Two years have passed since John Paul II's death
Wlodzimierz Redzioch talks to Gian Franco Svidercoschi, the outstanding Vaticanist and co-editor of the book 'Swiadectwo' [Witness] by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz.
WLODZIMIERZ REDZIOCH: - Tow years have passed since the death of the Servant of God John Paul II. Could you summarise this long pontificate that was so very important to the whole Church?
GIAN FRANCO SVIDERCOSCHI: - When the pontificate of John Paul II began the Church was shaken by post conciliar conflicts, which caused divisions in the bishops' conferences, among the clergy and laymen. The first thing the Pope did was to neutralize those conflicts by showing the Church one big aim: evangelisation. The evangelisation was to be directed outside, i.e. concerning people who did not know Christ (John Paul II thought about evangelisation of the East and Asia since he thought that the future of the Church would depend on her lot in Asia) and inside, the so-called new evangelisation that was to revive faith in the Church (the Pope claimed that faith of Catholics, especially in the West, was so weak that the Church had to be evangelised from inside). The second process that John Paul II initiated was the declericalisation of the Church (it is surprising that the Vaticanists did not notice this important endeavour of the Holy Father). I think that after the Council of Trent there was not any definite attempt to declericalise the Church, i.e. to destroy the clergy's wall that the Council of Trent had built as its response to the Protestant Reformation. The Pope did that by adding more value to the aspects of communion: the secular and charismatic aspects and not the hierarchical and institutional ones. Thus the new protagonists in the Church and the 'interlocutors' of John Paul II were the young people, women and members of various ecclesiastical movements. The Pope was the pioneer of this process that is still going on although not all hierarchs followed him. Take for example the role of women: the Pope praised woman's genius to the highest degree but he did not have many followers.
- The activities of John Paul II were not limited to the Catholic Church...
- That's right. First of all, one should mention the great involvement of the Pope in ecumenism. Unfortunately, the Pope encountered big difficulties. Naturally, he could not be blamed for them. The problems resulted, for example, from the fact that the Anglican Church permitted women's priesthood. As far as the Orthodox Church is concerned the end of communism brought about nationalisms in many countries, and the Churches that were not used to act in liberty often shared the nationalistic tendencies, closing themselves to maintain contacts with other Churches. A typical example can be the Russian Orthodox Church: the Moscow Patriarchate regards the ordinary evangelization action of another Church in the same territory as the so-called proselitism. However, in spite of many problems John Paul II did so much for the cause of ecumenism. He also overcame unimaginable barriers in the world of the Orthodox faith. Let us look at Greece. The Pope was invited there but the Greek Church barely 'tolerated' the plans of his visit. But just after his arrival, in his first speech, John Paul II asked for forgiveness for the sins of Catholics towards the Orthodox believers (he meant the Fourth Crusade during which Constantinople had been destroyed). And suddenly the mood of the visit was completely changed. Today we can speak about good relationships between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church in Greece. Close relationships have also been established with the Orthodox Church in Romania. Who can forget the cry of the faithful: 'Unitade! Unitade!' (Unity, unity!) when the Pope met the Orthodox patriarch of the country? One should also remember the contribution of John Paul II to the dialogue with other religions, especially with the monotheistic ones. This Pope, thanks to his own experiences, contributed to developing relations with the Jewry: he was the first Pope who entered a synagogue, established diplomatic relationships with Israel and strongly condemned anti-Semitism. His visit to Jerusalem and its Western Wall let Jews understand the meaning of the Catholic Church and papacy.
Furthermore, John Paul II did a lot to improve the relationships with Islam after ages of conflicts. The first meaningful episode for the dialogue was his journey to Morocco where the Pope met 80,000 young Muslims at the stadium in Casablanca. The Holy Father made a great impression on the Islamic youth by the way he introduced himself and how he explained what Christianity was. John Paul II was the first Pope who went to a mosque. It was in Damascus. Unfortunately, there followed dramatic events - 11 September 2001, the first war in Afghanistan, the second war in Iraq - which made the dialogue with Muslims difficult. However, one should stress that thanks to his efforts John Paul II caused the Islamic world not to see the war in Iraq as a conflict between Christianity and Islam.
- Speaking about the war one should also mention that John Paul II made continuous efforts to maintain peace in the world.
- During the pontificate of John Paul II the Church recovered her credibility and moral strength and the Church could proclaim the message of justice and peace to the entire world. In certain times the Pope was the only person who demanded peace. It may seem that the Pope did not succeed because he did not prevent the war but actually he won since he convinced people's hearts that the war was a mistake and one could not fuel conflicts between Christians and Muslims. The funeral of the Holy Father was a testimony that the Pope dedicated his whole life to the cause of peace.
- John Paul II was not a pacifist as some left-wing circles tried to call him. He supported the so-called humanitarian interference...
- That's true. Once when he visited a parish he said that he was a man of peace and not a pacifist. The Pope wholeheartedly opposed the war in the Persian Gulf but at the same time he supported humanitarian interference in the Balkans. He demanded humanitarian interference when a nation was to be rescued and when there were conditions for international interference (a single country should not start a war). The documents of the Second Vatican Council only condemn war whereas the Pope claimed that war could not be a tool to regulate relations between countries.
To conclude, one can say that John Paul II left the Church in a more spiritual condition; the Church that became communion to a greater extent; the Church that became family where every baptized person has his own place and nobody is marginalized; the Church that confessed her mistakes of the past and now is in peace with other believers since the relationships with other religions are definitely better than they were 25 years ago; the Church that regained her credibility and because of that she could become the advocate for peace in the world.
- Did the efforts of John Paul II stop the process of secularisation and the Church managed to regain her right to act in politics and culture?
- In his book Cardinal Dziwisz wrote a beautiful sentence, 'The Pope regained the territory which the Church and Christians had lost throughout centuries. He regained the squares that the left-wing party had occupied; he regained the intelligentsia that had been under the influence of the secularised culture; he regained the youth that stopped to be ashamed of confessing faith and that aimed at their sanctification.' Thus John Paul II regained the Church's right to be present in society, naturally not to rule over it but to give it moral help. It may suffice to read the papal speech in the European Parliament to realise that the Pope opposed any form of 'the Church's occupation' of society. Surely, he did not think of rebuilding 'Christian society' but about new relationships between the state and the Church, relationships that should grant due space to the Church.
As far as secularisation is concerned John Paul II showed that modernity did not necessarily have to be in conflict with the Church. Of course, some aspects of modernity are against the Church but the Pope proved that the Church could live challenging modernity and could contribute to its positive evolution. We should not forget that the Church and the Gospel have confronted modernity throughout history.