Posts Tagged ‘Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz’

BLESSED JOHN PAUL II – PART SIX

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Tomorrow morning at four o’clock (EDT) the Mass at which Pope John Paul II will be declared “blessed” will begin in the exact place where little more than six years ago he lay for his funeral Mass. I have thought a lot about this moment since the announcement of his beatification and particularly about my feelings about him and experiences with him, most of which I have already shared with you these past five days. First, it is extremely unusual for anyone like myself to say that on many occasions I shared Eucharist, the stage, the airplane, a helicopter,  prayer with a “Blessed” now only one verifiable miracle away from sainthood.  On the final day of  World Youth Day 1993 and before their departure for Rome, Bishop Stanislaus Dziwisz brought me unsolicited the gold vestment the Pope had worn on Saturday at Denver’s Cathedral for his Mass with the bishops of the United States and elsewhere gathered for World Youth Day. I still have it and wear it. Soon it will be a third-class relic, something which touched the person of a saint. I should probably retire it and never use it again – it has his coat of arms on the back. As he grows closer to sainthood, I think I grow more unworthy but I doubt if he would  think that.

John Paul II was at heart a simple man. He did not put on airs, seek to impress though he could get his message across better than a lot of other people. There is that marvelous picture of him (above) with his right hand raised in blessing and his white shirt under the cassock unbuttoned at the wrist where he had  forgotten to attach the cuff link. Sometimes his cassocks would be rumpled. That mattered little to him. He was consumed with preaching the Gospel and living the Gospel and thus was the consummate evangelizer – an evangelist something like  Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, telling the world about Jesus. Even non-Catholics had great respect for him and for his message as was evidenced by the near universal sense of loss expressed at the time of his death.

I have mentioned before he did not seem to take great concern in managing the vast Church he was chosen to lead. He left that to others. And contrary to what some people would or are saying, I don’t think he personally had any personal favorite people except friends from Poland. The doorkeeper and the one who made the judgments about who was worthy of the Pope’s presence and attention was his life-long personal secretary, Don Stanislaus Dziwisz. There rested the true source of access in his papacy. If you passed muster with later Bishop Dziwisz and now a Cardinal, you were almost always OK with the Holy Father. In the days just before the announcement of my appointment as bishop of St. Petersburg, Father David Toups, then a seminarian at the North American College met Bishop Dziwisz who knowing that he was from St. Petersburg said “soon a new bishop for you. You will like him!”

Saints do not get to be saints because every decision they made in life was correct or perfect. They are saints because of their personal holiness, their self-sacrificing service to the Gospel imperatives. Some of this negative criticism coming in advance of the beatification tomorrow reminds me of the run-up to World Youth Day of which I wrote on Wednesday – controversy, disdain, disbelief that Catholics could care for this man the way they do, etc. Yet polls indicate that this week 93% of all American Catholics surveyed love Pope John Paul II and are happy he is being recognized not as someone who always got it right in everything (except in matters of faith and morals) but as someone who was personally deeply holy. Quite frankly, he was the Pope who made us proud to be Catholic and I don’t think the naysayers will penetrate that reality this time as they failed to do in Denver. Pope Paul VI was perhaps a better manager of the Church worldwide and the Curia but he did not have the gifts of language facility, personal charm and charism, electricity which Blessed John Paul II was able to generate. Personally holy Paul VI was but it did not come through the way it did for his successor once removed.

Blessed John Paul II was always energized by a crowd. He sought out the spotlight and used it well for the good of the Gospel. With well over a hundred trips outside of Italy and several hundred outside of Rome but within Italy, he was a Pope of and for the people, no longer a “prisoner of the Vatican”. His focus was applying the Gospel to daily life. He begged the officers of the Conference at one pranzo or lunch to send him names of deeply holy, saintly married couples. He lamented that there were too few of them in the role of saints and that marriage deserved as much saintly regard as the priesthood or religious life. On another occasion when the Jewish community of the United States was up in arms about the rumored proposal that Queen Isabella of Spain would soon begin the process toward canonization, I knew she did not have a chance when his answer was “it is very difficult for royalty to become saints.”

Additionally, Blessed John Paul II had an unerring sense of popular piety and what it needed and when it could he helpful. There were many skeptics here in the United States church when he announced that the millenial year, 2000, would be a special year of Jubilee for the Church. Critics here said out loud, the time for Holy Years and great public religious celebrations had long passed. Well, the millions who came through Rome on the Millennial Holy Year did not think so and the Pope made a believer out of me that he sure knew a lot better than I what people would respond to when called to expressions of devotion and popular piety. Lots of Americans including about 150 with me from this diocese observed the Holy Year in 2000 and it was a success far beyond the imagination of many. He was almost infallible in knowing what would work to reawaken, even for an instant or a year, the deepest religious feelings of Catholics beginning with World Youth Days through the two Holy Years of his p0ntificate.

So today is more than a day for his native Polish people, it is a day for the whole Church. Did it come too quickly, history will ultimately be the judge. Pope St. Pius X, the last Pope to be beatified (and later canonized) took thirty-seven years to reach this moment but for this participant of the energy of his pontificate, I thank God I am alive for the moment. With Blessed John Paul II’s soul mate, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta, I have now touched and been touched by two people whom the Church universal will likely soon refer to as “saints” but it didn’t take the process to convince me that these two were in different ways extraordinarily holy people.

So it has taken me this week about 7,500 words to share some of my experiences in my lifetime with this extraordinary moral force. I shall record the events in Rome and watch them when I can as I have an extremely busy week-end. But it will be wonderful to watch that vast piazza at St. Peters and the surrounding streets burst once again with people chanting as I know they will, “santo subito.” Blessed John Paul II, intercede with the Father to whom you are now close, to help this local Church serve all of God’s people.

+RNL

BLESSED JOHN PAUL II – PART THREE

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

In a long papacy and especially a historically important papacy like that of soon-to-be Blessed Pope John Paul II, significant milestones are passed and significant initiatives are begun. In the latter category, nothing should compare in modern Church history with the Pope’s desire to convene a World Youth Day somewhere in the world every two years. It was his idea; he called he first one, attended all the rest and seemed to draw inner strength every time. I became General Secretary of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in February of 1989 and soon word began to circulate in Rome that the Holy Father wanted to celebrate a World Youth Day in the United States. My superiors were generally against it, at least my President, Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk of Cincinnati was, and for some good reasons. The United States did not have the infrastructure to gather so many young people in one place (trains, bus systems, etc. as Europe, for example ) and the potential cost. It also did not help that Cardinal John O’Connor of New York spoke vociferously against it on several occasions (mostly likely fearing that New York would be chosen). So there was a lot of internal opposition but there were also voices and minds open to exploring places and opportunities. My associate General Secretary at that time was Father Dennis Schnurr (now Archbishop of Cincinnati) and I gave him the principal task of site selection and putting together a proposal. They looked at a lot of places and finally began to settle on the Denver area, which Archbishop J. Francis Stafford (now a Cardinal) supported as long as financial and administrative help would come from the Conference. Denver was offered to the Pope for World Youth Day 1993 and accepted.

There were lots of challenges to be dealt with: transportation of the youth to and from Denver, weather variations from extremely hot in the day time to cold at night, infrastructure in Denver, transportation to the Vigil and Mass site, lodging a half million youth and lurking behind it all, both in Rome and the U.S. was the question of whether or not any young people from the US would actually come. Archbishop Pilarczyk handed the episcopal leadership of the planning over to his Vice-President, Archbishop William H. Keeler of Baltimore who loved the “chase” so to speak and was a great help as well .

By 1993 the media in the United States had just about had enough of the Polish pope and the run-up to World Youth Day focused on how American Catholics were rejecting the Pope’s leadership on abortion, contraception, AIDS, you name it. They predicted that finally the Pope had made a bad decision in returning to the US and he would be greeted by nothing but protestors to his policies and dissent among the young. The trouble was that hard as they tried in Denver to find and interview a young attendee at WYD 93 to back up their claims of dissent, they failed. One young person after another stopped by a TV cameraperson or reporter and simply said something to the effect, “I love this Pope.” And the love affair continued.

At the conclusion of their longer than expected meeting, I am introduced to the President by the Holy Father

Shepherd One, the name I had given to the Secret Service in 1979 for the Pope’s plane arrived from Rome in Denver on a spectacular afternoon in August with President and Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea waiting on the tarmac. After the airport arrival, the Holy Father and President Clinton went separately to Regis College for a private meeting that was supposed to last only thirty minutes. At the end of the time set aside, Father Roberto Tucci, SJ and I went to the door where the Pope and President were meeting, opened it slightly only to have the Pope signal that he wanted more time with the young President. At forty five minutes they still had not emerged and finally Father Tucci sent Monsignor Dziwisz, the pope’s personal secretary and now a Cardinal, in to remind both that 70,000 young people were waiting at mile high stadium to welcome the Pope. Pictures were taken, gifts exchanged, and farewells shared and the mile-high World Youth Day was underway.

After the welcome ceremony the Holy Father took an unusual day off. Taking the Presidential helicopter, Marine One, he flew up into the east range of the Rockies and spent a whole day, mostly alone, walking in the forest (the Secret Service never far away but discreetly out of sight), praying, resting, gathering his strength for the World Youth Day activities which would follow. There were very few of our staff present with him and his closest staff that day and I know he loved the beauty of the American Rocky Mountains.

Young people were streaming into Denver by the hundreds of thousands (an estimated 550,000 attended the closing Mass) and their love of the Pope and their faith was infectious, about as infectious as the burning heat on the east slope of the Rockies on a hot summer afternoon. All those “doubting Thomases” in Rome and the US could not believe what they were seeing. Contrary to popular opinion, World Youth Day 1993 in the U.S. was on its way to being a great success. And did John Paul connect with the young people or not? It was simply amazing. I was so proud of Father (he was personally made a Monsignor in the Cathedral sacristy in Denver by the Pope in front of his parents) Schnurr and his whole group for planning and staging what will probably long be remembered as one of the most successful gatherings of young people certainly in this hemisphere and/or continent and this great Pope in a long time. There have indeed been larger crowds, especially in Europe and the Philippines and some South American countries but again it is easier for the youth to gather in those places. What we did so impressed Pope John Paul II that weeks after when we dined with him in Rome to review World Youth Day, he ordered his assistant to give Archbishop Keeler, the President, Bishop Anthony Pilla of Cleveland, the Vice-President, Monsignor Schnurr and myself four gold chalices, usually gifts to host bishops only. Monsignor Dziwisz presented them to us in the presence of the pope and four times said in Italian, molto prezioso which translates into “you had better not lose these!” The Holy Father still had Denver and our young people clearly on his mind and in his memory.

As he is beatified this Sunday, my mind will largely be on how effective he was with young people. They loved him. And even in his later, infirm and enfeebled years, they still loved him. Sometime after canonization, some Pope will declare John Paul a patron saint of something or other. I shall being praying that he might be declared the patron of young people. I shall never see the likes of him again in the brief time I have left and I doubt if the Church will for sometime either. I am happy that our country could make him so happy on that occasion and this time when he boarded an American Airlines 767 for home and Rome, with my own term as General Secretary drawing near an end, I thought for sure I was finished with papal trips. The Holy Father himself would refer to me as his “travel agent” in the U.S. There was now very personal recognition and a growing bond between us. Tomorrow I shall recall moments with Blessed John Paul II while I was serving as General Secretary, then the fifth installment will be reflections of our time together after he named me bishop and finally, some thoughts on his forthcoming beatification.

+RNL

POTUS AND THE POPE

Friday, July 10th, 2009

The first meeting between President Obama and Pope Benedict XVI will take place in just a few hours. I believe that this President is about the ninth U.S. President to have a meeting with a Pope. It was years before the first US President summoned up enough courage to physically be present to the Holy Father and, of course, that came after years of anti-Catholic bias and even bigotry which prevented such meetings. This meeting will be pleasant, cordial and correct. Catholics who are still out of sorts that Obama was elected President hope that the Holy Father will take the President to the woodshed on abortion, embryonic stem cell research, etc. That will not happen I can assure you. I can also assure you that the Holy Father will emphasize the Church’s teaching on beginning and end of life issues and the President expects it, but the tone of the meeting will be as it should be, a respectful exchange of ideas in conversation not at all strident. If I were the President and more so if I were the President’s staff, I would have my boss prepared to outline to the Holy Father how much the goals of his administration mirror the Holy Father’s social hopes for the world in the latest encyclical of this week, “Charity in the Truth.” My quick first reading of the encyclical leads me to believe that except for the issue of abortion, this Pope and this President share many of the same economic, environmental, and social beliefs. They certainly agree on the use of “armaments” on the world stage, the elimination of hunger in our lifetime in the world, the responsibility of the rich nations to assist the poorer, etc.

This first meeting will be “getting to know you, getting to know all about you, getting to like you, hoping that you’ll like me” (sorry Rodgers and Hammerstine but you said it best in “The King and I”.) In 1993 I ushered the relatively new President Clinton into his first private meeting with Pope John Paul II at Regis Collge in Denver at the start of World Youth Day. The papal secretary, now Cardinal Dziwisz, and I closed the door, looked at our watches and waited the thirty minutes which had been scheduled for the meeting. Precisely at thirty minutes, he opened the door and we looked in. They were locked in conversation and Pope John Paul looked at him and said in Polish, fifteen more minutes please. The predictions had been that this meeting would not last that long but I knew better because I had already experienced both men’s abhorrence of sticking to schedule when conversation was good. At the forty-five minute mark Mrs. Clinton and Chelsea were standing by with us awaiting the signal to come in for a personal moment or two with the first family. We opened the door and a third time were told they were not finished. This time we did not close the door and soon a signal was given that the conversation was ended. President Clinton said to me, “the Holy Father is amazing. I am sorry we had so little time together but we agreed to keep on talking when I come to Rome.”

Stalin was right, the Pope has no legions of soldiers except millions of believers who soldier for the faith in different ways. I will close with a reminder which some of my readers will not want to hear but it is the truth. President Obama so far has excited the minds and imagination of most people outside of the U.S. as ushering in a new day on the world stage for the mighty United States. To these people he oversees a future full of promise (whether it is realized or not only history will be able to say). I have evidence that the Roman Curia, the pope’s closest advisors like what he is doing. They acknowledge that he is not a Catholic and therefore needs time to be educated on Catholic teachings on life, justice, charity and a whole host of other things. But they believe he can be a great leader or the world stage and I would go to the bank that Pope Benedict believes the same. Today’s meeting will be only the first and it will be between two gentleman getting to know one another better.

Don’t forget, I’ll be back on the blogs on July 22nd or thereabouts and then go quiet again.

+RNL