UNDER THE FATHERLY EYE OF JOHN PAUL II
Włodzimierz Rędzioch talks with Fr. Dr. Krzysztof Wieliczko OSPPE – an administrator of John Paul II Foundation
John Paul II celebrated the third anniversary of his election for the Holy See in a particular way, and established Foundation which was called by his name. it has functioned since 16 October 1981 on the religious and cultural-scientific fields. The Pope, in his foresight, noticed the need of educating the Catholic intelligence in the countries of the Soviet bloc, for whose purpose academic scholarships for students from Eastern Europe were used – about 1000 people have used this help till today. The Foundation also deals with care for pilgrims in Rome for whom the Polish House at Via Cassia is available. But the biggest achievement of the foundation is collecting a lot of documentation concerning pontificate of John Paul II and popularizing the papal teaching all over the world – for this purpose groups and societies of foundation friends functioning in 18 countries are used. On the occasion of 35 years of existence of John Paul II Foundation I conducted an interview with its administrator – Fr. Dr. Krzysztof Wieliczko OSPPE.
WŁODZIMIERZ RĘDZIOCH: – Exactly 3 years after the election for the Holy See, on 16 October 1981, John Paul II established which was called by his name. What was the purpose of its establishing?
FR. DR. Krzysztof Wieliczko OSPPE: – John Paul II Foundation is an ecclesiastical organization, a non-profit organization whose purpose is supporting and realization of initiatives of educational, scientific, cultural, religious and charity character, connected with pontificate of the Holy Father John Paul II. The main purposes of the foundation are:
• Maintaining and developing the spiritual heritage of John Paul II and Christian culture
• Educational and scholarship help for the youth from Central-Eastern Europe and Asia at the Catholic University in Lublin and University of John Paul II in Cracow
• Documentation and studies of pontificate as well as popularizing the teaching of John Paul II
• Caring about pilgrims in Rome – especially from Poland and Eastern Europe
– Where is the headquarter of the foundation and how is it organized?
– The official headquarter of the foundation is in Vatican, however, regarding the character of its activity, it is localized in a few places. And, for example, the administrative office has its headquarter in Rome at Via di Porta Angelica 63, the Centre of Documentation and Studies of Pontificate of John Paul II, as well as the Polish House for pilgrims – at Via Cassa 1200, whereas the house of the foundation for scholars is in Lublin in Boczna Lubomelska street 2. Each of these places is used for purposes of this foundation.
– A particular role of the foundation activity belongs to the Centre of Documentation and Studies of Pontificate of John Paul II. What was successfully collected in this place?
– The Centre of Documentation and Studies of Pontificate of John Paul II deals with securing documents concerning pontificate of John Paul II and cares about passing over his heritage to the next generations. The collected documentation is a rich material for carrying out scientific studies whose fruits are books, symposia, exhibitions, and also articles popularizing the thought and work of John Paul II. The library of the centre comprises about 30 thousand volumes; they were made available for studies on the teaching of John Paul II, most of them have already been digitalized.
– What is the scholarship program for students from Eastern Europe based on, and what are its results?
– Helping students of the Catholic University in Lublin and University of John Paul II in Cracow get scholarships, John Paul II Foundation takes part in educating the future intellectual elites of the countries of Central-Eastern Europe and Asia. The Scholarship program has existed since the year 1990. During 26 years of the scholarship activity about 1000 people used the help of John Paul II Foundation. Scholars came from: Belarus, Bulgaria, China, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Latvia, Moldavia, Russia, Romania, Slovakia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan and Hungary. The biggest group of scholars were candidates from Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania – till the time of including the country into the structures of the European Union. For the time being, among our scholars, there are 3 professors, 76 PhDs, 88 BA people and 522 MAs.
Most graduates of the foundation return to their home countries and work in various state and ecclesiastical institutions. They are lecturers at state and Catholic universities, in seminaries, teach catechesis at schools. They teach Polish language, are translators in various companies. They work in embassies, family counseling companies, run pre-marital courses, are journalists in editorial offices of religious and secular magazines. They run their own businesses. Two graduates of the foundation received bishopric dignities and are working in Belarus at present.
This year John Paul II Foundation will comprise 145 scholars with financial and educational care. 36 people got to the first year at the university (25 for MA studies and 11 for PhD studies). Half of candidates come from Ukraine, whereas the others – from Belarus, Uzbekistan and Indonesia.
Scholars in Lublin are offered accommodation in the house of the foundation. The House in Lublin provides a lot of functions, 100 students are living in it at present. It is a place of pastoral ministry carried out among scholars. In the chapel of the house under the vocation of Saint Cyril and Metody and St. John Paul II, scholars meet together at Eucharist and at various religious services, participate in catechesis every week, gather together to celebrate feasts together. The House in Lublin is also a place of scholars’ meetings, Holy Masses in their languages are celebrated. In the House of the foundation, every week students meet in groups connected with: reading the Bible and listening to papal catechesis. There is a choir of the foundation conducted by one of our scholars, which enriches liturgy many times a year. Annual retreats are also an occasion not only to form one’s intellect, but also take care of one’s spirit. Within the widely understood pastoral ministry, we should mention organized pilgrimages to Rome, every few years, football matches, trips with barbecue.
– How do you help pilgrims in Rome?
– The Polish House of John Paul II at Via Cassa has always made efforts – and still does it – to realize its purposes. It opens the door wide for pilgrims arriving here. Not only does it provide accommodation and food to them, but, first of all, it takes care of the spiritual dimension of pilgrimages. In the chapel of the Polish House there is the Holy Mass with a homily celebrated every day, there is confession and in the evening there are Eucharist religious services and the Appeal Prayer of Jasna Góra. At this prayer foundation donors are mentioned, both the alive and the deceased ones. Among them, in the first place there is St. John Paul II, about whom also rich collections of the museum speak in this house, especially relics of his blood. The museum of the foundation comprises gifts which pilgrims gave to John Paul II.
– What institutions does the foundation cooperate with in order to realize its main purpose of maintaining the heritage of pontificate of John Paul II better?
– Because the range of activity of the foundation is quite wide, it requires cooperation with various institutions – both the secular and ecclesiastical ones, mainly universities, embassies, foundations. Recently we and the Museum the Home of John Paul II in Wadowice have managed to realize a few projects and we hope that this cooperation will still bring fruits.
– Who supports the foundation financially?
– Functioning of the foundation is possible thanks to generosity of donors from all over the world. A lot of them are members of groups and societies of friends of the foundation.
– What are the groups and societies of friends of the foundation?
– At present there are 48 groups and societies which function on 4 continents in 18 countries (England, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Spain, Sweden, France, Poland, Canada, the United States, Mexico, Venezuela, Indonesia, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, Australia). Activity of the groups and societies is not limited only to collecting funds for the foundation, but, first of all, everything is focused on spreading the teaching of John Paul II in local groups. There are international conferences, symposia, lectures, concerts, exhibition organized, devoted to the person and teaching of John Paul II. The key aspect of the activity of groups and societies are cyclical prayer meetings, often preceded by the Holy Mass and adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and also retreats, catechesis or even foot pilgrimages to places of cult to Mary. Among members of the foundation groups of Lively Rosary are popularized. A lot of them participated in the World Youth Days in Cracow, not only as pilgrims but also as volunteers. Most of the groups of foundation friends are engaged in the activity for the poor and the homeless. The youth of the foundation groups in Jakarta organize meals for the poor, whereas members of the foundation group in Mexico support an orphanage for children with severe birth defects.
– How does the foundation want to celebrate the 35th anniversary of its existence?
– Every jubilee is an occasion for summarizing, statistics are reported then, conferences are organized. However, we want the jubilee of the foundation to be a day of people, all people engaged in its activity. People of good will who work so beautifully for the Foundation of John Paul II and spread its purposes, in their local societies. Therefore, the program is planned in such a way so that it would be time for a meeting as one big family. The meeting for a prayer, talk, joy about being together.
Jubilee ceremonies take place in Rome and Vatican on 22-24 October this year. The main point is a solemn Holy Mass in the Basilica of St. Peter. There are also going to be a concert, a symposium, sanctifying the Golden Jubilee Book and a meeting with the Holy Father Francis at a private audience.