NINE YEARS WITHOUT JOHN PAUL II
We are living with the forthcoming canonization of John Paul II and other dates are becoming forgotten, so, it is good that ‘Niedziela’ reminds about the date of 2 April 2005. It has just been the ninth anniversary of our great Compatriot’s death
Closeness of these two dates reminds us the vertiginous, unique pace of the beatification process in the history of the Church – there has only been six weeks since John Paul II passed away to Father’s home, when his successor Benedict XVI announced that he did not see any obstacles to start this process at once, without the passage of required five years from the death of the candidate for altars. So, hardly had our tears disappeared after the grief, when we started crying with happiness because the new Pope consoled us, giving us hope, and, in fact, certainty that beatification of his Predecessor would be an issue of the nearest future.
Significant language lapse of the Pope
When in Basilica of St. John in Lateran, during a meeting with clergy from Rome, Benedict XVI personally read out a document with dispensation from the time defined by the canon code, concerning expectation for started the beatification process, he made a sympathetic and significant language lapse. He said about ‘our beloved Holy Father’, while during that moment, he was the pope, and John Paul II was ‘his beloved Predecessor’.
For adults this anniversary is still a fresh and beautiful remembrance , because we remember - it was not so long time ago – that although we were crying after the passing away of the Pope, on those days, thanks to him, ‘we were as one person’. And although it was lasting for a short time, these were beautiful unforgettable days.
He remained with us
The title ‘Nine years without John Paul II’ is not completely suitable. Indeed ‘incredible’ Francis displaces John Paul II from the media space – of which we should not be jealous, because every pope is ‘ours’ – but John Paul II lives among us. ‘Us’ – here we mean not only Poles, but the Catholic people all over the world. His presence has the extraterrestrial dimension. People are still sending letters to the Postulation, which are written to Him, and which address Him as if he lived. Even those are sent, have only the name of the Polish Pope written on their envelopes. Because of the constant correspondence, among which there are also valuable testimonies, the postulation is addressed by prelate priest Sławomir Oder not to finish the activity after the canonization of John Paul II.
One of the signs of the real presence of the Holy Father are his relics, sent in the form of his papal blood to churches in various parts of the world. They give the beginning to the sanctuaries of John Paul II, which gather big crowds of believers. These are not the situation taken from the Middle Ages, where relics used to be treated in a magic way and everyone wanted to have them (there were even drastic scenes that crowds used to rob a deceased of a piece of his/her garments, and even fingers, hair or teeth in order to guarantee the favour of Heaven for themselves. Today the cult of relics has healthy roots, we should not be ashamed of it or pay attention to criticisms of ‘enlightened’ brains blaming the Catholics for cruelty and backwardness. Relics evoke prayers and desire to follow the example of saints.
A postulator of the canonization process of John Paul II – Fr. Sławomir Oder knows that very well. In the recently published book entitled ‘I stayed with you’ which is a register of his interviews with an Italian journalist Saverio Gaeta. The prelate priest points out to the fruits of pilgrimages of blessed John Paul’ II relics all over the world and their fantastic resonance among believers, not only the Catholics. ‘Today thousands of people who pay tribute to the relics of Wojtyła (…) do not feel any physical distance with John Paul II. This pope crossed the barrier of the human dimension of life, but his teaching is still alive, people want his presence’ – says Fr. Oder. And he adds that he had received many testimonies about spiritual transformations and testimonies of healings after a direct contact with relics of John Paul II.
Moreover, the presence of the pope is shown by many monuments (although not all of them are successful) and places connected with his ministry. For example, in Ecuador there are still altars at which John Paul II celebrated Holy Masses during his pilgrimage to this country in 1985. They stand as they used to, and are decorated with the inscription: ‘It is the holy place, because here Saint John Paul II celebrated the Holy Mass’.
Wojtyła not completely recognized
Certainly, it would be not good, if the presence of John Paul II was manifested only in his relics and souvenirs of him. The presence of his words and thoughts is necessary, therefore, publications devoted to the Pope are important. Who thinks that everything has already been written about John Paul II, is completely wrong. It is proven, for example, by an excellent book of prof. Stanisław Grygiel, entitled ‘On paths of the truth. Talking with John Paul II’, recently published by ‘Flos Carmeli’. The professor, a prominent guide in the papal teaching for over 30 years, somehow continues on talks with Karol Wojtyła, which he used to carry out with him on mountainous of forest paths. ‘Grygiel offers us a unique look into life, philosophy, theology and spirituality of one of the greatest personalities in our times and one of the greatest saints’ – as Carl A. Anderson, the Supreme Knight of Columbus’s Knights Order recommends the book.
The Pope was laughing in the face of Gromyka
Prof. Grygiel often surprises, when he enriches his reflections with revelation of unusual facts from the life of Karol Wojtyła/ John Paul II, which he witnessed. These facts , unpublished anywhere else, can be valuable for papal biographers and will surely interest readers. It is Stanisław Rygiel who in the 70s of the last century brought a Russian man to cardinal Wojtyła at night, the son of a hero in the Soviet Union, one of deputies of the famous chief of NKWD Ławrientij Beri. Dangerous talks ended with blessing given to the kneeling Russian man, baptized secretly from his mother, who, having found out about it, got heart infarction.
When Karol Wojtyła had already been elected pope, prof. Grygiel asked him about the meeting with Andriej Gromyka, a Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union for many years. ‘He told me fantasies about great freedom, which the Soviet regime had given to religion’ – said the Pope. Being asked by Grygiel: ‘And what did Holy Father tell him?’, John Paul II answered: ‘Nothing, I was only looking at him and…..I was laughing’.
Riccardi with a complete biography
Besides the mentioned book ‘I stayed with you’, another editorial event undertaken on the occasion of the canonization was a papal biography by Andrei Riccardi, a prominent Italian publicist, a founder of the Community of St. Giles, the former minister in the government of Mario Monte. The book ‘John Paul II. Biography’ was published by the Edition of St. Paul. A great merit of Riccardi’s work is the fact that among all biographers of John Paul II, he was the only one who has presented most issues connected with the life and career of the Polish Pope. Therefore, the biography of his authorship is nearly complete. This book was being created from the beginning of the pontificate of John Paul II. Riccardi surprises with the fact that his thesis and opinions – unlike any other biographers to such an extent – confirms with statements gained directly from John Paul II and closest people from his surroundings. There is really a lot of it. The author had to devote much time in order to ‘lurk’ for the Pope and ask him single questions at good moments.
Riccardi does not conceal fascination with John Paul II and treats him with more sympathy than the last Italian popes. Not without satisfaction does he quote a sentence of one of cousins of Paul VI, who, being thrilled with a friendly welcome from John Paul II, says a remark in the presence of the dignified host, that pope Montini, as a host of his relatives in the Apostolic Castle, had not given them even a glass of water.
A great merit of the book is the fact that Ricccardi, among all papal biographers, outlined the best and the most thorough background of the situation of the Church and papacy through the conclave in October 1978. The analysis suggests that the election of Karol Wojtyła who was a sensational person for the world, was somebody logical for cardinals. Archbishop Wojtyla fulfilled all important expectations of cardinals electors towards the future pontifex: he was young, was considered as the best pastor, with a prominent personality and he did not come from the country which had the status of powerful country (for many non-Italian cardinals it was a great merit).
A papal lesson impossible to do
The teaching of the last three popes is so wide that even specialists do not understand it. However, we should use the teaching of John Paul II because, to much extent, it is addressed to Poles. Its purpose is to oppose dangerous opinions proclaimed by publicists, scientists or politicians. Here a famous historian of the idea proves that a state clerk should not follow his conscience but he should know how to make decisions skillfully and according to law. But what if this law is contradictory with conscience because it violates the natural law? We remember the words of John Paul II said in 1995 in Skoczów: ‘Poland is calling for people of conscience!’. So, whom should we believe?
When one reads papal texts, one feels that John Paul II foresaw what would happen in the future. For example, here is a quotation from the encyclical ‘Centesimus annus’: ‘If one does not accept the transcendental truth, the power of authority triumphs and everyone is aiming at maximum using accessible means, for imposing one’s own desire for advantage or one’s own opinions, not caring about the others’ rights. Then the human being is respected as he can be used to some egoistic purposes. So, the modern totalitarianism grows out from transcendent negation of the human being dignity, being a visible image of invisible God and just from its very nature it is the subject of rights which must not be violated by anybody: neither an individual nor a group nor a class, nation nor a state. Nobody can do it, even the majority of the society turned against the minority, pushing it aside onto the margin, oppressing, abusing or trying to annihilate it’ (no 44).
Isn’t the above fragment of the encyclical ‘Centesimus annus’ adequate to what is happening in Poland today? It is worth using this prophetic teaching of John Paul II, and not only expecting miracles from him.