John Paul II is a Great Witness of Suffering, Says Cardinal Tonini

“Let’s Hope the Prophets of Doom Stop Talking About Resignations”

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VATICAN CITY, JULY 2, 2002 ( John Paul II won’t let his physical problems stop him, Cardinal Ersilio Tonini, archbishop emeritus of Ravenna, Italy, said in an interview with the daily La Repubblica last Sunday.

Q: Cardinal Ersilio Tonini, were you surprised by the Pope’s homily yesterday?

Cardinal Tonini: “I have never doubted his strength and will power. And yesterday he confirmed it once again. The Holy Father is strong, despite his health problems, he will never resign. Let’s hope that the prophets of doom will be at peace and stop talking about resignations.

Q: But yesterday he even recalled the martyrdom of St. Peter and St. Paul: Will John Paul II, then, never refuse to carry his cross?

Cardinal Tonini: Indeed, the cross is the essence of the faith. And the Holy Father is right in saying that he will remain at his post to do the will of God.

Q: And if one day he is unable to respond physically to what his will wants?

Cardinal Tonini: I repeat: The Pope will only do the will of the Lord. I have never had any doubts. As to the rest, he has always said, also in the first encyclical he wrote, that he would only do the will of Christ and that is what he is doing, consistently.

Q: Illness, however, could stop him.

Cardinal Tonini: Look, the Pope does not hide anything of his present illness. He is a unique witness, I would dare say almost unrepeatable.

He is not ashamed to show himself weak, tired: He feels that it is the divine will that leads him and because of this, he will never stop. In this sense, also, the Holy Father is a great witness of suffering as much as a great example of hope for all.

But perhaps it would be good if the mass media left him a bit in peace on these health problems. I certainly understand that a charismatic figure like the Pope cannot pass unnoticed and, consequently, also his physical problems.

But perhaps this constant insistence, this continuous scrutinizing of how he moves, how he speaks, could be attenuated, also out of a sense of respect for his person.

Q: Every so often there is talk of a letter of resignation already written. You who know him well, what can you tell us?

Cardinal Tonini: I exclude it in the most absolute and categoric way: No such documents exist. I know this from direct information: The Pope will remain at his post until God wills. And, in fact, he has already planned pastoral trips and visits. In three weeks he will fly to Canada, then he will go again to Poland.

Q: Wouldn’t it be better to make him rest?

Cardinal Tonini: But the Pope needs to have contact with the people — with youth — then he is transformed. We saw this in Paris at the 1998 World Youth Day, when he was welcomed by 1.5 million youths. It was there that his physical problems began to manifest themselves, but he did not draw back.

In Rome, in 2000, the youth were more than 2 million. He was great and tender, as a real father, when he walked, hand in hand, with that group of young people representing the youth of the world. It is the will of God that leads him, and he knows it.

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