Cardinal Wojtyla as Pope seems obvious now, but a proud Father Mieczyslaw Malinski recalled how he long ago predicted the unexpected: the election of a Polish Bishop of Rome.
At a Mass celebrated in the Polish College in Rome on Aug. 25, 1978, shortly before the conclave that would elect John Paul I, Father Malinski prayed for an intention during the Prayer of the Faithful: “Let us pray so that our Cardinal Karol Wojtyla will be elected Pope.”
Everyone at the Mass was stunned. After hesitating for a moment, Fathers Stanislaw Dziwisz, then secretary of the archbishop of Krakow, and Stanislaw Rylko, the current president of the Pontifical Council for the Laity, responded in a timid voice: “Hear us, we pray.” Cardinal Wojtyla, the main concelebrant, did not respond.
Mieczyslaw Malinski had been a friend of Karol Wojtyla’s since 1940 when they were members of the “living rosary” group of tailor Jan Tyranowski. Both then entered the underground seminary established by Cardinal Adam Sapieha.
Today, Father Malinski, 80, is rector of St. Francis of Sales Church in Krakow, very interested in academic research and journalism.
One day, when he was accompanying Cardinal Wojtyla to a meeting in the Vatican, he said to him: “You will be Pope. Everyone knows that the three well-known Italian candidates, Sebastiano Baggio, Paolo Bertoli and Giovanni Benelli, cannot be elected.”
The archbishop of Krakow answered: “Cardinal Stephan Wyszynski has told me that the Pope is Roman and, therefore, will be Italian,” the priest continued recounting.
Father Malinski retorted: “I always thought the first Pope was a Jew.”
Archbishop Wojtyla continued the repartee: “All right, let’s admit he’ll be a foreigner. It could be an American, a Frenchman or a German.”
“He cannot come from a great power,” the priest said. “He must be from a small country, more marginal.”
Cardinal Wojtyla then suggested: “Cardinal Franz König of Vienna, for example.”
But his friend insisted: “He must come from a small country, but with strong Catholicism. Poland is the only country not experiencing a crisis after the Council.”
This time, Cardinal Wojtyla did not object. Father Malinski interjected, as though speaking of a third person. “Moreover, the archbishop of Krakow is not a bureaucrat, but a pastor and an intellectual, who became known during the Council and then during the Synods of Bishops. You’ll be the next Pope!”
When Cardinal Wojtyla walked out of that conclave without being elected Pope, Father Malinski recalled: “He looked happy. He pulled my leg: ‘What do you have to say? Don’t you have another argument to propose?'”
When the conclave came in October, after John Paul I’s unexpected death, Father Malinski did not want to go to Rome. He stayed buried in his books in Munster, Germany, where he heard his unusual prayer had been answered.