GOOD IS CONTAGIOUS
Łukasz Głowacki talks to prelate priest Konrad Krajewski
Who is closer to God, is bringing the heaven all over the world. John Paul II was such a person – says the priest of papal ceremonies who has accompanied the Polish Pope at the altar for seven years and now he is present with Benedict XVI during liturgical celebrations.
ŁUKASZ GLOWACKI: - Does Priest remember his first meeting with John Paul II? What impression did he make then?
PRELATE PRIEST KONRAD KRAJEWSKI: - I was shaking all over my body. It was on 13 June 1987 in Lublinek in Łódź. When he was greeting us, he pointed at my hair. At that time I had very black and thick hair. I felt a bit uneasy because I thought that my hair was too long! But probably he simply meant that although I was so young, I had already been responsible for the liturgy!
– A quarter of century ago in Lublinek a few hundred thousands of people were taking part in the papal Holy Mass. Most of them were standing far away but Priest was serving at the altar. How does Priest remember this event?
– I was so absorbed in the preparations that I was hardly thinking about it. If so, I was thinking only about one thing: whether everything would be successful; like our mothers are worried when they are preparing a party: so that nothing would burn or pour out...The stress was especially big because at that time I was a deacon and my bishop entrusted me the duty of care about the liturgy. When the Pope said that he wanted to have a photo taken with all the children – and there were 1500 of them – I thought that it was a joke! But it happened in real, we managed to do it and it was even beautiful. Archbishop Piero Marini (the person of papal ceremonies at that time) mentions it even today at different meetings, saying that we were doing our duty peacefully and professionally. And it was really difficult.
– Many years later the Pope called Priest to Vatican as a person of papal ceremonies. What was Priest thinking about at that time?
– I was directly called by Archbishop Piero Marini, a master of papal ceremonies but that decision had surely been consulted earlier. I was not afraid of the work at papal celebrations because, before that, still during my studies, I had such practice in Rome. I was mainly afraid of the work in the office. I knew Archbishop Marini still as a priest who had been my lecturer. So I knew that he was a very demanding man who demanded first, from himself and later from others. I was not equal to him in any respect: neither in linguistic (as he can speak 5 languages fluently), nor in cultural respect, or first of all, holiness. I felt from the very beginning that it was ‘too strong wind for my wool’. I was comforted only by the information placed in the request of my bishop: that I was ‘hired’ only for three years – for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. There were really many anxieties; however, there was something which gave me courage – just in Lublinek, during the preparations for the pilgrimage of the Pope in Łódź, we understood priest Marini perfectly, although I did not know even a word in Italian; well, maybe only one word: pizza!
– In this situation it is not difficult to make mistakes. After all everybody makes mistakes. Does Priest remember any mistake from the times spent in the surroundings of John Paul II?
– Bishop Marini went away for a few days. At that time the Pope had a visit in one of the Roman parishes. So, I went there alone as a person of papal ceremonies. Bishop Dziwisz was not there at that time. Only Fr. Mokrzycki and I were with the Holy Father and we were responsible for the whole process of the meeting with the faithful. Young boys from this parish were serving during the Holy Mass. As it is typical for the Italians who are full of fantasy and energy, usually greeted the Pope: ‘Ciao Papa!’ When we had already been in a presbytery with the Pope, I realized that one of the ministrants who had joined hands for prayer beautifully and had beautiful Italian look, had mislaid a missal somewhere. It seemed improbable because I had given it to him by myself. I felt my shaky legs. The Pope was to say greetings in a moment, all cameras had already been directed onto the Holy Father – and I was bending over towards the Pope to ask him to start and.....improvise because the prepared texts had got lost. I asked the people from the Vatican guard to look for the missal, and the correct one. The Holy Father did not show any sign of his surprise. The missal was brought just before readings. The ministrant had left it on a window sill in a corridor because it was too heavy for him and it was not convenient for him while looking at the Pope. And how not to love the Italians!
– In this situation the Pope did not show any sign of surprise but he was remembered as somebody who was sensitive to the needs of others. Did such moments happen when he noticed these need somehow accidently – during questions and discussions?
– When we were in some countries, not mentioning Poland, he asked very often about particular people: how they were getting by, about their illnesses about which he knew; he asked for giving greetings to them form him; he assured about his prayer. Nearly every day papal secretaries put sheets of paper with requests for prayer on a praying desk. One day my request for a successful operation of my mother got onto this prayer desk. When he met me later, he said: I was praying! It was a very important help.
– A prayer, a relationship with Christ is a fundamental matter for every priest. What did Priest learn from John Paul II in this issue?
– The Holy Father, before he went out to people, was talking with God, first. I saw how he was kneeling in a sacristy although millions of people were chanting loudly, calling him to them. When he went out, everybody felt that the Pope represented Christ. He did not cover Christ with his person. Similarly, after a finished meeting or a celebration – he was kneeling again and then nothing interested him, even the fact that his time was passing quickly. He needed to talk with God, thank Him and cuddle up to Him. I am trying to imitate him in it, in order not to do the sacraments without any preparation. Going to a confessional every day at 3pm, I pray for those who will come and confess their sins and then I fulfil the same penance which I have given to penitents. I often pray with the words of Fr. Jan Twardowski on my way:
Angel of God, my guardian,
Confessor of me worthless,
So when I confess, help me,
Silent at the pictures.
If by chance one of the souls
Will kneel near my stole –
Have your angelic hands together,
Praying for us beautifully.
And obtain for me it finally gave
What is the dearest -
So he left in order to be
Alone with God.
– I will ask about the inner details of the preparations for the papal pilgrimages. When the Pope visited Łódź, the authorities of those times did not have a friendly attitude towards this visit. But both John Paul II and Benedict XVI appeared in different places which were not favourable to them. Does Priest remember especially hostile atmosphere around a pilgrimage?
– Liturgical preparations are started when the whole program in the diplomatic and logistic respect has already been acknowledged, so time, place and the way of the Pope’s stay in a particular country have been decided. Coming a few weeks before the visit of the Holy Father, we see the nice prepossessing atmosphere and unusual friendliness. It was so and is in every country, even in Arabian countries or in Turkey. We learn about the situation, about which you are asking, from press information. However, it does not concern direct preparations for the visit of the Pope.
– Each of us is looking for a community – we set up families, meet with friends, develop in religious groups. What does it look like in the case of Priest? The present work is abroad, in addition nearly constantly ‘on suitcases’...
– My family is sometimes here – in the office where we prepare papal celebrations. My family are also those who come to confession to me every day between 3 and 4 pm; these are the participants of Thursday Holy Masses at the grave of John Paul II. On every Thursday there are vespers in my house and later there is supper which is attended by priests and laymen who are working or studying in Rome, nuns or visitors...This is my ‘Thursday family’. That is true – I always have a prepared suitcase but although I must travel a lot, I live matters of our country; I am even interested in what the weather in łódź is like or whether snowdrops have already blossomed in Suwałki... I receive requests for prayers in the intention of somebody from Poland at the grave of John Paul II very often. Then I run quickly to tell God about it through the intercession of the Blessed Pope. My ‘family’ is still getting larger. Another thing is that I am very often recognised by somebody thanks to the fact that I have been near John Paul II for long seven years and now I am visible near Benedict XVI. People smile at me and ask for a prayer...These are people from many places of the world. Sometimes these meetings take place in the Basilica of St. Peter: they ask me to pray at the grave of John Paul II, and, after all, we are near him. And sometimes I have got creeps all over my body, because I am only an inhabitant of Łódź, a member of the Holy ‘Church of sinners’, an ordinary priest... But these people are certain that the blessed John Paul II will listen ‘better’ to the person who was at his death.
– Did John Paul II sometimes mention his visit in Łódź in 1987?
– It was rather bishop Martini who reminded the Pope of it during different occasions, especially of this special photo with children of the first communion in Lublinek. It has been the only such a celebration in the world till nowadays, during which 1500 children received the First Communion in the presence of the Holy Father. The Pope always confirmed that on these occasions: ‘Yes, Yes, I remember’.
– It was quarter a century ago and the Pope died 7 years ago. Children who are in the youngest years of the primary schools today do not remember John Paul II any longer. What would Priest tell them about the Polish Pope? What was he like?
– First, the body of everybody is getting older (it refuses to be obedient to us), then the brain (we even forget what day it is today) – but our heart never gets older! John Paul II was beautiful because there was always spring in his heart. Although he was more and more physically incapable and stopped walking and speaking, we all were still attracted by him and wanted to meet with him. Why? Because he represented God – even in his illness. His heart was created on the example of Jesus’ Heart. It was simply beautiful. Who is close to God, he is spreading Heaven all over the world. And John Paul II was and is such a person.
– The successor of John Paul II, Pope Benedict XVI will proclaim the Year of Faith. In the document motu proprio ‘Porta Fidei’, he noted that today the Church is surrounded by people who are indifferent to the teaching of Christ in much extent. What can we do in the Year of Faith to reach to them?
– When we are saint we are most useful for the Church and Poland, and when we do not cover up God with our person, behaviour, life style but we ‘show’ and ‘reveal’ Him! When Ten Commandments become my life, then God ‘breathes’ in me and it is also transferred to everybody around. Good is contagious – it can make me not only a beautiful human being, but also change everything around me. So, let’s become saint people – thanks to it we will always be together in Heaven after this life on the Earth.