Fr. inf. Ireneusz Skubiś talks with cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, the metropolitan of Kraków and a secretary of John Paul II, about a great prayer of John Paul II, his sensitivity to every man, personality and his relation with Homeland

FR. INF. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ: – I remember words of the late cardinal Stanisław Nagy: ‘I thought about many things, when I met with the pope John Paul II, but I did not think that he might become a saint’. I also reminisce my visit to Vatican: we were going to celebrate a Divine Service of June and the Cardinal as a secretary of the Pope, pointing to various places in the Apostolic Square, was saying: How much he prayed here! These words are strongly in my memory. Today Poland expects the canonization of blessed John Paul II. Priest Cardinal is personally preparing this day in Kraków and in the general Church. The prayer was surely an exceptional distinguishing feature of John Paul II…

CARDINAL STANISŁAW DZIWISZ: – I will refer to the words of the late cardinal Nagy. We often talked about John Paul II. I always said: Look, how he prays, how he treats another man, what modest life he leads. All this composed his unusual relation with God. And we were very close to Him – I have been in Kraków for 12 years, and later in Vatican for 27 years: my whole priestly life is related to the person of John Paul II. However, now I see more how this holiness was present in my life and how it appeared. For example, the Holy Father never celebrated the Holy Mass without earlier morning preparation. He did this meditation for at least 15 minutes. And he never left after the Holy Mass without his thanksgiving. Besides – he did not talk with people before the Holy Mass. When we were going with visits or for celebrations, silence had to be before the Holy Mass, ‘silentium’, concentration, he was getting prepared for a meeting with Lord during the Holy Mass. After the Holy Mass it was similar. For example, these facts already testify his reference to Christ. People who came to the Holy Mass in his private chapel, also in Kraków, later used to say that he somehow changed, that while praying or celebrating Eucharist, he brought people into an atmosphere of uniting with God. This reference to Eucharistic Christ had already proved his holiness.
Indeed, as I said, the Holy Father used to look for secluded places for contact with God. From time to time we tried to give him an occasion to go away to spend time with nature. In the beginning he did not talk with people accompanying him, but he was plunged in God, admiring the Creator through creations. He was an artist, a man sensitive to beauty. The beauty of nature helped him to meet with God. Everybody who looked from a distance, not to disturb him, were under impression of his prayer and unity with God.
When he was younger – because later his older age and illnesses came – prayed a lot when lying in the form of the cross either on the floor of the chapel on Franciszkańska Street in Kraków or in Rome. We used to leave him discreetly, but we heard him speaking to God quietly – it was a dialogue with Eucharistic Christ. We heard him praying in the intention of problems, countries where he travelled, their inhabitants. After all he often repeated that the prayer, hands raised upwards are the most important action for the Pope. Praying Pope is a mediator between God and the man, between Heaven and the Earth.
Cardinal Nagy might not have remembered how the Pope, still as archbishop of Kraków, had used to go skiing down from Kasprowy to Kuźnice, that he had used to have his place, in order to pray, say the prayer of breviary and every Thursday there was the holy Hour. As a priest and bishop he never left the holy Hour (adoration). He often told us, clerics: in the Gethsemane Garden Apostles were sleeping and it had to be complemented. And he was complementing it. For his whole life, on Thursdays, also during all his journeys, when his itinerary was very tense, the Holy Hour was all the time. The most important sign of this holiness is the prayer – unity with God. And he never did it on a show.

– This way of treating the Holy Mass and unity with God at the holy Hour is extremely important especially for priests…

– John Paul II was looking for a possibility to talk with God in noise, during his journeys, therefore he was looking for places of silence and prayer. Being prepared so, he went to celebrate the Holy Mass.
As far as priests are concerned – a personal initiative of John Paul II was writing letters to priests. He wrote lots of them. His soul is present in them. The issue of priesthood had always been in his heart.

– What are other sign of holiness, apart from the prayer, which Priest Cardinal noticed in John Paul II? What remained in memory?

– High discipline. He never wasted time. He was a man of much work, even during his holidays. When he did not write, he read a lot. The Pope wrote personally: speeches, documents, encyclicals…He had divisibility of attention. He was a nobly talented man….Besides he liked laughing, he liked jokes – but not joking about others. He cared not to hurt anybody. I have been with him for so many years but I have never seen him hurt anybody. Even if it was necessary to reprimand somebody, he did it in such a way so that nobody would feel hurt.

– And as a superior, bishop in Kraków…

– Priests had much trustfulness to him. He was discreet and tried to understand his weaknesses. Priests used to go to him with all their problems and they knew that he would not share their problems with others, that he would take the problems only into his heart.

– The Holy Father was an academic professor. Surely today he can be a patron of academic society…

– He had been my professor for a year, first as a priest, later as a bishop. He had always been perfectly prepared for lectures which were logic, precise and preached in a spoken form – he never read texts or gave abbreviations. During examinations he was always very demanding. He asked a particular question and when a student finished speaking, he said: Priest think so…..So, thank you. Everybody was leaving a room, not knowing how they had been evaluated. We always had much respect the person of bishop the professor whom we used to observe attentively. And he, when a break was starting, was going to the chapel and we knew he was praying. He was kneeling, being plunged in a prayer. He was an example, both for a professor and a young man, a student.

– The Holy Father, still being in Kraków, did sport – mountaineering tourism, kayaking and ski going. Surely, the contemporary man would like to have a patron who understands his hobbies…

– I think that John Paul II can be a patron of all categories because his personal and priestly life was very rich. Today it is said that he is also a patron of Poland – in difficult times he is showing a road and is morally leading us.

– Patriotism of John Paul II is impressive, as well as his love to everything which composes Poland. Your Eminence was an unusual witness of how the Holy Father taught us, Poles, to love our homeland.

– I still emphasize his unusual patriotism. He often said: I am here, in Rome, but I am as a Pole. Polish culture, history of Poland and the Polish Church prepared me to be here. And I serve to the Church and humankind as a Pole. He often said that love to homeland, patriotism have something religious in them, it is like with love to parents. He was glad that he was a Pole and he also cared about making Poland, the Polish culture known in the world, because Poland has a great value, especially for Europe. He always emphasized that Europe is a whole: the East and West are its two lungs.
He used to say: nationalism is restriction in patriotism and this is bad, whereas patriotism is something very positive, it is consciousness of one’s roots, something which is the most important in this culture, which creates the culture and with what the man should live.

– Priest Cardinal was also a witness of various behaviours of people of culture in Kraków. How did John Paul II react to it?

– He had a great sense of values. Being plunged in a contact with creativeness or with people of culture, he immediately felt what they represented. He never succumbed to any suggestions – he had his own opinion which was always, especially we see it today, right. He respected people which does not mean that he identified himself with their opinions.

– The pontificate of John Paul II had a very useful influence on the history of Poland at those times…

– Undoubtedly it resulted from a wide cooperation with cardinal Wyszyński. They understood each other. Surely, as a pastor, cardinal Wyszyński was a great strategist and Wojtyła had arguments which were irresistible, and they complemented each other in it. Changes which took place in Poland, had their basic beginning in the first journey of John Paul II to homeland.

– ‘Solidarność’ which became a sign of hope for Poland, could appear only because people in Poland started feeling stronger and realized that: we have the Pope….

– He freed particular people and nations of fear. It was a victory. Certainly, the first journey of John Paul II to Poland freed our nation of fears and ‘Solidarność’ appeared. But an impulse was there. I will also add that he was a man related to mysteries of Fatima, which is hardly mentioned. I think that the Providence used Him to fulfill requirements of Our Lady of Fatima. It happened that previous popes, although they knew secrets, did not have conditions in order to fulfill the requirements of Our Lady of Fatima. John Paul II fulfilled them.

– Fr. Mirosław Drozdek, creating a sanctuary In Krzeptówki in Zakopane, was inscribed in these events.

– Undoubtedly. We know from Eastern bishops that after entrusting countries oppressed by communism to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, something started to change. And it was the beginning of the collapse of the Soviet Union, communism and Marxism in the world. The biggest revolution came. Certainly, with the participation of God’s Providence, which – as we believe – used this Pope for this purpose.

– When, after his visit in Berlin, he was at the Berlin wall with Helmut Kohl, the Holy Father reminded this moment at a table, where I was too and there was a suggestion that speeches of the Pope and Kohl should be edited in ‘Niedziela’.

– It is a pity that Polish mass media did not undertake the thread from the Pope’s life – passing through the Branderburg Gate (1996). It was the end of the last war. At that time I was watching Polish media – they somehow did not understand this situation.

– The Holy Father experienced it very much.

– Because he was aware what it meant. He was very sensitive to the signs of time. The Pope was celebrating the Holy Mass on the stadium which was opened for Olympic games in Berlin by Hitler … These are the signs about which we must not forget.

– Priest Cardinal belonged to people dearest to the Holy Father. He had many friends. How was the holy man faithful to this friendship? And we knew that he was because when we saw him in Wadowice, for example, he was speaking about his dearest people in an extremely friendly way.

– The Holy Father has always been faithful to the friendship. Even when sometimes it seemed to us that somebody was abusing his friendship, was behaving disgracefully and did not deserve it. Everybody who called themselves his friends, could always rely on his friendship.

– I must ask Your Eminence who is the best witness of it, what attitude the Holy Father had towards ‘Niedziela’ and other Catholic magazines.

– The Holy Father read the whole Catholic press. He admired that it appeared out of nothing because once it used to be forbidden.

– At that time we felt great friendliness also towards Priest Cardinal, who helped us with our every visit to Rome and meet with the Holy Father…

– The Holy Father always welcomed Prelate Priest with great gratitude, being aware what an important role he had in Poland, as well as ‘Niedziela’ – and we hope that he will have this role all the time.

– I am grateful for the papal mobile phone which serves me from time to time…

– Częstochowa in the person of Prelate Priest can be proud that it has achieved what others have not done. The Holy Father respected Your Archbishop Senior Stanisław Nowak. A kind of a legend is related to him. Namely, when he was nominated a vicar in Ludźmierz, there was an original parish priest there. Fr. Nowak came up to him and said that he had been sent as a vicar there. Whereas, the parish priest answered: ‘What a chap is forcing his way to Ludźmierz!’. This ‘chap’ quickly became a parish priest in the neighbourhood and alter a Father in the seminary, a rector, a professor at the Papal Theology Academy, a bishop and archbishop…It is also significant that he became a bishop and archbishop in Częstochowa at once. He was expected to be somewhere else, but bishop Stefan Bareła died. It was great spirituality. The Holy Father did not have any doubts that only a soulful man who is sensitive to cult of Our Lady could be sent to the spiritual capital city, Częstochowa. Archbishop Stanisław Nowak was this kind of a person.

– Thank you for the valuable talk of the first witness of the Holy Father’s holiness, canonized by the Church soon.

– John Paul II is a great personality. The holiness of the man, priest, bishop and pope was being built on this human personality….

The interview with cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, the metropolitan of Kraków and a secretary of John Paul II, was conducted by Fr. Inf. Ireneusz.


"Niedziela" 1/2014

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: