In the cardinals’ circle

Milena Kindziuk and Andrzej Tarwid talk to Cardinal Jozef Glemp, Poland’s Primate, on the occasion of his 25 years of cardinalate.

– You are celebrating the 25th anniversary of your cardinal’s nomination this year. Your Eminence, what does cardinalate mean to you?

– First of all, it is a bigger relationship with the Pope and the Church. Besides, I belong to the College of Cardinals, which is a honourable body. It is valuable to be close to the Pope and among the eminent people from all over the world and to listen to the news concerning the condition of the Church in various countries. The Holy Father is Peter and we fulfil the role of the apostles. The cardinals are a group of bishops and priests chosen by the Pope.

– You said that the College of Cardinals is ‘a very honourable body’. Who can be distinguished from among them?

– Every member of the College is an outstanding personality considering the religious, pastoral, scientific and social aspects. A special attention should be directed to Cardinal Carlo Maria Martini, the former rector of Biblicum, or the late Cardinal Aurelio Sabattani, an eminent specialist in canon law, who always looked very thoroughly at the matters of the Church. Together with me the nomination was given to Archbishop Jean-Marie Lustiger of Paris who died last year. I knew him very well. He was an extremely enlightened and knowledgeable man, who had a perfect orientation in current affairs. He had his own ideas concerning many issues, which made him enrich the Church. Another outstanding personality was Cardinal Franjo Kuharic, coming from the former Yugoslavia, who knew the meanders of communism very well. Finally, I can mention Cardinal Joachim Meisner, born near Wroclaw, who feels close to Poland and understands the spirit of our religiousness.

– Is it easy to reach an agreement in the meetings of the college consisting of such individualities?

– If the subject of discussion is arguable, we reach consent in a democratic way. Every cardinal must express his opinion, which is recorded. Then we take votes and count them. In many cases the differences reflect the specificity of the country. I remember discussing about religious instruction in schools: the Spaniards looked at it from a different angle. The Mexican cardinals were of different opinion, too. But all cardinals agreed that religion should be taught. But during the consistory the cardinals are to gather opinions and not to make decisions. That was the case of the encyclical ‘Evangelium vitae’. During the papacy of Benedict XVI there were views concerning the post-Trent rite. Many Western bishops pointed to the interests of believers in that matter. For the Holy Father it was a sign that people longed for the old liturgy and Benedict XVI allowed the possibility of celebrating Mass in the old rite.

– What are the differences between the present consistories and those held during the papacy of John Paul II?

– Both Popes have a similar style of work. Benedict XVI, like John Paul II, can listen to the opinions very patiently and carefully. The present Pope has an excellent memory and can provide a perfect synthesis at the end of the discussion. John Paul II was always famous for that.

Electing a new pope

– A cardinal is someone who elects popes. How does he know whom to vote for?

– The cardinals know one another well. They know one another from the conclaves and also from earlier talks, meetings and gatherings. There is also the papal yearbook – Annuario Pontificio, which includes the cardinal names and their bibliographies. The cardinals are usually universally known.

– The meetings of the conclave are held in enclosed places. Despite that, there are the so-called leaks. Do you think that it was possible that some participant of the conclave gave away the secrets?

– I do not think so. It could have happened that some cardinal made some notes and later someone peeped his notes. But I do not think that those were conscious leaks. By the way, when I looked closely at the so-called leaks I saw serious mistakes in them, which means that they were rather based on some speculations made by someone from outside the college. During the last conclave we all lived in St Martha’s House and the distance to the Sistine Chapel was small, we did not have any contacts with the outside world and we could not communicate with the media.

– The media spoke about Cardinal Ratzinger as ‘the panzer cardinal.’ And he was elected. What did the cardinals want to tell us by their choice?

– ‘The panzer cardinal’ is a media term. The cardinals have never been of this opinion. Besides, one should not listen to the press as one should listen to the word of God.

– Why do you think the media evaluated Cardinal Ratzinger as a candidate for papacy in such an unfavourable way?

– Many a time political evaluations and superficial or simplified opinions about the Church are expressed whereas the core of the Church life is different.

Red like blood

– You can see the Church from her inside. What is the picture?

– Above all, one bears the responsibility to proclaim the word of God and living Christ. This is the most important thing. Therefore, your unity with the Pope as the head of the Church is basically different than for instance with some President or Prime Minister.

– The colour of the cardinal’s robes – red points to the ministry of cardinals as inscribed in potential martyrdom.

– Yes, it does, although it is a more symbolic definition. Cardinals are truly dedicated to the Pope and the Church and should be ready to become martyrs.

– Does this frighten you?

– Completely not. We trust the Providence.

Primate and cardinal

– You have joined two functions: primate and cardinal. Which one requires more effort?

– Definitely being primate. Cardinalate is an honorary distinction whereas the title of primate is basically connected with the archbishop’s office. In Poland it has been historically connected with the Archbishopric of Gniezno although from the times of Primate Hlond, Wyszynski and my ministry it has been connected with Warsaw. Now we have the period when the Primate is archbishop emeritus.

– In old Poland the primate was the ‘interrex’. Today he is often treated as the king whereas even your opponents agree that you do not put on airs...

– I think that I am not doing anything extraordinary. I am acting as I was brought up in my youth. If I had come from some other environment I could have experienced difficulties to reach ordinary, simple people.

– But certainly there are some people who want to adulate you, to flatter you. Is it easy to discern false flattery?

– I am not suspicious and I always presume that people come to me with good intentions. Only during a conversation one can discern whether someone wants to flatter me. Well, if he wants to flatter me, let him do it.

– And you never intervene in such cases? Do you not tell such a person, ‘Forget it, we know the situation well!’?

– Sometimes you must say so. Especially, when the conversation concerns concrete decisions.

– Your closest collaborators understood quickly that using flattery led to nothing...?

– I think they did. I have never had special problems with it.

Distinction will leave by itself

– Some day you will have to renounce your title of primate...

– This will not be renouncing. If God keeps me alive this distinction will simply leave me.

– But another distinction will remain: cardinalate and ...

–... and I will patiently wait to pass away to the Lord.

– But you still have some tasks to fulfil...

– Yes, I have. To pray to God’s Providence, to God’s Mercy and to the Blessed Mother.

– Soon Poland will have two primates. What then?

– There will be no such situation. When I am 80 years old I will stop being primate.

– But all people will treat you as primate.

– No, I do not think so. Perhaps, they will... It could be primate senior. But we know that the actual authority will pass to the bishop of the diocese – in the Archdiocese of Warsaw we have Archbishop Kazimierz Nycz. And what about me? The present title of primate is purely honorary, it has no authority. It is Archbishop Nycz’s kindness to invite me to various celebrations or to ask me for advice. I value this a lot.

The sanctuary will be built

– Archbishop Nycz surely counts on your involvement to continue the construction of the National Shrine of God’s Providence.

– Archbishop Nycz has his own vision of building this sanctuary and I am glad about it. Therefore, I am eager to get involved in this work.

– You have been involved in building the National Shrine of God’s Providence for a long time. The construction has been delayed. Why do many people not feel the need to erect this sanctuary?

– I do not agree with you. After all, the construction is advanced, which means that it has got social support. Naturally, one could have erected it quicker but the work is so big that it requires a lot of time. Moreover, the town of Willanow is being built next to the sanctuary and this fact should be taken into consideration. In the future it will be a huge parish, which needs appropriate facilities. That’s why, we are building a pastoral house now and in spring the construction of the sanctuary will be undertaken again.

– Please tell us why the construction of the National Shrine of God’s Providence is so important to such a country as Poland?

– The idea of the National Shrine of God’s Providence is connected with the freedom Poland has enjoyed these days and the freedom that Poland has always aspired to. And freedom is not only a political issue. We have a lot to thank God for. In this respect I also think that Poland will always be a religious country and that it will never become a typically secularised country. The sense of faith cannot be jammed. It can be seen in Russia where thousands of Orthodox churches were destroyed within 70 years but now they are being rebuilt. Even if this is done at big costs the nation wants it. Similarly, the National Shrine of God’s Providence will be built since the nation wants it. Additionally, the state will support the part of the construction, which concerns culture.

– Exactly, earlier there were problems to gain money since the state could not finance sacral objects with public money...

–... but there is money for monuments, which are at the same time sacral objects. But there is no money for churches that will be monuments in the future. One forgets that we have only one Polish culture. It has nothing to do with the fact that some construction is designed only for cult. The religious cult embraces a wide space of spiritual culture, which is a big treasure of the nation. Our patriotism has always been rooted in religiousness. And I think that it will be so in the future.

As long as I can

– Your cardinalate has been for 25 years, which is a whole epoch. How has the Church changed during this time?

– This quarter of a century has been different in Poland and different in the dimension of the universal Church. Poland has witnessed enormous social and political changes. Our Homeland has become a democratic country and a free country although further works and reforms are needed. By the way, the Church is not in favour of revolutionary changes but of deep and reasonable ones. Thus we are not ashamed that we prefer to put off some things to get to know them better, to discern whether they are sensible and worthy. As in the discussion concerning the in vitro fertilisation, in which we need caution and serious reflection to discern whether we are not preparing a tragedy for mankind and whether we are acting in accordance with God’s mind.

– Does being a cardinal bring happiness?

– Cardinalate by itself does not bring happiness. You are happy when you serve. And it is good when a cardinal serves people. Then he is happy.

– Is Your Eminence happy?

– Yes, I am.

– What are your futures plans?

– And what kinds of plans can a man who is almost 80 years old have?! To pray and help others as long as I can.

"Niedziela" 9/2008

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