On April 27, the desire of the faithful who at the death of John Paul II cried out “saint immediately!” will be heard. The Polish Pontiff will be canonized together with his predecessor, John XXIII.
Where did John Paul II get his strength, his faith, his holiness? From an intimidate relationship with God, which was brought about in incessant prayer, such that he sometimes did not go to bed because he preferred to spend the night on the ground, in prayer.
This is confirmed by the postulator of his cause of his canonization, Monsignor Slawomir Oder, who spoke with ZENIT.
ZENIT: Everything has been said, everything has been written about John Paul II. But has the last word really been said about this “giant of the faith”?
Monsignor Oder: John Paul II himself suggested the key of his knowledge. “So many seek to know me, looking at me from outside, but I can only be known from within, that is, from the heart.” Surely the process of beatification first, and of canonization after, have made it possible to get closer to this person’s heart. Every experience and testimony was a piece that made up the mosaic of the extraordinary figure of this Pontiff. No doubt, however, to come to the heart of a person like Wojtyla remains a mystery. We can say that in the heart of this Pope there was certainly the love of God and of brothers, a love that was always becoming, which was never an event accomplished in life.
ZENIT: What new, or at least little known thing, did you discover about Wojtyla in your research?
Monsignor Oder: There are several historical aspects and aspects of his life that emerged in the process, which are little known. One of these is, without a doubt, his relation with Padre Pio, whom he met often and with whom he maintained a long epistolary relationship. Beyond some letters already known, such as the one in which he asked for prayers for Professor Poltawska, his friend and collaborator, another emerged in which the Blessed asked the Saint of Pietrelcina for intercessory prayers for the healing of faithful. Or he would ask for prayers for himself who, at the same time, was carrying out the task of Capitular Vicar of the Diocese of Krakow, while awaiting the appointment of the new archbishop, which would then be himself.
ZENIT: Anything else?
Monsignor Oder: We discovered much on the spirituality of John Paul II. More than anything it was a confirmation of what was already perceptible, visible, of his relationship with God. He had a profound relationship with the living Christ, especially in the Eucharist, from which flowed all that we faithful saw in him as fruit of extraordinary charity, apostolic zeal, passion for the Church, love of the Mystical Body. This is the secret of John Paul II’s sanctity.
ZENIT: So, beyond the great trips and addresses, is the spiritual aspect the heart of John Paul II’s pontificate?
Monsignor Oder: Absolutely. And there is a very touching episode that identifies it very well. At the end of one of his last apostolic journeys, the sick Pope was led to his bedroom by his collaborators. The next morning, they themselves found his bed intact, because John Paul II had spent the whole night in prayer, kneeling on the ground. For him, to be recollected in prayer was fundamental. So much so that, in the last months of his life, he asked to have a space in his bedroom for the Most Blessed Sacrament. His relationship with the Lord was truly extraordinary.
ZENIT: The Pope was also very devoted to Mary …
Monsignor Oder: Yes, and the process of canonization has helped us to get closer also to this. We investigated Wojtyla’s extremely profound relationship with Our Lady. A relationship that people outside sometimes did not understand and which seemed surprising. Sometimes during the Marian prayer the Pope seemed rapt in ecstasy, alienated from the surrounding context, be it while strolling or during a meeting. He lived a most personal relationship with the Virgin.
ZENIT: Therefore, there is also a mystical aspect in John Paul II?
Monsignor Oder: Decidedly yes. I cannot confirm visions, elevations or allocutions, as those with which the mystical life is often identified, but with John Paul II the aspect of a profound and authentic mysticism was present and was manifested in his being in the presence of God. A true mystic is, in fact, one who has the awareness of being in the presence of God, and lives everything from his profound encounter with the Lord.
ZENIT: You have lived for years with the figure of this man already considered a saint in life. How do you feel now that he is being elevated to the glory of the altar?
Monsignor Oder: The process of canonization was an extraordinary adventure. It has certainly marked my priestly life. I am extremely grateful to God who put me in front of this teacher of life and of faith. For me, these nine years of the process were a human adventure and an extraordinary course of Spiritual Exercises preached “indirectly” with his life, his writings, with all that was revealed in our research.
ZENIT: Do you have personal memories?
Monsignor Oder: I was never one of Wojtyla’s closest collaborators, but I keep in my heart several occasions in which I was able to perceive the Pontiff’s holiness. One of these goes back to the beginning of my priesthood, on Holy Thursday of 1993, the year in which the Pope wished to wash the feet of priests involved in the formation of seminarians. I was among those priests. Beyond the symbolic value of the ritual, what stays with me is my first contact with a person who in that genuinely humble gesture, communicated to me his love of Christ and of the priesthood itself. Another occasion presented itself towards the last months of the Pope’s life: he was sick and, unexpectedly, I found myself dining with him, together with the secretaries, the collaborators and a few other priests. There also I remember his simplicity, his great sense of hospitality, of humanity, which was revealed in the simplicity of his gestures.
ZENIT: Benedict XVI said in an interview recently that he always knew he was living near a saint. Famous also is his “do it quickly, but do it well,” when he authorized the opening of the process of beatification.
Monsignor Oder: I was very pleased to read the testimony of the Pope Emeritus. It was the confirmation of what he always revealed in the course of his pontificate: every time it was possible he would speak of his beloved Predecessor, in private or in public, during homilies and addresses. He always gave great testimony of his affection for John Paul II. And, on my part, I can express intense gratitude to Benedict for the attitude he has shown in these years. I have always felt him very close and I can affirm that he was determinant in the opening of the process of beatification shortly after the death. Looking, then, at the last historical events, I must say that Divine Providence has “directed” magnificently the whole process.
ZENIT: Do you see continuity also with Pope Francis?
Monsignor Oder: The Magisterium continues, Peter’s charism continues. Each of the popes gives consistency and historical form with his personal living and his personality. One cannot but see continuity. More in detail, there are different aspects by which Francis recalls John Paul II: his profound desire to be close to people, his courage to go beyond certain schemes, his passion for Christ present in his Mystical Body, his dialogue with the world and with the other religions.
ZENIT: One of Wojtyla’s unrealized desires was to visit China and Russia. It seems that Francis is opening a path in this connection …
Monsignor Oder: It is extraordinary that John Paul II’s efforts for an opening to the Orient have proliferated with his successors. The path opened by Wojtyla found fertile ground in Benedict’s thought and now, thanks to the historical events that accompany Francis’ pontificate, they are being realized concretely. It is always the dialectic of continuity of which we spoke before, which is then the logic of the Church: no one begins as head, Christ is the rock that acted in Peter and in his Successors. Today we are living the preparation of what will happen in the Church tomorrow.
ZENIT: It is also said that John Paul II desired to visit Medjugorje. Can you confirm this?
Monsignor Oder: Speaking privately with his friends, the Pope said more than once: “if it were possible, I would like to go.” They are words that must not be interpreted, however, with a character of recognition or of being official in regard to the events in the Bosnian country. The Pope was always very careful in what he did, knowing the importance of his post. There is no doubt, however, that things are happening at Medjugorje that are transforming people’s heart, especially in the confessional. So the desire expressed by the Pope should be interpreted from the point of view of his priestly passion, that is, his wish to be in a place where a soul seeks Christ and finds him, thanks to a priest, through the sacrament of reconciliation or of the Eucharist.
ZENIT: And why didn’t he go?
Monsignor Oder: Because not everything is possible in life …[Translation by ZENIT]