By Anita S. Bourdin and Sergio Mora
VATICAN CITY, APRIL 10, 2011 (Zenit.org).- During his last days, Pope John Paul II gave his best spiritual exercises without saying a word, 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, told ZENIT that the Pontiff was able to do this because of his capacity ‘to speak, when he was mute, when he could no longer say anything, but he simply persevered, he stayed, he expressed his closeness, his love, his ‘here I am’ before the Lord.”
John Paul II died April 2, 2005, at the age of 84, after having completed a 26-year pontificate. 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 role of suffering and sacrifice during John Paul II’s life. Part 4 of this interview will appear Monday.
ZENIT: How did John Paul II react to the sexual abuse crisis, which took place for the most part toward the end of his pontificate.
Monsignor Oder: It is enough to think of his reaction when the problem surfaced, such as the convocation of American bishops here in Rome to address the problem. When these painful situations came to his direct knowledge, one saw him overwhelmed and determined to give an appropriate answer.
He was the one who promulgated the new rules in regard to this type of crime, as a juridical instrument to resolve these situations.
ZENIT: The sufferings of this Pope were evident toward the end of his life, what can you tell us about the sacrifices he made throughout his pontificate.
Monsignor Oder: The suffering caused by his illness was an aspect that at the end of his days became almost an icon of his pontificate, but it wasn’t the only dimension of mortification in his life. From his youth he was initiated into the Carmelite spirituality, he was fascinated by the Carmel, so much so that when he was still a boy he had some thoughts in mind of a Carmelite vocation. He remained fascinated by St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Ávila, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, and then also the practices of personal penance were present in his life. This was an aspect that no one knew about, which we learned only in the context of the process, and I remember that it bothered many when it became known. And yet this was a sign of his profound faith, of his spiritual life.
ZENIT: In regard to suffering, I learned recently that already as bishop of Krakow he wrote a letter to the sick to ask them, to entrust to them, to their intercession, his episcopate. It is truly a key to the fecundity of this pontificate. Not only the sick Pope who shares in the cross, but who leans on this communion of the Church.
Monsignor Oder: Absolutely, but this is also the Christian sense of suffering. Not only did he entrust his ministry as bishop of Krakow to the sick. In the period in which the discussion of Vatican Council II was taking place, he asked the sick for their support to bring the council to a good end. He made them participants in this extraordinary event. I think the letter “Salvifici Doloris” gives an idea of John Paul II’s vision of the Christian meaning of suffering, and as well as when he speaks of personal participation in the sufferings of Christ and the Gospel of the Good Samaritan, which was written virtually around this reality of suffering.
ZENIT: And furthermore, he founded the Good Samaritan Foundation for patients with AIDS.
Monsignor Oder: It must be remembered that in regard to the world of suffering, it was he who created the Pontifical Council for Health Care Ministry.
ZENIT: There was another painful case, that of the founder of the Legionaries of Christ, Marcial Maciel. He knew about it at the end of his pontificate?
Monsignor Oder: We have carried out all the investigations that, of course, were geared to deepening the knowledge of this most painful case for the Church, which indeed exploded after John Paul II’s death. However, it must be recalled that the investigations got under way during his pontificate. Nevertheless, from the investigations carried out on the basis of the documentation, we can exclude any personal involvement of the Holy Father in this affair, in the sense that his knowledge at the time that he died did not go beyond that which was commonly known.
ZENIT: He was somewhat of a “scandal” in the sense that in a world where everyone is afraid of growing old, of not being efficient, he carried his illness to the end, without hiding it in any way.
Monsignor Oder: Precisely this capacity of his to speak, when he was mute, when he could no longer say anything, but he simply persevered, he stayed, he expressed his closeness, his love, his “here I am” before the Lord, and perhaps he gave the greatest Spiritual Exercises without saying anything, simply as witness.
And then, yes, because it was precisely a very serene way of going forward with this reality that is part of the human experience, we can say it is a prospect of Christian life, suffering and death are also a part of life, naturally, as a passage. However, with this testimony, with his “not being embarrassed,” he gave back hope to so many persons, above all he also gave back dignity to persons who, so often, are marginalized, shut out and hidden, almost as a disgrace because they are ill and old.
We are in a civilization that wishes, in some way, to charm death away. He went ahead with these signs of suffering, of the death that was approaching, making one understand that it is a stage of life.
ZENIT: Monsignor Oder, do you now feel unemployed, or are you now continuing the cause of canonization?
Monsignor Oder: As I have said, this work of postulator is added to other things, so I’m absolutely not thinking of remaining unemployed. In any case, if now the whole preparation of the event of the beatification is under way it, of course, also has the figure of the postulator involved in some aspects. Also, the mandate given to me was for the process of beatification and of canonization. This means that the stage of beatification has been achieved, this first moment is done, but the process proceeds until the canonization.
ZENIT: In regard to the beatification, how can a Christian who wishes to participate prepare himself for this event?
Monsignor Oder: This process of beatification has been for me personally a time of spiritual exercises that has enabled me to deepen both the reasons for my faith and the enthusiasm of my response to the Lord’s call to become a priest. It was enhanced by the splendid encounter with the example of this fulfilled, happy priest, who gave his life for Christ and for the Church. The time we now have to prepare coincides with Lent, during which we undertake our spiritual journey, our journey of conversion, our journey to deepen our faith and love of Christ, to live truly a particular experience with the Lord’s Easter that, in some way, will now be prolonged in this event of beatification.
When all is said and done, the Lord’s Easter is the point of reference for the life of all Christians, which must be realized in the life of each one of us. Easter, the attainment of sanctity, and arriving to heaven, is the fulfillment of the Christian life. Hence, we can say that this year we have truly had the good fortune to live Lent looking at the Lord’s Easter. It is a splendid testimony of this Easter.[Translation by ZENIT]
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Monday: Forgiveness and Mercy
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