatican study. The surname of the Cardinal Deskur is mainly associated with mass media. In 1952 he began to work in the Pope's commission of cinematography and radio - the first historical body in the curia dealing with the social mass media and in the years 1954-64 he was its under-secretary. During the Vatican Council II he was a secretary of a commission which was preparing a famous document about mass media 'Inter mirifica'. In 1973 the Pope nominated him a chairman of the Pope's Commission (today Council) for Mass Media. Thanks to his efforts there appeared the Holy See Press Office, Vatican Film and a catholic radio station 'Veritas' in the Philippines, which emitted religious programs for Asia and Oceania. On 17 June 1974 the Monsignor Deskur was nominated bishop of Tene (Tunisia), and on 30 June 1974 he received Bishop Sacra from Paul VI. Whereas John Paul II nominated him into retired chairman of the Pope's Commission of Mass Media, raising him to the rank of bishop on 15 February 1980. Five years later, on 25 May 1985, John Paul II included him in the Cardinal College - his titular church was an antique temple of San Cesareo in Palatio near an antique Roman road via Appia.
In the recent years the Cardinal's health condition got worse, forcing him to lead his life devoted only to prayers and reading. Doctors were surprised that such an ill man still lived despite his many health problems. That 'miracle' lasted till 3 September 2011 when Andrzej Maria Deskur's life came to its end to open into an eternal life near his friend blessed John Paul II. That day the Church lost its faithful and intelligent servant, a saint priest completely devoted to the God's Mother, whereas Poland lost its compatriot.
The article was published on 10 September 2011 in the Italian version in the Vatican Daily 'L'Osservatore Romano'.