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Up Close With Postulator of John Paul II’s Sainthood Cause (Part 1)

Monsignor Oder Discusses the Pontiff’s Beatification Process

By Anita S. Bourdin and Sergio Mora

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 7, 2011 ( One of the greatest treasures that came to light during John Paul II’s beatification process was his close, personal and profound relationship with Christ, says the postulator of the Pontiff’s cause.

Monsignor Slawomir Oder, who is also the judicial vicar of the court of appeal of the Diocese of Rome, revealed to ZENIT that John Paul II was “a man who lived in the presence of God, who let himself be guided by the Holy Spirit, who was in constant dialogue with the Lord, and who built his whole life around the question [asked to Peter]: ‘Do you love me?'”

John Paul II died April 2, 2005, at the age of 84. The cause for his beatification began on June 28, 2005, after Benedict XVI waived the customary five-year waiting period before a beatification process can begin. He will be beatified May 1 in Rome.

Leading up to the Pontiff’s beatification, ZENIT is presenting a four-part interview with Monsignor Oder in which he reflects on the Pope’s beatification process, and the aspects of John Paul II’s life that most impressed him. Part 2 of this interview will appear Friday.

ZENIT: In what way have you, as a priest, lived this process? Was it a cross, a joy, has it transformed you?

Monsignor Oder: The cross is always the prelude of joy; we experience this during Easter. On the other hand, there is no true joy, as the transfiguration of Jesus teaches us, without passing through the cross.

The task that was entrusted to me had its paschal aspects, if for no other reason than because it was superimposed on the work I ordinarily carry out as judicial vicar and the pastoral activity I am engaged in as rector of a parish in Rome. My days have been full these past five years! Also, the process itself presented some elements that implied a great effort and involvement, even on the emotional level. So, the moments of difficulty weren’t lacking.

ZENIT: It seems as if the process of canonization for John Paul II is a “fait accompli.” Is the Pope being given preferential treatment, or is the canonization process following the normal route?

Monsignor Oder: Yes, absolutely. The only dispensation that was obtained in this process was the dispensation from the [five-year] waiting period to begin. But the process itself was carried out, absolutely, in full observance of the canonical norms. Therefore, there was no real dispensation, or preferential treatment, in this sense.

Instead, what we can say is that the practice of the [Congregation for Saints’ Causes] is to go ahead with cases that, in addition to the [declaration of] heroic virtue, already have a miracle, which are two different processes.

Normally, the process takes place in this way: the diocesan investigation is carried out, the documentation is transmitted to the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, where the positio [the documentation that proves the heroic exercise of virtue] is prepared, which is then subjected to the discussion of theologians and cardinals. The discussion of the positio must normally wait because a miracle is necessary [for the cause to advance].

[For John Paul II], the positio went ahead and was immediately subjected to the discussion of theologians and cardinals because the miracle [attributed to the Pope] happened very soon. In fact, the paperwork on the miracle was submitted to the Congregation for Saints’ Causes the day before the documentation on the virtues, and this made it possible for the cause to advance.

ZENIT: How much time passed from John Paul II’s death to the presentation of the miracle?

Monsignor Oder: The miracle, recognized as such, happened in July [2005].

ZENIT: And after how much time was it recognized?

Monsignor Oder: We concluded the process in 2007. The miracle was presented the day before the closing of the diocesan investigation on the virtues, which ended in June 2007.

ZENIT: Were other miracles presented?

Monsignor Oder: There were so many graces and also alleged miracles. Some were examined more in-depth, because this is the practice. Before carrying out a study on a miracle, a prior study is done which in some way guarantees the process itself. In some cases we did further studies and the preliminary statements were good, but we did not continue to study them because the study on the miracle that had been chose was already under way.

ZENIT: Can you tell us in what countries these miracles happened?

Monsignor Oder: They were verified in France, in the United States, in Germany and in Italy.

ZENIT: Was a further medical study necessary?

Monsignor Oder: It is a normal that in the process regarding the miracle an investigation is carried out and that the material is then subjected to the study of doctors. It is obvious that a doctor can ask for clarifications, additional documentation and supplementary analyses. It is all very normal. All the investigations that were carried out were considered appropriate by the doctors involved in the process.

ZENIT: Then there wasn’t really a shadow of a doubt?

Monsignor Oder: You ask me questions that I cannot answer because they are covered by the secret of the process and because they are not known to me. These particulars are the competence of the doctors.

ZENIT: Did you discover things that you didn’t previously know about John Paul II — a private side that was never shown in public?

Monsignor Oder: The process was clearly a beautiful adventure, because a person is never known through and through. And it is clear that so many aspects affected the particulars of his life, the activities and personal contacts he had. However, I would say that it is an adventure that could be undertaken with each person, who is a world unto himself.

With regard to what emerged in the context of the process of beatification, there was nothing outstanding in the sense that, effectively, Wojtyla was the way we knew him in public. So there was no split personality, but rather a perfect transparency of the person. Undoubtedly, however, the process did bring to light many aspects.

ZENIT: Is there an aspect that you didn’t know and that particularly struck you?

Monsignor Oder: The aspect that amazed me, which also happens to be the most important aspect of his life, was the discovery that the source and origin of his extraordinary activity, of his generosity in acting, of the depth of his thought, was his relationship with Christ. What came to light was certainly a mystic. A mystic in the sense that he was a man who lived in the presence of God, who let himself be guided by the Holy Spirit, who was in constant dialogue with the Lord, who built his whole life around the question [asked to Peter]: “Do you love me?” His life was the answer to this essential question posed by the Lord. I think this aspect is the greatest treasure of the process.

ZENIT: And because of being a mystic, he often found himself alone…

Monsignor Oder: The encounter with the Lord is always a solitary path. We are, clearly, supported by the Church, by brothers in the faith, but then every one of us must travel on that path. Moreover, his relationship [with Christ] was truly personal and individual, and very profound. Those who worked with him would often recount that they would have a clear sense of being before a moment of what we could call a “raptus mistico,” in which [John Paul II] was in such a profound dialogue with the Lord that the only thing one could do was to stand back and let him live this moment.

ZENIT: And in that dialogue, was there something that for John Paul II was a cross? For example, he spoke often about the suffering of solidarity. Were there things on this point that troubled him at times?

Monsignor Oder: Look, a man with as great a sensitivity as his could not be indifferent in the face of the sufferings of the world. And we were witnesses to that; he was very vigilant, attentive to anything that happened in the world. He was not afraid to raise his voice and say things that were not in line with the common way of thinking. It is enough to recall his heartbreaking appeal for peace on the eve of the Gulf conflict, when he said “I belong to the generation that knows war.” They were very strong words. Surely it was a thought that did not go down well with the politically correct.

Undoubtedly, what he always had in his heart as a great concern was the silent genocide that goes on with abortion. The question about the richness of human life from conception was certainly a constant cross and a suffering in his life.

[Translation by ZENIT]

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Friday: The Trials of a Young Polish Pope

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