NOT ONLY ROMAN MEETINGS WITH JOHN PAUL II
ARCHBISHOP JÓZEF MICHALIK
Indeed, the ceremony was organized in such a way that all bishops could participate in the Holy Mass of canonization. Before it happened, it had been necessary to arrive in Basilica of St. Peter early enough . So, I had an occasion to ‘talk’ with the new saints, especially with John Paul II at his tomb. What was specially moving for me was the fact that this canonization takes place in the year when I thank God for fifty years of my priesthood and 28 years of my bishopric ministry.
He was happy to bring joy to others
I had a lot to ‘discuss’ with John Paul II. He was and is still an important man in my life, who taught everybody to look at the future of our ecclesiastical existence, both the Polish and personal ones from perspectives. So, I mentioned the Roman times, including the times of my work as a rector in the Polish College and frequent visits of cardinal Wojtyła there. I remember how he was going for the conclave during which the pope John Paul I was elected. I said jokingly for goodbye: ‘May Cardinal be elected’. And later, when he returned, he said jokingly: ‘Forgive me that I disappointed you…’When he was going for the conclave after John Paul I died, I was not joking so much, but I was reminding: ‘We are waiting for your return in either the white or the purple colour’. I was sure that it might be my last meeting with cardinal Wojtyła, and I was not wrong.
Looking at the sarcophagus of John Paul II, I fondly reminisced how on the following day, on 16 October 1978, in the late evening we went with Fr. Stanislaw Dziwisz, the cardinal today, to transport his personal things to the Vatican. At that time, for the first time I could see papal apartments, the chapel, library and his private flat. I will not forget how the Pope, being asked about his well-being in the new place, said with simplicity: ‘It seems to me as if I had been here for a long time’. It gave me a lot to think – how much the Holy Spirit had prepared him to undertake the ministry of Peter for the time of the turn of centuries.
Later I still had many occasions to meet with John Paul II during my work in the Papal Council for the Laymen. This laconic statement includes a lot of important events, memories, emotions connected with preparation of the World Youth’s Days. In my ‘talks’ I also focused on the moment when the Holy Father gave me the ministry of the Ordinary of the diocese of Gorzów. It was then, with the weak hope when I decided to ask the Pope if he would not like to be my consecrator. Certainly, I expected his refusal, but the Holy Father said: ‘With pleasure, but when?’. I knew that his schedule was full, but I also knew that every year on 16 October he leaves time for prayer only for himself. I used this knowledge and I said (I have been shocked with my boldness till today): ‘But Holy Father has a free day on 16 October’. ‘Oh, yes, indeed’ – he said and wrote the day of my consecration under this date in the calendar immediately; it was at the time of his election for the Holy See. Yes, he was an unusual man. He was glad if he could bring joy to others.
I saw him drinking from the source
When after eight years he suggested me taking over the archdiocese of Przemyśl, I was trying to find some excuses, I nearly refused. At that time I was telling the Pope about a priest during dinner whom I had asked if he wanted to be a parish priest in another parish , and he answered that if he was to take over the particularly difficult parish, I did not have to ask him about it and he would always agree. When I finished telling about it, I realized that I had behaved in a wrong way when I was trying to avoid taking over duties in Przemyśl. In the late evening I wrote a letter to the Holy Father in which I apologized for my hesitance and I expressed my agreement to his every decision towards me.
Later I had many occasions to meet the Holy Father officially and privately during my visits in Rome, connected with work in the Congregation for Bishops and on other occasions. I was more and more impressed by his heroic road of suffering. Dinesh D’Souza must have been right to say: ‘The West has developed a highly specialized procedure for ‘death cover-up’. In America and Europe people do not die at homes any more, in the eyes of their families. They die in hospitals, separated from the world around them. Even their family members only visit them and do not experience their death so close. In the final scene of this drama a doctor comes and informs us solemnly: ‘Death occurred’ or ‘He passed away’. There are a lot of euphemisms, we do not have even courage to say: ‘He is not alive’. The Pope was not ashamed of his suffering. He was not afraid of speaking about the forthcoming time of leaving for the Father’s Home. He believed that the man does not pass away, but he passes to a new life from this world through a narrow gate.
Certainly, it does not mean that suffering was not difficult for him. I remember that when he was not able to walk any longer, he said to me: ‘I have never thought when I heard breathless breathing of my friends on mountainous routes, that I would move in a wheelchair one day’. He wanted to be healthy. I also remember that when in 1997, just before the forthcoming pilgrimage to Poland, during which he was going to visit Krosno, I brought him water from the source of St. John of Dukla. He was obviously glad, drank the water at once and I ‘saw’ him drinking from this source of St. John ‘in the wilderness’ and I knew that was feeding himself with the breath of his beloved inhabitants from Bieszczady and Beskidy mountains.
The smallest victory over oneself increases the global good
During my ‘talk’ by the tomb of John Paul II , there was also a moment for other very personal matters. Finally, I sunk in thoughts about what this canonization will bring the Church , especially to our Homeland. This is a dream about the realization of the words of John Paul II about solidarity which means: not one against another, but one with another. The events in the Sejm during which there were attempts to pass the act through acclamation which was to pay the tribute to the Pope as the great Pole shows that the way to this solidarity is still very long, and what is powerful is the attitude: one against another. But it is forbidden and it is not honourable to resign from this task. Even the smallest victory over oneself increases the global good, and in God’s economics it has an infinite value. When I was thinking so and praying for Poland and the diocese, somebody touched my shoulder and said that it was time to go to the sacristy in order to get prepared for the celebration. I deeply hope that like on the square called plac Zwyciestwa we heard words of prayer of John Paul II: ‘Let Your Spirit descend and renew the image of the Land, this Land’, also now he will be concerned more about us and he will pray for us so that the Holy Spirit would descend into our restless land and renew its image.