VATICAN CITY, JUNE 16, 2002 (Zenit.org).- When John Paul II was Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow, he sent a letter to Padre Pio of Pietrelcina asking him to pray for Wanda Poltawska, a friend and professor at Krakow University, who was seriously ill with throat cancer.
In this interview with the Vatican agency Fides, Poltawska, who is currently professor of pastoral medicine at the Pontifical Academy of Krakow, talks about her miraculous cure.
Q: What was it about the person and vocation of Padre Pio that touched you most?
Poltawska: First of all, the visibility of his spiritual life. With every fiber of his being Padre Pio showed that the real level, the authentic dimension for which we must strive is the spiritual life: living in spiritual communion with the Lord Jesus, receiving his very life.
In general, people tend to forget that the real dimension of human life is eternal life, because we were created by God in his image and God is eternal.
Like all the saints, Padre Pio shows us that life does not end with death. On the contrary, it is after death that real life begins, real because it is totally immersed in God. The language of people who do not believe in God is limited, impoverished — life´s dimensions are purely psychological, sociological, physiological.
Padre Pio speaks of the true dimension of the human person, because he speaks to us about God. Yes, God exists and Padre Pio is his witness.
Q: Tell us, without going into detail, what happened after you were cured thanks to the intercession of Padre Pio. After the miracle you went to San Giovanni Rotondo. What were your feelings when you met Padre Pio?
Poltawska: Of course, it is not easy to speak of all that I hold in my heart. My illness, my inexplicable cure, which at first I thought was due to a mistaken diagnosis, and then coming to realize gradually, particularly after meeting Padre Pio, that this cure was a grace from God, obtained for me by Padre Pio.
What moved me most of all, in May 1967, when I went to San Giovanni Rotondo for the first time, was the way Padre Pio looked while he celebrated Mass, his eyes and his words filled with faith. I knew nothing about him and yet, since I met him that first time I have never forgotten him.
After Mass, as usual, Padre Pio walked among the people. When he reached me he said nothing, only put his hand on my head in a fatherly way. When he did this, the other women around wondered who I was. They seemed surprised that Padre Pio should stop right in front of me. I could understand little of what they were saying and all I could reply was, “I am from Poland.”
That moment when Padre Pio looked at me without saying anything, will remain forever impressed on my mind. It is not easy to think of myself as someone who received a miracle.
Q: What is it about Padre Pio that impresses you most?
Poltawska: As I said, his way of looking at people and the way he celebrated Mass. He lived the mystery while he celebrated it; it was clear that Padre Pio was living a real mystery, real suffering. I have never seen anything like it. Could any other priest celebrate Mass in the same way as Padre Pio?
His silence — filled with devotion and love of God. Everyone present was silent because they were so impressed by his way of saying Mass. At that time Padre Pio was experiencing great physical suffering, he could hardly walk; he was to die a year later.
Q: You have known Pope John Paul II for years, since he was archbishop of Krakow. In your opinion, what is it that Padre Pio and Pope John Paul II have in common?
Poltawska: The depth of their faith. Also the Holy Father lives at the spiritual level, always in contact with God, certain that he exists, he is here, he is present, he knows everything and is Lord of everything.
This depth of faith in both of them made a deep impression. They live a faith which is strong, confident; with this faith they believe that for God everything is possible. With unswerving faith in the Lord Jesus everything is possible; of this they are certain.
Q: What will it mean to you to be in St. Peter´s Square for the canonization of Padre Pio during the Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II?
Poltawska: I see this as the point of arrival of a long path, the path of recognition of Padre Pio´s holiness.
Even before the Holy Father became Pope, he was certain that Padre Pio was a saint. It was with this attitude that he went to Padre Pio and also made his confession to Padre Pio. For the Holy Father I would say that the canonization is a natural conclusion. He will put the seal on a path which began a long time ago and which the Congregation for the Causes of Saints has examined very carefully in every detail, under every aspect.
The Pope let everything take its natural course, every stage had to be passed, every task performed, but in his heart, certainly, he was always convinced that this man was exceptionally loved by Christ, with his life full of suffering.
I think that the Holy Father has prayed a long time for this canonization. He has been certain for years that Padre Pio had reached a high grade of saintliness, and so have I.
Q: Would you like to say something about the “catechesis” on suffering offered by Pope John Paul II, who bears witness with his own life?
Poltawska: I can only repeat what the Holy Father himself says: Suffering is the greatest of God´s mysteries. It cannot be understood; it can only be accepted. This is first of all a mystery and we Catholics must not argue about the suffering of the innocent. We must not ask why; we must offer it to God, like the Pope, uniting this suffering with that of Our Lord Jesus, for the salvation of the world.
Is this not also what Padre Pio teaches? Everything is in God´s hands. It is God who holds the Pope´s life in his hands, and the Holy Father has complete trust in him, leaves everything to him, expects everything from him. It has always been like this and it will be like this to the very end.