By Antonio Gaspari
ROME, FEB. 17, 2011 (Zenit.org).- As the date of Pope John Paul II’s beatification approaches, people around the world are remembering the Pontiff for his many attributes and accomplishments. For the people of Poland, this means remembering the man who brought to the nation “the beginning of the springtime of liberty.”
According to Father Mariusz Frukacz, editor of the weekly Catholic newspaper Niedziela — a publication of the Archdiocese of Czestochowa — the election of the first Slav Pope “gave the green light to the epochal changes in Poland and in the whole of Europe,” and in particular gave “the Polish people the spiritual and moral strength to pass from resistance to injustice, to the victory of good over evil.”
In this interview with ZENIT, Father Frukacz, a priest of the Archdiocese of Czestochowa, reflected on the impact John Paul II had on the nation’s fight against communism, his particular virtues, and why so many people acknowledge his sanctity.
ZENIT: Poland was harshly subjected to the Soviet regime. What did John Paul II’s election as Pontiff mean to the people?
Father Frukacz: In 1978, when Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was elected Pontiff with the name John Paul II, Poland was crushed by the communist regime.
The election of John Paul II, the first Polish Pontiff and the first Slav Pontiff, had great importance not only for Poland, but also for the whole of Central and Eastern Europe.
The people in Poland, but also in the other countries subjected to the Soviet regime, felt not only the joy but also the spirit of liberty.
John Paul II brought with him fidelity to the Gospel and the courage of faith in the truth. I think that the words “be not afraid, open the doors wide to Christ” gave the green light to the epochal changes in Poland and in the whole of Europe.
The election of John Paul II meant the beginning of the springtime of liberty. The election of that Pontiff gave the Polish people the spiritual and moral strength to pass from resistance to injustice, to the victory of good over evil.
John Paul II gave the green light to the spiritual and moral revolution in Poland and in the other countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
ZENIT: Is it true that the Russians didn’t invade Poland because Wojtyla was Pope?
Father Frukacz: A simple answer cannot be given to this question. At present we don’t know all the documents of the communist regime, and above all little is known of the period in which General Wojciech Jaruzelski established the state of war in which civil rights were suspect and the activists of Solidarity [Solidarnosc] were arrested and imprisoned.
I think that some historians are right when they write that the Russians did not invade Poland because they didn’t want to repeat the situation of 1968, when they invaded Czechoslovakia. General Wojciech Jaruzelski maintains that on Dec. 13, 1981, he had to establish a state of war in Poland; otherwise the Russians would have invaded Poland. Today we know that what Jaruzelski said is not true.
From the point of view of some documents and on the basis of testimonies, historians in Poland maintain that the communist regime, in a special way Leonid Brezhnev, first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, wanted General Jaruzelski and the communist regime in Poland to resolve the problem of Solidarity with their own forces.
We know today that during the state of war in Poland, John Paul II had close diplomatic contacts with the president of the United States, Ronald Reagan, and that he wrote a letter to Leonid Brezhnev to convince him not to invade Poland.
This notwithstanding, we cannot say in a sufficient and sure way that the Russians did not invade Poland because Cardinal Wojtyla was Pope.
ZENIT: Nazism first, and then communism, tried to sever the Christian roots and cancel the Catholic faith of the Polish people. What were the reasons for their lack of success?
Father Frukacz: It’s true that Nazism first and then communism tried to sever the Christian roots and cancel the Catholic faith of the Polish people. But they didn’t succeed.
I think that the decisive resource that saved the Catholic faith was that of Polish families, who respected and transmitted to their children the spiritual patrimony of the preceding generations.
Alive and strong in Polish Christian families during the Nazi regime and then the communist was the link of the faith with Christian culture and the national culture. For Polish people, faith is linked to true patriotism, that is, love of God and of the homeland.
I also think that a great role was played in maintaining the strong Christian roots in Polish society by Christian movements and associations as, for example, the Light-Life Movement of the Servant of God Father Franciszek Blachnicki. An important role was played by the Clubs of Catholic Intelligence, the academic pastoral and the Weeks of Christian Culture, when artists presented and transmitted the national culture and literature to the faithful in the churches.
I think that a great role was also played by Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, primate of the millennium. He was the one who organized the “Vows of Jasna Gora” in 1956, the novena on the occasion of the 1,000 years of Christianity in Poland (1957-1966). It was Cardinal Wyszynski himself who deepened and spread the so-called theology of the nation to reinforce the Catholic identity of Poles.
John Paul II also attested to the importance and greatness of the figure of Cardinal Wyszynski when he said: “There would not have been a Polish Pope on the throne of Peter if the faith of Cardinal Wyszynski had not been there, and his imprisonment and Jasna Gora.”
ZENIT: First the beatification of Jerzy Popiełuszko, now that of Karol Wojtyla, two modern heroes. There are many common elements in the courage and heroic witness of both. Can you illustrate them?
Father Frukacz: Certainly, there are many common elements in the courage and heroic witness of Blessed Father Jerzy Popiełuszko and of John Paul II.
The first element in my opinion is their strong faith. Blessed Father Jerzy Popiełuszko and John Paul II are men of faith in the sense of total obedience to God.
Then, both are men who realized in their lives true fidelity to the Gospel and to Christian values. In the name of the Gospel and in the name of respect for Christian values in the sphere of public life, both defended human rights and the dignity of the human person.
Both gave true and courageous witness to Christ to the shedding of blood. Blessed Father Jerzy Popiełuszko was killed by the secret services of the communist regime, while Pope John Paul II suffered an attack in St. Peter’s Square on May 13, 1981.
Father Popiełuszko and John Paul II promoted respect for human rights, for the rights of workers and the dignity of human persons, all in the light of the Gospel.
For Poland and for the whole world they practiced and witnessed the virtues of courage, of fidelity to God, to the cross of Christ and to the Gospel, love of God and of the homeland. Both represented patriotism in the Christian sense, as a cultural and social virtue.
I think that an element that was common to both was their Marian spirituality and total entrustment to Mary. For Father Popiełuszko the example was St. Maximilian Kolbe, while for John Paul II it was St. Louis Mary Grignion de Montfort.
ZENIT: You knew and had frequent contact with Karol Wojtyla. From your point of view, what were John Paul II’s singular qualities?
Father Frukacz: My first meeting with John Paul II was during the apostolic journey to Poland in June 1979. I was eight years old.
I remember well the white figure with open arms. I remember the joyful atmosphere of those historic days. I remember also the tears of my parents, especially of my father, Marian, who was part of the Solidarity Movement.
Then in s
ubsequent years I took part with my family in meetings with John Paul II in Jasna Gora and in Czestochowa during the trips of 1983, 1987, 1991, 1997, 1999.
Very important also for my spirituality was the meeting in August of 1991, when John Paul II came to bless our major seminary in Czestochowa. I was at that time in the second year of my studies in the seminary.
I was very struck by the Pontiff’s words when he said: “With entire and total dedication, proper to Mary’s attitude beneath the Cross … proclaim the Gospel of her Son and witness it in life, with generosity, without any compromise with the spirit of this world and without any fear.”
In my opinion, the Polish Pope was a man of prayer. Remaining in my heart always is the Mass that I was able to concelebrate with John Paul II in the private chapel of the apostolic palace on Sept. 7, 2000.
I think John Paul II was a man of true Christian joy. During my studies in Rome (2000-2007) I was able to meet with him and was able to talk with him in the Christmas season, and I remember well when together with us he intoned Christmas songs.
I think that John Paul II was a man of great love for his neighbor, for Christ and for the Church. He so loved Mary; he was the man of the rosary. I always carry with me the rosary he gave me.
ZENIT: How many Poles will come to Rome for the beatification of John Paul II?
Father Frukacz: At present the exact number cannot be given, but I can say that the whole of Poland is mobilizing.
The mass media in our country say that more than one million pilgrims from Poland will travel to Rome for John Paul II’s beatification.[Translation by ZENIT]