Living in the Presence of Holiness

Former Personal Secretaries Recall Time with Soon-to-be-Canonized Pontiffs

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An emotional press conference took place today as those closest to Blessed John XXIII and Blessed John Paul II recalled their lives with the soon-to-be-canonized Popes.

Speaking at the afternoon conference were Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow, who served as secretary to Pope John Paul II for 39 years, and Cardinal Loris Capovilla, who served as personal secretary to Pope John XXIII. Cardinal Capovilla addressed the journalists via satellite.

Cardinal Dziwisz began his address recalling when he met Karol Wojtyla during his first year as a seminarian.

“He was an amazing teacher but I was struck by his way of praying,” the cardinal said. “He always went to the chapel and we would watch him pray. He would enter into contact with God. This was the greatest lesson for us as students.”

The late Pontiff’s manner of praying, he noted, characterized his service as archbishop of Krakow and as Supreme Pontiff. Describing his prayer as geographical, Cardinal Dziwisz said that John Paul II would pray for each country in the world, for peace, and in particular those who were suffering.

This aspect of suffering, he continued, was another characteristic that would define his papacy. “He was a marked man from the beginning of his life,” the cardinal recalled. Young Wojtyla lost his mother as a child and later, his father and brother.

Cardinal Dziwisz also recalled the assassination attempt on John Paul II’s life in 1981. “I was in the ambulance with him, and he prayed quietly for the one who tried to kill him and offered his suffering for the world,” the cardinal said.

The archbishop of Krakow also pointed to the final years of John Paul II’s papacy, saying that he suffered with Parkinson’s and old age with dignity. The Pontiff was conscious of the fact that through his life he was giving an example of the redemptive meaning of suffering, he said.

“Man’s whole life,” the cardinal reflected, “should be a great preparation for death, because this is the most important meeting with the Lord. And he gave dignity to death.”

The child-like eyes of the ‘Good Pope’

Addressing the journalists via satellite, Cardinal Loris Capovilla said that he was moved, confused and intimidated in this moment. “I appreciate the beauty of this moment,” he said. 

“Long before he was canonized, he was considered a saint,» the cardinal remembered.

Regarding his presence when John XXIII died, the cardinal said: “I didn’t see an old man die, but rather a child with radiant eyes. He lived with humility and died with simplicity.”

Recalling an old saying, Cardinal Capovilla said that “saints are those who never abandoned their childhood.” This quality, he stressed, was embodied in the life of John XXIII.

The cardinal also recalled meeting Blessed John Paul II, who invited the former secretary to Castel Gandolfo. The Italian prelate expressed his surprise that John Paul II asked Cardinal Capovilla to talk to him about the papacy of John XXIII, the Second Vatican Council and various aspects of his life.

“Lumen Gentium speaks of the universal call to holiness,” he said. “I learned from Blessed John Paul II what that means.”

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Junno Arocho Esteves

Newark, New Jersey, USA Bachelor of Science degree in Diplomacy and International Relations.

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