Thirty years after the Polish ‘Habemus Papam’

Cardinal Stanislaw Nagy, SCJ

The 30th anniversary of the election of our fellow countryman Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who chose the name of John Paul II, falls on 16 October 2008. For the world of those days, it was sensational news; for Christianity is was a surprise; for the Catholic Church it was astonishing and for the Catholic Church in Poland and for almost the whole nation it was an epoch-making event. Factually, nobody, or very few people, expected that it would be possible… But it did happen: a man from ‘a distant country’, from the poor oppressed Poland, was elected as the next Successor of St Peter and became the Head of the powerful Catholic Church.

One must reflect on that day

The day that began the long, almost 27 year-old, pontificate was great and memorable. Through its greatness the pontificate was to complete the fascinating contents of that day thirty years ago. And that’s why this day, which was a time threshold of the pontificate of John Paul II, cannot be an ordinary day, which will pass without any notice. The day demands people to stop and reflect on the richness of its contents in a deep, holy meditation, with sincere and fervent thanksgiving to God but also with a painfully direct question: what are the consequences of this day, which is on our way, what are the results of its continuation, which was the pontificate of John Paul II, including its heroic and dramatic end?
Imbued with the richness of the personality of the Polish Pope and his papal activities, we, faithful members of the Church and of the whole nation, we, who in a way proceeded from his blessed hands, make a fervent appeal to you, priests and faithful of the Church in Poland, and to you, fellow countrymen so that we all yield to the holy reflection, filled with great thanksgiving to Good God that ‘he did such great things for the world’; we appeal to the universal Church and the Polish nation through the gift of John Paul II – the Greatest from the Polish nation.

Did you hear the voice of John Paul II?

The first link of this jubilee thought should be our reflection on the unique personality of the Servant of God John Paul II. Outstanding and genial intellect, powerful will and pertinacious consistency, spontaneous openness to goodness and beauty, inexhaustible energy expressed in action, a giant of rational work – these are the main obvious attributes of his great spirit. And it was only a threshold of this unfathomed richness of his inner being, richness which he revealed himself in his famous shouting to the entire world, ‘Do not be afraid, open wide the doors for Christ!’ And this zealous shout of that day of the inauguration, 22 October 1978, in St Peter’s Square spread all over the whole world and echoed in souls of all mankind. This echo has been heard over the world, especially in the Christian world, until today. And here is a question directed to us all, to Polish Catholics, ‘Is this echo heard in our souls and is it visible in our lives?’ Since in his life the reference to Christ was expressed in an extremely unique and noticeable way. In particular, it was his immerse in prayer, first of all in silent adoration before the Blessed Sacrament.

With Christ and Mary

The important theme related to this openness to Christ in the harmony of the spiritual life of the Servant of God John Paul II was the theme of his spiritual unity with the Blessed Mother. It was expressed by the known motto of his life contained in the words ‘Totus Tuus’. Their sense was expressed in his childlike dedication to the Mother of God’s Son and his limitless confidence in her protection. A shocking testimony of this confidence in the beloved Mother had been the words whispered to her before he lost consciousness after the assassination attempt. He referred to those words when he knelt in front of her statue in Fatima several months later during his pilgrimage of thanksgiving for deliverance, connected with his conviction in her intervention. Additionally, the solemn acts of his dedication ended with referring to her name. The experience of the Church in her divine origin, the depth of her supernatural essence and human dimension of responsibility for his life and activities constituted another solemn layer of the spiritual profile of the Servant of God John Paul II. Without any exaggeration one can say that he experienced the Church as the extension of Christ, the Church that was established by Christ, filled and imbued with the mystery of the Holy Trinity, being the incomprehensible treasury of man’s salvation. All these things are a dimension that is explicitly divine and that is also completed by a human element, i.e. a part of responsibility of people for her fate and earthy functioning. Both were laden with a bright streak of light on the spiritual shape of the awareness of the Servant of God.

Sacred adventure with the Church

The first phase of this spiritual adventure with the Church was connected with assuming pastoral responsibility for the Church of Krakow, the Church of the beginnings of the Nation and the State, symbolised by the royal cathedral at the Wawel Hill. It was the Church sanctified by the martyr’s blood of St Stanislaus, patron of Poles’ unity, heroic defendant of justice and evangelical law of love. And it was all connected with the history of the Polish Nation, embodied in the necropolis of the royal graves in the Wawel cathedral. He saw that when he entered the threshold of this Church. One must mention the words from his book ‘Rise, let us Be On Our Way’, ‘Wawel is dear to me and its every stone speaks about Poland, about Polish greatness’. But his sacred adventure with the Church reached its peak when he felt the keys of Peter’s responsibility for the whole God’s people of the New Covenant. The horizon of his sight did not only deepen – thanks to the experiences as a Council Father – but also dramatically enlarged to embrace the dimension of the whole world, all mankind. First of all, he noticed the depth of the mystery of the Church, which the Council showed him, with the mystery of communion that realised in him and through him. It is evident in his prophetic teaching about the Church, which he proclaimed for over four years during the Wednesday audiences. Like in a mirror one can see that the Pope was enchanted by the depth and mystery of the richness of the Church. And it was the universal Church with her realm of geographical and ethnic universality that bewitched the Pope, a philosopher and a bishop of the local ecclesiastical community. His view of the Church, enriched by the Council, made an indelible mark on his pontificate and the functioning of papacy. It concerned the profile of St Peter’s Successor. Therefore, the Pope, according to John Paul II’s understanding, fulfilling the role of the main subject, the highest superior and teacher in the Church, staying in his Apostolic See, is at the same time responsible for ‘strengthening in faith’ the members of the Church where they live, i.e. at the crossroads of the whole globe.

Shepherd’s wandering

It was this task of the Head of the Church that John Paul II fulfilled in an unparallel way. His shepherd’s wandering led him to every corner of the earth; let him meet an unbelievably big part of the human family, especially the part that constitutes the sheep of the Church. In his over 100 pilgrimages, with a burning torch of the evangelical truth, he travelled over the world with the zeal of a loving father and messenger of the Good News about Christ, ‘the only Saviour of man.’ He immersed in the sea of human family, visiting over one hundred nations of Europe, Asia, Americas, Australia and Oceania. He embraced the despaired Indians in Mexico, walked in the poverty districts in Brazil, visited the leprosy villages in Africa, entered into relationships with the people of science, faced politicians and regimes that destroyed citizens, indefatigably proclaiming the message of love, justice and peace. And in this painful march he reached, naturally, his beloved and martyred Homeland; he embraced the Polish Nation with his father’s hands, the nation that heroically fought for their existence. He came to us eight times to encourage, defend against affliction, speaking up for justice and room for God who had been connected with his Nation from its very beginning. Apart from the beaten track of Warsaw, Czestochowa, Krakow he, as we know, inspected all corners of his beloved country, from the Tatras to the Baltic Sea, from the Bug River to the Oder River, carrying the precious treasure of the national message, containing his penetrating look at ‘yesterday, today and tomorrow’ of the national existence of the Polish people. These returns of the Greatest of all Poles were always our great celebrations, inscribed in the depth of our hearts and thoughts. But what is the fate of this great last will for the beloved Nation, enclosed in these hundreds of speeches that outlined the programme of moral renewal of the Nation, the holy code of rebuilding Poland in the Catholic perspective? How did it originate, where did it come from, where were its roots? The answer is simple: in the holy, fervent prayer – consultations with the Lord of history, hidden in the silence of the tabernacle, and also with the beloved Mother of the Polish Nation Our Lady of Jasna Gora. These are the ultimate seals of this royal ‘magna charta’ directed by the Polish Pope to the Polish people under the sign of the Cross and the Gospel.

Do we fulfil the father’s will?

And what have we done with this treasure of poorest gold, love, father’s wisdom and concern – we all: bishops and priests, religious and laymen, having big and small faith, and those who doubt but are sincere Poles? How much have we got acquainted with the blessed contents of this father’s will? His words might have been listened to but to a considerable extent they have been forgotten and lie dormant on shelves full of books. And what is most important: Have they been taken in the tissue of the national existence – in mutual relationships, witnessing to the world about Poland and Poles? To what extent? It is not the time to give detailed answers to these questions. However, today on the 30th anniversary of the inauguration of the pontificate of the Servant of God John Paul II, there is one urgent need: a thorough examination of conscience of what has happened with this precious gift of God, which was his father’s travelling over his beloved Homeland, in our lives. The paths of this father’s wandering have been covered by the grass of human oblivion but the father’s precious gift, the programme of fixing and restoring the national existence, cannot be covered by the mould of ignorance and negligence. And there is one more gem of inestimable value on this priceless treasure of national inheritance that must become embedded in the depths of our awareness and memory. This is the service to the Divine Mercy. It came from this land. It was nursed by his hands, from the Polish Lagiewniki it was proclaimed to the whole world in the basilica – the Divine Mercy Shrine, which he dedicated during his last visit to his Homeland. Thus it is our ‘Polish matter’, the matter of the Catholic Church in Poland, ‘a great matter.’ And consequently, the Polish Catholicism should be its zealous witness and authentic preacher, promoter and herald. Is it and in what way? That is the question. However, it is time to end this jubilee singing, the Polish songs about the Pole who stormed his way into the pantheon of the history of the world, the history of the universal Church, the Polish Church and the Polish Nation. How much more can we say about the person of this Giant, his genial thought, fervent faith and burning love. The time to do that will come. And today we should do one thing: we should cordially thank Good God for the precious gift for the Church – for the Servant of God John Paul II and we should make a sincere promise that we will follow the ways he showed us in our lives.

"Niedziela" 41/2008

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