Below is the Introduction to the book “Beside John Paul II – His Friends and Collaborators Speak”.
Published by the Italian Edizioni Ares press, and in stores now, the volume features recollections by more than a dozen of the soon-to-be canonized Pope’s friends and closest collaborators, including: Bl. John Paul II’s secretaries, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Archbishop Emery Kabongo and Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki; the former Director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Joaquin Navarro-Valls; the Blessed Pope’s life-long friend, Wanda Poltawska; the postulator of his Cause for Sainthood, Fr. Slawomir Oder; and many others.
ZENIT today published an interview with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI that appears in the book. The former pontiff answered questions submitted by Wlodzimierz Redzioch, a journalist with ZENIT, in January of this year. The Pope-eeritus also personally verified the Italian translation of the original German text of his answers.
Introduction to “Beside John Paul II – His Friends and Collaborators Speak”
“I was in Paris when Karol Wojtyla became Pope. I was in Saint Peter’s Square when Ali Agca attempted to kill the Pope who was changing the world. I lived close to John Paul II during his whole pontificate. At the beginning, although it was an extraordinary fact that a Pole had become Pope, I did not imagine where the human and spiritual greatness of Wojtyla could reach.
However, being close to him and to his collaborators, I understood to a certain point that he was a Saint. The more I discovered this reality the less I spoke about it. It seemed to me I would be violating a secret.
Now that the Church also is about to recognize what so many of us understood, I felt like telling the story of Saint John Paul II through the voices of his collaborators.
After my degree in engineering from the Polytechnic of Czestochowa and African studies at the University of Warsaw, I was in Paris, thinking of being a lay missionary in the Black Continent. I never imagined that the election of the first Polish Pope would also change my life.
The news of Karol Wojtyla Pope, seemed an impossible dream, and yet it had happened. The “semper fidelis” son of Poland was ascending the Chair of Saint Peter.
No one could have imagined that the Pope would change the history of Poland, of the Church and of the world. Much less could I foresee that he would change my life.
After days of celebrations I returned to normality, study and work, until two priest friends of mine, Father Casimir Przydatek, SJ, and Father Ksawery Sokolowski, were asked to organize a Center for Polish Pilgrims in Rome. Father Sokolowski spoke to me about the project and said: “Why don’t you come to help us? We are in need of persons who know languages,” and then he added: “Don’t forget that now Poland’s history is made here.” I was perplexed: to go to Rome meant to give up my studies and professional career to choose an uncertain and unknown future. However, by then the Pope had already made inroads in so many hearts, also in mine, and after months of vacillations I left Paris to go to Rome.
For years I accompanied pilgrims who were received by John Paul II.
For more than thirty years I was in the offices of L’Osservatore Romano, and frequented very many officials of the Curia, Prefects and Presidents of Dicasteries, Archbishops and Cardinals, collaborators of the last three Pontiffs who passed through Vatican City.
With this book I seek to have Karol Wojtyla known, the man and the Pontiff, recounted in twenty interviews by persons who served him, who were at his side, who helped him to write the history of the Church and of the world.
In twenty-seven years John Paul II made 146 apostolic journeys in Italy and 104 abroad, visiting 129 countries: 822 days travelling; in the 147 ceremonies of Beatification he proclaimed Blessed 1338 Servants of God and in the 51 ceremonies of Canonization he proclaimed 482 Saints. He wrote 14 Encyclicals, 15 Apostolic Exhortations, 11 Constitutions, 45 Apostolic Letters, to which are added the annual Messages for the World Day of Peace, the World Day of the Sick, the World Youth Day, and the World Day of Social Communications.
In twenty-seven years the Polish Pope changed the world: he did so not thanks to sophisticated political strategies but, above all, because he succeeded in touching and changing people’s heart. True and lasting changes are not possible if they are not born in persons’ hearts.
In the book you are about to read the persons I interviewed talk about their meeting with Pope Wojtyla, in joy and in suffering, in doubt and in certainty, in health and in sickness. You will discover many unpublished stories and anecdotes; you will have the possibility to know the great heart with which Karol Wojtyla loved God and humanity.
Wlodzimierz Redzioch”[Translation by ZENIT]