A journalist of the Polish television TVP talks with cardinal Krzysztof Tadej

KRZYSZTOF TADEJ: - On 16 October 1978, in the evening, when there appeared the white smoke…

CARDINAL STASNISŁAW DZIWISZ: - I was standing in the crowd of people on the Square of St. Peter, on the left side, near a fountain.

Sharply at 6.44 p.m. on the central balcony of the Basilica of St. Peter cardinal Pericle Felici appeared.

Cardinal Felici began to announce: ‘Annuntio vobis gaudium magnum – habenus papam… ‘(I am announcing great joy to you – we have pope). When the name ‘Carolum’ was said, my heart got joyful. After a while the cardinal said: ‘Wojtyła’, and I thought ‘It has happened!’.

And not, for example: ‘How wonderful!’

The joy which I felt then, is difficult to describe. But I also had a double feeling that although I was proud and happy, I was aware that since that moment everything was to change. It raised a kind of nostalgia. Beside that I was aware how much responsibility was laid onto the hands of cardinal Wojtyła. The Church and the world were at a particular moment of history. The Polish pope was going to face up a lot of hard work.

How did people standing next to Cardinal react?

Enthusiasm of crowds was attracting. A lot of people did not know who the new pope was. They were asking about where he came from. The square was getting ful very quickly, as hearing the positive result of the conclave, Roman people left their photos and were running towards the Basilica of St. Peter in order to see the Holy Father. When John Paul II appeared on the balcony, there appeared incredibly euphoria. There were ongoing cheers, applauses and joy. I knew that the Pope from a far-away country quickly gained the hearts of the inhabitants of the Eternal City.
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński told me later that he had been afraid of that moment. He was wondering how the Roman people would accept the new pope. Will they accept him? But reaction to a speech of the new Holy Father told us everything: the world began to love John Paul II at once.

Cardinal Wyszyński wanted an Italian priest become pope. Is it true?

Before his leaving Poland he had not been thinking of any other possibility. He thought that it was still not the right time for a pope from a foreign country. In such a belief he was entering the first conclave after Paul VI died, and then the second one. But the time of the conclave made him reflect on it. He understood that the Holy Spirit wanted something different. He changed his mind, and after the election he stood by the Pope to give him courage and express his friendliness and warm-heartedness.
Once the Holy Father was reminiscing what had happened at the time of the conclave. He said that at the decisive moment, when the wave of votes was leaning towards him, the Primate of the Millennium came up to him and said that he could not refuse but had to accept that election. He also suggested the name for the new pope: John Paul II.

Did cardinal Wojtyła foresee before the conclave that he might be elected?

He never spoke about it. That issue was not touched by him in any talk, and when somebody began to make guesses about it, he disrupted them with a short sentence: ‘The Holy Spirit would indicate it’.

When one reads memories about Karol Wojtyła, one can feel that a lot of people predicted that election.

I am a bit surprised by it, as there was not any belief that he would go to the conclave and would not return after it. Nothing like that took place. Well, there were people, especially in Cracow, who often said: ‘ He is a saint priest, saint bishop’. Some people added that he would be suitable to be a pope. I even knew a nun from the Inter-convent Higher Catechist Institute, who often said that if cardinal Wojtyła became pope, it would have been a great shame as Cracow would lose a prominent man. After death of John Paul I there were much more such voices. There was news that our cardinal had been considered during the previous conclave. But we should remember that those were single opinions. Later the situation took on a different course, as soon after announcing the new pope on the Square of St. Peter, the Vatican journal was given away from dossier about cardinal Wojtyła. This preparation of Vatican press meant that he was a serious candidate.

And what about you, Cardinal? Had you never thought that it would happen so?

From the beginning I was aware to whom I served. I saw the greatness of Karol Wojtyła. Despite his young age he belonged to the most prominent people of the Church. He participated in synods with participation of cardinals, archbishops and bishops from all over the world. Only once was he absent from a synod in Rome. The authorities did not let cardinal Wyszyński leave Poland and as a sign of solidarity with the Primate, cardinal Wojtyła did not go to the synod either. It must be said that he distinguished in those forums. His speeches did not remain without echo. Besides that, he was in friendship with pope Paul VI. The Holy Father invited him at his private audiences, as often as cardinal Wojtyła was in Rome. He entrusted him also giving retreats for him and the whole Roman Curia, which proved papal acknowledgment and respect for the Polish hierarch. Cardinal Wojtyła was known in the Church and his opinion was highly respected. He was considered as a prominent philosopher and priest.
He was in the centre of attention among mass media in Rome. I have already mentioned that Vatican media were getting prepared for a possibility of his election. The journal ‘L’Osservatore Romano’ elaborated characteristics of ten most important candidates and among them there was Karol Wojtyła. Before the conclave they consulted his biography with me. But also other serious magazines mentioned him as a candidate for the successor of St. Peter.

Were there no signs that he would be elected? Once Cardinal told me about a strange situation after death of Paul VI.

Indeed, it was incredible. In the beginning of August 1978 Karol Wojtyła left for the Bieszczady mountains with his friends. He got to know there that Paul VI had died. Next day I went to him. They were descending the mountains during a beautiful weather. At one moment they had to go across the San river. They took off their shoes and, barefooted, going on stones, they got onto the other bank of the river. And then a thunder stroke nearby. From the clear sky. They thought it was a sign.

Wasn’t the election cardinal Wojtyła as pope something surprising for Cardinal?

I was not shocked, although it was shocking for the world. Understandable as the Italians had been elected popes for centuries. Today, from the perspective of time I can see that the Divine Providence prepared Karol Wojtyła for great tasks. He was a man of many talents: he was a philosopher, actor, poet. He impressed everybody with his knowledge of foreign languages which he spoke really easily. Despite his many duties he prepared projects of his speeches. His cooperation with the curia was very good but the basic issues were elaborated by the metropolitan of Cracow personally.

Let’s return to the moments when John Paul II appeared for the first time on the balcony of the Basilica of St. Peter. Having given his speech and blessing he disappeared inside the basilica. And Priest Cardinal? Did you go to the Pope straightaway?

It was not so easy, as the conclave was still going on. However, the Pope wanted to see me and I was led to a refectory under the commission’s decision, where cardinals were having supper with the Holy Father. I was led to John Paul II by the secretary of the state of the Holy See cardinal Jean-Marie Villot. The Holy Father stood up and greeted me cordially.

Didn’t he say anything?

He said: ‘What lesson they gave to me!’.


He joked so. Later, although I do not remember exactly when, he added: ‘My skiing journeys are over!’.

What was happening later?

After supper the Holy Father went to his room and began to prepare his speech to the Cardinals’ College which he was to give the following day in the morning in the Sistine Chapel. He wanted me to stay but that evening I went to the Polish College by Piazza Remuria where we had been living before the conclave. I wanted to share great moments with Polish priests who were celebrating the election of the new pope. Euphoria, joy, applause – it is not easy to describe with words what was happening there! At once Poland became the centre of attention. A lot of journalists appeared. They were asking about the country which gave the world the successor of the St. Peter. One could also feel that everybody was waiting for something new, for a kind of opening for the Church and the world. The new pope gave hope for changes.

The following day Priest Cardinal returned to Vatican and…

The Apostolic Palace, that is the Pope’s home, was closed after the death of John Paul I. Cardinal Villot was opening the doors of apartments in the presence of the Holy Father. When he was doing it, he gave me keys. At that moment my care about the order in the Apostolic Palace began.

Were the beginnings difficult for Priest Cardinal?

I was not experienced. I was a bit scared when post from all congregations came to the Holy Father twice a day. Documents, letters, requests. Those were piles of papers, which had to be put in order and presented to the Holy Father. There was so much work that I stopped being scared quickly. I had no time to be scared (laughter). Did Priest Cardinal deal with ordinary things on those first days, like organizing transport of things of cardinal Wojtyła from

Cracow to Vatican?

I had no problem in it. The pope had nothing. He lived like St. Francis of Assisi. In Cracow he did not get any salary, and he gave all the money for his books to poor students and professors. He did not speak about it publicly. He helped in such a way so that nobody would know about it. He did not like to have anything new. He had an old coat with an attachable lining in Poland. In winter he used to attach the lining to the coat and it was everything he had.

And how did the Pope behave after being elected? Did he change somehow?

He remained himself till the end of his pontificate. It was what he surprised cardinals in Vatican with from the first moments, from the first appearing on the balcony of the Basilica of St. Peter. The master of ceremonies Fr. Virgilio Noe, pointed out that according to the tradition the new pope did not give a speech but a blessing to people gathered on the Square of St. Peter. But seeing the cheering crowds, the Holy Father could not say anything. In Vatican they understood it quickly that the new Pope is an independent man.
From the first day he was calm, not undergoing any emotions which could have been understandable towards such a breakthrough event in his life. He was so calm that he made other people feel so. I saw people who were stressed before meeting with the Holy Father. After their meeting with him they were calmer and happier.
The source of his calmness were a prayer and entrustment to Divine Providence. The pope did not have to worry unnecessarily, as he knew that God was with him and supported him. John Paul II was a man of a great prayer. He entrusted all his difficulties, decisions to God. Before his every meeting he used to go to the chapel to pray. In front of the Blessed Sacrament he was prepared everything which he wanted to express in his speeches, homilies. His pastoral vision for the Church and the world appeared on his knees, in his trustful entrustment to God.
He had clear, precise vision of things. Once one of cardinals told me that he had gone to the pope with a problem and told him that he did not see a solution. The pope said that he prayed too little and asked him to look for the light during his prayer with others. And, indeed, the problem was solved thanks to it. Once a group of cardinals were disputing about something. They could not reach an agreement. The pope asked a simple question: ‘What would our Lord, Jesus Christ do in this particular situation?’. Everybody knew after some reflection what they were supposed to do.

The pope surprised everybody also when a day after being elected he left Vatican.

Before the conclave a great friend of cardinal Wojtyła – bishop Andrzej Deskur got ill suddenly. He had a stroke and was taken to hospital when being unconscious. On the day of the beginning of the conclave, cardinal Wojtyła decided to visit him. I think that his friend’s suffering was a sign of great changes for him, and also a great spiritual capital. Anyway, he interpreted them so after years. I was not surprised when on 17 October John Paul II decided to visit bishop Deskura again. A prefect of the Papal House protested against it. He thought it was impossible as no pope had ever left Vatican before.

What was the meeting with bishop Deskura like?

In Gemelli polyclinic crowds were waiting. All the ill wanted to see the new pope. John Paul II was praying at his unconscious friend for a long time and gave him blessing. Bishop Deskur was in a hard condition and only after some time, after a few days did he come round. He returned to his duties, although he never regained his physical ability and had been carrying his cross of suffering till the end of his life. The Holy Father invited him for dinner every Sunday. He remained faithful to this friendship till the end.

Priest Cardinal mentioned that John Paul II had felt in the Apostolic Palace as if had been there for years. He told me that himself: ‘I am surprised by myself as I feel as if I have always been here’. Without any problems he did all his duties. From the beginning he devoted his time to maximum.

The first days passed under preparations for the Holy Mass inaugurating the pontificate. The Curia suggested a project of a homily. The pope put it off and began to write his own. He was writing by hand, in Polish. He prepared his homilies and pronouncements by himself. He wrote and in the last years he dictated their texts. He also found it very easy. He did not need any academic books, help, dictionaries. Preparing a longer speech required his devoting two hours. In order to prepare a shorter speech, only one hour was needed. After that time the text did not require any corrections.
On the day of the pontificate inauguration there were words said which made a great impression on everybody. The pope said: ‘Do not be afraid of accepting Christ and accepting His authority, help the Pope and all those who want to serve to Christ, serve to the man and the whole humankind. Do not be afraid! Open the door wide to Christ. For His redemptive authority, open the borders of countries, economic and political systems, wide areas of culture, civilization, development! Do not be afraid!’. I think that today those words are still valid.

During this Holy Mass John Paul II also did something unconventional. He entered the crowd of people.

He saw the ill and decided to go up to them. Fr. Noe, the papal master of ceremonies, was protesting again. ‘It cannot be so! It cannot be so!’ – he was shouting. But the Holy Father only looked at him and went up to people. Again he showed his independence. He did what his heart told him to do and did not hesitate to break fixed customs then.

Had John Paul II celebrated the Holy Masses in his private chapel with the participation of believers since the first days?

He celebrated the Holy Mass in his private chapel on his own a few times, but it was difficult for him. He needed the feeling of relation with others, as Eucharist has the character of community. He decided to invite order congregations. So, I took a phone call book and began to call nuns. But it was not easy as nuns suspected me of playing jokes. They did not believe me and checked in the Secretary of State whether something like that was possible, as before that nothing like that had happened in Vatican. But after a few Holy Masses with the Pope order congregations began to come themselves. Later various institutions and private people asked for a possibility of participating in Eucharist with the Pope.

Was John Paul II thinking about a pilgrimage to Poland from the first days of his pontificate?

In the beginning it was a journey to Mexico, to Dominicana and Bahamas. The Latin America Episcopal Conference invited Paul VI to its debates. However, he did not decide to go there. Another pope died quickly. John Paul II did not hesitate, especially that it was necessary to decide about important problems concerning theology of liberation. Delegates of all countries of Latin America were supposed to arrive at the Conference of Episcopates. In some countries there appeared ideas that introducing Marxism and communism were a way to liberation from poverty. The pope was warning that this ‘medication’ is worse than an illness. He spoke about solidarity, cooperation and social sensitivity to harms of others. The meeting with the Holy Father was attended by crowds of people. I remember that after landing in Mexico we could not overcome a short distance from the airport to a flat as on the way there were enormous crowds of cheering people.
For the Pope the pilgrimage to Mexico was opening a way to Poland. At that time Mexico had the most anti-ecclesiastical constitution. The Church there was very persecuted. If anti-ecclesiastical authorities of Mexico accept the Holy Father, so why would Poland refuse to? However, it turned out that it was not so simple. The pope wanted to come to Poland for the jubilee ceremonies of the 900th anniversary of death of St. Stanisław in 1979. The authorities said ‘no’ and negotiations began. Luckily they allowed for the pilgrimage in June.

When Priest Cardinal mentions those historic days today, don’t Cardinal feel that life is passing quickly and what seems to have happened not so long time ago, is a far-distanced event for some people?

No, because I still meet people from various countries of the world who live with teaching of John Paul II. They are interested in the events of pontificate and are fascinated by the saint, great Pope. His teaching is the source of knowledge for many priests. I like a sentence which someone said that it is ‘the Pope who does not die’. There are appearing churches under the vocation of John Paul II. Various institutions and schools choose him as their patron. In many countries there are academic sessions concerning John Paul II. I can confirm that it is the Pope who does not die. He remained in people’s hearts. I get convinced about it every day.

Translated by Aneta Amrozik

Niedziela 41/2018 (14 X 2018)

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl