Cardinal Dziwisz on John Paul II's 1st Poland Trip

Krakow Archbishop Explains What Changed Europe

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KRAKOW, Poland, JUNE 12, 2009 ( The dismantling of the Berlin Wall didn’t begin in Berlin; rather it happened in 1979 in Poland, according to Pope John Paul II’s longtime personal secretary.

Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, now archbishop of Krakow, affirmed this in an interview with Marcin Przeciszewski and Tomasz Królak of the Polish Catholic agency Kai, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Polish Pope’s first trip to his homeland.

ZENIT here presents that interview, in which the cardinal suggests that the June 2-10, 1979, papal trip was the event that started to change the face of Eastern Europe.

Q: When did John Paul II begin to think about a possible visit to his homeland?

Cardinal Dziwisz: Already as a cardinal, Karol Wojtyla gave great importance to the 900th anniversary of the death of St. Stanislaw, and from some time before he had prepared the celebrations. He had given invitations to all of the cardinals that participated in the conclave of August 1978 and he immediately invited Pope John Paul I to Krakow as well. Because of this, from the first moment of his election to the See of Peter, it was natural for him to do everything possible to come to Poland to celebrate the anniversary. He felt it a moral duty to be in Krakow, though he realized it wasn’t going to be easy to bring this about.

Q: Did he think that the Polish Communist authorities wouldn’t easily accept something like this?

Cardinal Dziwisz: When the Polish authorities heard this request, they reacted negatively. But in the mean time, John Paul II had received the invitation to visit Mexico. He welcomed it with joy. For him, Latin America was very important in regard to liberation theology — the attempt to see the social doctrine of the Church through the lens of Marxist ideology. And he said: If I can go to Mexico, the nation that has the most anticlerical constitution in the world, then even the Polish government cannot tell me no. He well remembered that the Communist authorities had not permitted the visit of Paul VI. But nevertheless he intuited that they couldn’t stop him.

Q: When did the negotiations begin?

Cardinal Dziwisz: Quite soon. The negotiation was directed by the secretary of the Polish episcopal conference, Bishop Bronislaw Dabrowski. In the end, Warsaw opened the doors but with a condition: The Pope’s visit could not coincide with the anniversary of St. Stanislaw in May. The Holy Father answered: That’s fine, then I’ll come the next month, in June.

Q: And regarding the itinerary, were there difficulties?

Cardinal Dziwisz: It was established that the Pope couldn’t go beyond the Vistula, to the regions of eastern Poland. And Silesia was also excluded. Basically, the authorities wanted the trip to be as brief as possible and the movement very limited.

Q: In the end, the difficulties were overcome. Did John Paul II consider the possible consequences of his trip? Did he realize that it has been so crucial for the development of events in Poland?

Cardinal Dziwisz: No one could foresee that. He was convinced that the Polish nation, so strongly rooted in the faith, deserved the visit of the Pope. Today without a doubt we can say that his first pilgrimage to Poland was the most important of all the papal journeys because it sparked a process of incredible changes at the global level. Everything began during those days.

Q: How did the Pope prepare for this trip?

Cardinal Dziwisz: He alone wrote all the texts of the discourses and the homilies. The role of the Polish section of the secretariat of state was only to give citations. He didn’t use any notes; his memory was enough. He was perfectly organized and he wrote very quickly: A long discourse didn’t take him more than an hour and a half of preparation. For a brief discourse, an hour was enough. And he read a lot. He was able to do various things at the same time.

Q: The principal theme of the pilgrimage was the pouring out of the Holy Spirit. This was cited in almost all the Pope’s discourses. Was this a decision that he consulted his collaborators about?

Cardinal Dziwisz: John Paul II was a visionary, like many artists. He knew what to say and what the nation hoped he would say. He knew how to present these themes in the light of faith and the teaching of the Church. Moreover, it was the period of Pentecost.

Q: But did John Paul II realize that the discourse given in Gniezno — where he affirmed that the mission of the Slavic Pope was to make Europe rediscover the unity between West and East — called into question the Vatican Ostpolitik that in fact accepted the existing situation?

Cardinal Dziwisz: John Paul II always rejected the doctrine of the «historic compromise,» according to which the West and even the Church were to consider Marxism as a decisive element in the development of history. He was convinced that the future belonged to neither Marxism nor the class struggle. In this sense, he decisively changed Vatican politics. The change of perspective caused reflection in many environments and the questioning of if Marxism were really so strong.

With the same determination, John Paul II opposed the attempts to include the Marxist analysis in the social doctrine of the Church in the context of liberation theology. For him, the development of humanity passed through the possibility of choice and through human rights. He was in favor of the rights of the person and the untouchable dignity of man. The discourse in Gniezno marked the beginning of the fall of the Iron Curtain that divided Europe then. The fall of the Wall began there, not in Berlin.

Q: Was there not concern even in the Vatican at the fact that John Paul II was going so far?

Cardinal Dziwisz: A declaration of such force in favor of these rights indeed alarmed some, among them, even men of the Church.

Q: Does it bother you that today they speak of the Berlin Wall and not of Gniezno or the Solidarity Movement?

Cardinal Dziwisz: Historical facts must be spoken of. The fall of the Wall was the consequence of the process begun in 1979 in Poland and I repeat: The dismantling of the Iron Curtain began June 3, 1979, in Gniezno.

Q: In Krakow, during the course of that first trip, the Pope went to the window of the archbishop’s residence and spoke with the youth — a dialogue that would later repeat itself in each of his trips to Poland. Was this on the agenda?

Cardinal Dziwisz: No. It was an absolutely spontaneous initiative. Thousands of people were waiting under the window and they called to the Pope. He had to let himself be seen in some way. The Holy Father made that decision on his own, against the recommendations of some in his party who discouraged it for reasons of security.

Q: In your opinion, what is the deepest meaning of his first pilgrimage to Poland?

Cardinal Dziwisz: After this visit, Poland was no longer the same. The people held their heads up high; they were no longer afraid.

Q: Was the Solidarity Movement born as a natural fruit of this liberation?

Cardinal Dziwisz: John Paul II liberated the interior energy of the people. In this sense, he established the spiritual foundation for the birth of Solidarnosc the next year.

Q: During his return to the Vatican, did John Paul II make any comments about the trip?

Cardinal Dziwisz: He didn’t say anything because he had lost his voice. Upon his return, he was very tired; he slept for a stretch of 14 hours.

Q: Let’s talk about martial law, introduced by General Jaruzelski in December of 1981. What was the Pope’s reaction?

Cardinal Dziwisz: John Paul II rarely showed his concern. But he raised his voice in the Basilica of St. Peter, in the presence of the Polish delegation presided over by President Jablonski. This happened in October of 1982, on the occasion of the canonization of Father Kolbe. The Pope said, «The nation does not deserve what you have done to it.»

Q: But John Paul II had taken into conside
ration the possibility of a Soviet invasion of Poland?

Cardinal Dziwisz: No one took this seriously into consideration, given that the Soviets were already bent on Afghanistan. We knew that the Soviet Union could not permit it. Regarding this we had precise information directly from the White House; we had received them from Zbigniew Brzezinski and from President Reagan himself, who personally called the Pope.

Q: What was the relationship between John Paul II and General Jaruzelski? He continues saying that martial law was the lesser evil compared to the Soviet invasion.

Cardinal Dziwisz: The Pope never accepted such an interpretation. He respected the intelligence and culture of Jaruzelski, but he was not in agreement with him at all. The general looked exclusively at the East. As opposed to Edward Gierek, who, saying goodbye to the Pope at the end of his trip said, «Here in Warsaw, the winds of the East and the West blow. Holy Father, you keep up those of the West.»

Q: Let’s move to the present. When can we expect the canonization of John Paul II?

Cardinal Dziwisz: That depends directly on Benedict XVI. In any case it seems to me that everything is going very well. The process for the miracle is already under way. And the recognition of the heroic virtues of Karol Wojtyla will be decisive. We hope that the devil doesn’t stick his tail in the matter.

Q: Have you ever felt the presence of the devil?

Cardinal Dziwisz: Yes, I’ve felt it. In the strongest way when the devil was expelled from a young woman. I was there; I know what that means. It is terrible to sense the presence of a force that is so great and incontrollable. I saw how he mistreated her physically, I heard the voice with which he yelled at her. It happened after a general audience. John Paul II recited the exorcism, but nothing. Then he said that the next day he would celebrate Mass for the intentions of the youth. And after this Mass, she suddenly felt like another person; everything had gone away. At first she didn’t believe it; she thought that it was a psychic illness. But Satan exists.

Q: And how can his presence in the world be seen?

Cardinal Dziwisz: Satan exists, even though the prevalent ideology thinks this is pure fairytales. Today the devil works so that people believe he doesn’t exist. This is a more perfidious methodology.

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