Being a bishop is a service

Fr Adam Lach

He owes to a considerable extent his priestly vocation to his mother. 'It was her example and great respect for the Church that formed my spiritual profile', Archbishop Wielgus says. But there is certain situation, which few people know about, but which had a great influence on his choice. He was an altar boy. There was a canonical visitation of the parish of Wierzchowice, his home parish, which belonged to the Diocese of Lublin then. 'I remember it was Bishop Stefan Wyszynski, the future Primate of Poland, who visited the parish. He told us, altar boys, 'If you hear a voice 'follow me' speaking in your hearts, this will be the voice of Jesus. Just follow him'. At that moment I thought to myself 'Maybe me? Perhaps Jesus will tell me something?' And you can see what happened', he laughs.
At the beginning of his priesthood he was a parochial vicar in Zamosc and then in Lublin. Then he pursued theological and philosophical studies and was again a parochial vicar in Hrubieszow. In 1969 he started research and teaching at the Catholic University of Lublin and has continued it until today. The title of professor was the culmination of his career. 'I like lecturing but examining students is hard. Many a time I examined over 800 people during one examination session, so the examinations lasted over one month and a half', he recollects. His students love his lectures. They all agree that Prof. Wielgus speaks clearly, comprehensibly and accessibly, even about very difficult issues. Archbishop Wielgus loves laborious research concerning ancient scrolls. As he says it is 'a detective work that brings a lot of satisfaction'.
He served as Rector of his beloved university in the years 1989-98. When he is introduced in official meetings the people who welcome him add immediately, 'the former rector of KUL, the author of the memorable letters that we listened to in all churches'. Very few people know that his work as rector made his hair turn grey. 'I became rector when communism was about to collapse. There was a terrible inflation and the money for financing the university was diminishing day by day. I spoke to the Parliament several times asking for grants. We had to go to no end of trouble in order to make ends meet. Then my hair turned grey', the new Metropolitan of Warsaw says.
On 23 May 1999, John Paul II appointed him as the new bishop of the old Plock diocese. Recollecting those days the Archbishop said that he made the decision with trembling heart. 'This is extreme responsibility before God and people' he adds today. He has carried out this responsible function for seven years. And as usual he has tried to do his best. His closest collaborators, including the Vicar for catechetical issues Monsignor Dr. Ryszard Czekalski, confirm his words. 'He is a great man, wonderful priest and bishop, an outstanding intellectual. His human greatness is that he can see every man. His relationships with his collaborators are characterised by deep confidence that he has for all people to whom he entrusted some tasks. In a way, this confidence makes people shy but it also elevates very much' adds Msgr. Czekalski. Archbishop Wielgus tried to speak the same language as every man and he can see human needs. When he leaves home and goes to the curia people stop him on the way asking for help. He helps them many times.
'Every meeting with him is a spiritual feast. You feel that you meet some great personality, intellect and spirit', Fr Czekalski confesses. 'There are times I go to see Archbishop Wielgus to settle down some matters and quite unexpectedly I participate in some interesting brief lecture that challenges me. Since Archbishop Wielgus has an extremely rare gift to explain his enormous knowledge in daily reality.
Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus himself thinks that being a bishop is first of all a service. 'Being a bishop meant a total change of my life. I have always been first a priest but I also a scholar. However, there comes the time when we do not mind what we feel. We are to carry out the tasks given by God's Providence. We, priests, are to be like soldiers at Christ's disposal. He replied to the question if his nomination was some kind of elevation, 'I do not see it in the category of promotion - this is not this kind of thinking. For me it is a task and a service. Moreover, it is a very responsible service because it includes being responsible for others.'
John Paul II was an important person for Archbishop Wielgus. 'I was impressed by my numerous meetings with the Pope. I always admired his apostolic work. Archbishop Wielgus holds Benedict XVI in similar respect and he regards him as 'the most outstanding contemporary thinker in Christianity'.
Although he has very little free time he finds time to listen to his beloved composers: Beethoven, Smetana, Grieg or Mozart, or to reach for, as he says himself, not good books but the best books. He is especially fond of non-fiction and memoirs of eminent people. He spends his free time reading, correcting and reviewing his students' papers.
The hobby he cannot find time for is picking up mushrooms and working on a farm, which he did when his parents were alive. He can also cook very well. He acquired this skill, very rare among men, when he was a lecturer and had to cook himself. Now even the nuns in the bishops' residence follow his recipe to prepare the herring salad, some soups and beef stewed in cabbage. Those who tasted his dishes confirmed that they were excellent. Archbishop Wielgus likes sport, too. In the past he skied and shot for sport. 'I had to extend my licence again and again and that made me jam my rifle and I stopped shooting' he says. He can also boast of a record in continuous swimming, lasting as long as seven hours'.
Archbishop Wielgus wants the Church to grow without obstacles, without threats such as terrorism, war, hunger or poverty. He wants those with power to follow ethics in their lives. 'Almost every crisis begins with some ethical crisis. I wish there were no such crises because people lose the sense of their existence', he says.

"Niedziela" 51/2006

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