Photo courtesy of Wlodzimierz Redzioch

INTERVIEW: 35th Anniversary of the John Paul II Foundation

Interview with Fr. Krzysztof Wieliczko OSPPE, PhD by Włodzimierz Rędzioch

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On October 16, 1981, John Paul II celebrated his third anniversary of election on the Peter’s Seat in a special way – he established the Foundation which bears his name. It is a Foundation which is active not only on a religious field, but also on the cultural and science field. The Pope, in his long distance view, saw the need for Catholic education in countries of the former Soviet Union by providing fellowship awards to students from the Eastern Europe – up to this day approximately 1,000 students received the support. The Foundation also provides assistance to pilgrims in Rome for whom the Polish Home at via Cassia is available. However, enormous documentation of the pontificate of John Paul II and popularization of the Pope’s teachings around the world could be considered the most successful part of the Foundation’s activities. Teaching is popularized by the Foundation’s Chapters which are active in 18 countries around the world.
On the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the John Paul II Foundation, I spoke with the Administrator, Fr. Krzysztof Wieliczko OSPPE, PhD.
On October 16, 1981, exactly three years after the election on the Peter’s Seat John Paul II established the Foundation which bears his name. What were the goals of the Foundation which was established 35 years ago?
The John Paul II Foundation is a non-for-profit Church’s organization which the main goal is to support and carry out initiatives with educational, science, cultural, religious, and charitable character which are related to the Holy Father’s John Paul II pontificate. The main goals of the Foundation are: preservation and development of the spiritual heritage of John Paul II and Christian culture; educational and financial help for young people from Central and Eastern Europe and Asia on the Catholic University of Lublin and the John Paul II University of Krakow; documentation and research of the pontificate and dissemination of the John Paul II’s teaching; assistance to pilgrims in Rome – especially from Poland and Eastern Europe.
Where are the Foundation’s headquarters located and how the structure of the Foundation looks like?
The Headquarter is located in Vatican. However, due to the character of the activities, the Foundation by itself is located in several places. So, the secretariat is located in Rome by via di Porta Angelica 63, the Center for Documentation and Research of the John Paul II’s Pontificate as well as the Polish Home are located by via Cassia 1200, while the Foundation’s Home for students is located in Lublin on 2 Boczna Lubomelska Street. Each place serving different functions is an integral part of the Foundation.
The Center for Documentation and Research of the Pontificate of John Paul I plays a special place in the Foundation’s activities. What so far were you able to collect in the Center?
The Center for Documentation and Research of the Pontificate of John Paul II Pontificate is trying to preserve documentation related to the John Paul II pontificate and disseminate this heritage to the future generations. Documentation collected so far provides rich materials for research which is included in publications, symposiums, exhibitions as well as articles popularizing thoughts and teachings of John Paul II. The library contains approximately 30 thousands volumes which are available for research on the John Paul II’s teachings. Most of them were digitalized.
How does the fellowship award program look like and what are the results?
The John Paul II Foundation through the fellowship awards for students from the Catholic University of Lublin and the John Paul II University of Krakow, actively participates in education of future intellectual elites of Central and Easter Europe and Asia. The fellowship program exists since 1990. During the 26 years of its activity, the Foundation’s fellowship awards were granted to 1,000 individuals. The fellowship awardees were from the following countries: Belarus, Bulgaria, China, Czech Republic, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Lithuania, Latvia, Moldova, Russia, Rumania, Slovakia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Hungary. The most candidates for the fellowship award came from Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania (from the time of joining the European Union). Up to this date among the fellowship awardees we have 3 professors, 76 individuals with doctoral degree, 88 individuals with bachelor degree, and 522 with master degree.
Most of the Foundation’s alumni return to their homeland and work in various governmental and church institutions. They teach on governmental and Catholic universities, at seminaries, teach religion at schools. They also teach Polish language or work as translators at various companies. They work at embassies, consulates, family centers; conduct pre marriage counseling, work as journalists at religious and laic newspapers. Few of them have private companies. Two Foundation’s alumnus became bishops and currently works in Belarus.
In the current year, the John Paul II Foundation provides financial and educational help to 145 fellowship awardees. 36 individuals were enrolled (25 for master degree and 11 for doctoral degrees) as freshmen. Half of the awardees are from Ukraine and the rest is from Belarus, Uzbekistan and Indonesia.
For the fellowship awardees we provide accommodation at the Foundation’s House. The house in Lublin is multi-functional. 100 students live in the house where spiritual assistance is also provided to the fellowship awardees. At the Cyril and Methods and St. John Paul II Chapel, fellowship awardees meet at Masses and various religious celebrations; they participate in weekly religious teaching, celebrate religious holidays. At the House in Lublin fellowship recipients from various countries meet and have Masses which are celebrated in their own languages. At the Foundation’s House, on a weekly basis students are meeting in the following groups: Biblical Circle or Papal’s Religious Teachings. One of our fellowship awardees directs Foundation’s Choir which enriches Masses on various occasions. Annual religious retreats provide another opportunity not only to take care of the student’s knowledge, but also of their sprit. In a broad sense of their spiritual development we could include pilgrimages to Rome which are organized every few years, soccer matches, trips to country sides.
What assistance is provided to pilgrims in Rome?
The John Paul II Home by via Cassia continuously realizes its goals. It opens the doors of the house to pilgrims. It provides not only a roof and meals for body, but most of all, it takes care about the spiritual aspects of the pilgrimage to Rome. On a daily basis, at the Polish House Chapel there is a Mass with homily, confession and in the evening the Eucharistic celebration and Jasnogorski Appeal. In the prayers, the Foundation’s benefactors alive and deceased are included. Among them the first one is St. John Paul II. At the house there is rich collection related to St. John Paul II located at the Museum, and particularly the blood relics which are kept at the Chapel. At the Foundation’s Museum gifts offered by pilgrims to John Paul II are kept.
With which institutions does the Foundation collaborate to better fulfill the main goal to preserve the heritage of John Paul II?
As the activities of the Foundation are very broad thus it requires collaboration with various laic and secular institutions, in particular with Universities, Embassies, Foundations. Recently, along with the John Paul II Family Museum in Wadowice, we were able to realize few projects and we hope that this collaboration will be also fruitful in the future.
Who financially supports the Foundation?
The Foundation can function thanks to the generosity of the benefactors from around the world. Many of them are members of the local Foundation’s Chapters.
What are the Foundation’s Chapters?
Currently, there are 48 Chapters which are active on four continents, in 18 countries (England, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Spain, Swiss, France, Poland, Canada, USA, Mexico, Venezuela, Indonesia, Singapore, and Saudi Arabia, Australia).
Activities of the Chapters involve not only financial support for the Foundation, but most of all to disseminate teaching of John Paul II at their local environments. Multinational conferences, symposiums, speeches, concerts, exhibitions related to the person and teachings of John Paul II are organized.
The key aspect of the activities of the Chapters are cyclical prayer meetings often preceded by a Mass and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, as well as retreats, religious teachings or even walking pilgrimages to the places of the Marian’s Shrine. Among members of the Chapters there are many individuals who are involved in the Chapters of the Holy Rosary. Many members participated in the World Youth Days in Krakow not only as pilgrims, but also as volunteers. Most of the Chapters are also involved in activities for poor and homeless people. Young people from the Foundation’s Chapters in Jakarta or New York organize meals for poor people, while members of the Foundation’s Chapter in Mexico support an orphanage for children with birth defects.
How the Foundation will celebrate its 35th anniversary?
Each anniversary gives an opportunity to analyze its activities, so often statistics are provided or conferences are organized. We, however, would like to make this anniversary as a celebration of people, all who are involved in the activities for the wellbeing of the Foundation; people of good will who voluntarily work for the John Paul II Foundation disseminating its goals in their local places. For that reason, the program was designed in a way to have a time to meet as one big Family – as a meeting on joint prayer, conversation and joy of being together.
The anniversary celebrations will take place in Rome and Vatican from October 22-24, 2016. A solemn Mass at the St. Peter’s Basilica will be the main point of the celebration. We are planning to have a concert, symposium, blessing of the Gold Anniversary Book as well as meeting with the Holy Father Francis during the private audience.
(This interview is published in Polish by weekly “Niedziela”, Nr. 43 )

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