Milena Kindziuk talks with cardinal Józef Glemp

MILENA KINDZIUK: – Many months have passed since the operation of You, Primate. Your eminency passed a message about the condition of your health just after it. What is the situation now?

CARDINAL JÓZEF GLEMP: – Now I am having further medical treatment. We will see what will be next. As much as I can, I am trying to be active, I am invited to various celebrations, meetings. Recently I have visited hometown Rycerzewo near Inowrocław, where I sacrificed a cross and a board reminiscing victims of cholera epidemic, which passed through Kujawy in XIX century. I must also appear regularly in hospital. I meet many warm-hearted people who smile or greet: ‘God bless you’. I am in a cassock, hence they recognize me.

– This is a testimony for people. The Primate, cardinal among ordinary ill people.

– But also a lesson for me. Crowds of terribly ill people, in various stages of cancer, suffering. I used to be in hospital many times, also with pastoral ministry, but now the frequent contact allows me to look at the problem of ill people in a different way.

– Your Eminence does not make a secret out of his illness…

– There is nothing here to make a secret of. When 21 years ago I was ill and was in hospital in Warsaw Prague, I passed a message too. People took it well. Probably recently, when many wishes and assurances about prayer started to come to me- for which I thank to everybody once again – I decided to inform what the situation is. Beside that today the cancer is touching many people, hence I would like this message to be an expression of my suffering together with others. What I am experiencing at present, brings me closer to ill people but also it brings ill people to me.

– What was the first reaction of Priest Primate to the message about cancer?

– I was likely to expect an illness. At my age it is not a surprise. I have lived so long that the time of passing into eternity is closer. At least I can find out about the reason of my passing into another life.

– Isn’t there any rebellion? Grief?

– I understand that the time of passing away comes. There remains an issue how God is planning the end. It is completely normal to me that the existence in this world ends. I think that I have already done my task on the earth. I did what I could….

– However, many people do not cope with the acceptance of illness, suffering, instead they are revolting, cursing, break down…

– Surely, if somebody thinks that he has still got tasks to do on the earth and is strongly related with the world, can find it difficult to accept the perspective of passing away.

– Doesn’t Priest Primate feel related with the world?

– I am aware that I have no more tasks to fulfill. Neither do I have any obligations towards anybody. I wrote a testament, I have even upgraded it recently, giving back everything to the Church which I had received from the Church. I am ready to pass away. I can still do much good through a prayer or an example of life but in fact I have fulfilled my life. Hence the situation of my illness is emotionally calmer to me. I am also glad that I was provided with very good conditions of spending the time of my old age. I am calm. I trust that there is God’s light and it is stronger than the dark. It helps me feel safe.

– Can suffering have a positive value? It was written so by John Paul II in the apostolic letter ‘Salvifici doloris’.

– This beautiful text about the Christian sense of suffering. It is much easier to experience in relation with Jesus Christ who also suffered, but also showed that suffering can be a road to victory and glory. The cross was fulfilled with resurrection and it gives new light and power in suffering or difficulties.

– So suffering can be a grace for people, can’t it?

– It is grace in this sense that it is necessary to purify people. Only the skill of taking on an attitude towards this gift is important as well as taking on psychical abilities to accept their human situations.

– In order to accept suffering of, for example, children or adults bedridden ill?

– It does not have an easy explanation. Here, on the Earth, we will not find a rational answer to our all questions. We can only see a part of the world, we also look in the categories of cause and effect. Whereas God’s logics is different. He perceives the world as a whole, wants to lead its history in such a way so that he could lead more people to the eternal happiness. We can only reflect on the whole history of salvation and believe in God’s love, trusting that He loves us and our illnesses are for some purpose. It is a difficult truth but also sufferings will surely have their place and sense in the whole economy of salvation. Even if we do not know this answer today, we will learn it on the other side of our life. The part of the world, which by its nature is fragile, changeable and passing, are also catastrophes, accidents, illnesses but they can also be a road to Heaven…

– People find it difficult to accept not only suffering but also their old age. John Paul II in the letter to people at their old age wrote that they are carrying ‘the burden of their age’. It is really so?

– It seems to us that this normal state when we are strong, young, physically capable, healthy. When we lose this condition, we perceive our fate as a burden. This attitude does not help us get prepared to accept our old age. It must be changed, especially that medical progress contributes to prolonging the age of people, that we have a perspective of still a longer life. So, why to take a negative attitude towards the old age? It is worth returning to old cultures, when the old age was respected, and elderly people were respected. Today we are taking on an economic attitude, hence elderly people seem to be less needed. They do not bring any economic benefit, so they do not have any right of their existence. Therefore, euthanasia is appearing more and more bravely. It is a sign of de-humanization of the world, which in the name of falsely understood progress and aiming at benefits, is stubbornly aiming at the acceptance of abortion and legalization of single-sex couples. One can notice mixed values, completely irrational and deprived of logics. These tendencies can make us fear in the future. But I believe that people will realize the evil and will remember their value and dignity of God’s creation.

– Pope also wrote that the old age is wisdom. He used the words: ‘venerable old age’.

– The elderly age means a collection of life experiences. It is also an occasion for the youngest to observe life spent on work, an encouragement for sacrificial care about people in elderly age. An elderly man can also be vital by spirit, can serve with various help and be a guard of collective memory.

– Where is Your Eminence’s such a calm acceptance of the old age from, similar to the statement in ‘Life of an honest man’?

– Young age, maturity and old age are natural phases of human life. Like every age had its rights, then old age is a period which simply accompanies our life. Whereas if somebody lives till his old age, it is a great grace from God. And if the man still has efficient mind, it is great satisfaction. Then he can look at past periods and notice the development in many spheres and admire the progress. And he can be glad with it. It is positive in old age.

– However many people do not accept old age. How to get to like one’s old age, about which the Pope writes, that it is ‘the last phase of human phase of becoming mature’.

– I cannot really imagine not to accept old age. I think that life, also the one in the elderly age is thought by God and given to us as the best of all. And old age is a moment in which we find it easier to pass into life in eternity. Then a different perspective opens. We enter a ‘land’ where we will speak a different language, where space, time will have a different meaning, where there will not be a clock….

– …also this clock in the room in which we are sitting, with the inscription: ‘Time is escaping, eternity is waiting…’

– Eternity, that is, the completely new one, a great intensity of life, with the whole supernatural richness of this life.

– And how does Priest Primate imagine this another world? Will family home from Rycerzewo be there, bread which mother used to bake, the church in Inowrocław…?

– It is a completely different world from this world. It will surely be an intensive, condensed life in which boredom does not exist. Sometimes we think about Heaven as a great, long, endless liturgy for glory to God. It is a way of imagining Heaven on the model of Earth. Whereas we cannot even realize what joy we will have there. After all, the Holy Scripture says ‘neither eye saw nor ear heard what Lord has prepared for those who love Him’.

– Does a literary vision of this different world come to your mind? For example, the vision of the ‘Divine Comedy’ by Dante? Or maybe an artistic painting?

– It is interesting that so many artistic paintings connected with the cross, for example, a scene of crucifixion, taking down Jesus’ body from the cross or depositing Jesus’ body into w grave, whereas art isn’t trying to show resurrection so much. There are visions of the Final Judgment, where the worlds of good and evil meet, in fact they are separated there. In the literature of Dante where he describes passing through the Purgatory, Hell and Paradise, where the poet finds people known from the pagan times. However, these are pictures searching for the analogy between eternal life and the Earth’s life. Existence in eternity is different from existence in time dimension. Years or hours do not matter. It is a completely different dimension of Divine life which we cannot fully imagine or describe.

– Who would Priest Primate like to meet on the other side?

– My relatives. Mother, father and many other people known from history or literature. It will not be something extraordinary to meet with primate Poniatowski or Trąba, Wyszyński or….Kasprowicz! Because I believe that I will also meet him in heaven! (Józef Glemp attended the Secondary School under the name of Jan Kasprowicz in Inowrocław and till now he has been in contact with this school). I believe that in the whole truth we will meet together there. And God will judge our responsibility. Then we will get to know God what he is. We will also get to understand ourselves and find ourselves in God.

– Would Priest Primate like to say something to them?

– I think that they could tell me more…

– Is Priest Cardinal afraid of death?

– Death will come anyway, so, speaking rationally, fear is not necessary. However, it is not so that I am not completely afraid. Maybe not afraid of the very death, but the way in which I will pass away. I would like to pass into eternity with dignity, whereas circumstances can be completely different.

– So are we afraid of suffering more than the very death?

– Suffering or the lack of our preparation at the moment of passing away. After all, people die in various circumstances, in various states of consciousness and on various levels of suffering. Hence we pray to God for good death with dignity.

– So, how can we get prepared for the final passing away to Lord?

– There is one answer: be always with Christ with whom we have been related since the moment of baptism. It is important to remember about it throughout the whole life. After all, some people die suddenly, in accidents. Hence, the call of the Gospel is so important: ‘Be watchful as you do not know a day nor time’. We cannot say: ‘We have still time, so maybe I will have a holiday away from God for a month and later I will return to Him’. This ‘later’ may not come again. Therefore being watchful is such a strong call of the Gospel. Moreover, it is important to believe that at the moment of death life does not end but only changes.

– And what would Priest Primate say to people who believe that death is the end of life and there is nothing beside it. Where can they find hope?

– Those who do not believe, feel a tragic lack. The lack of faith which gives a chance for a new life. However, let’s notice that an unbeliever – paradoxically – must also believe: in non-existence, in the lack of God. He cannot be sure that God does not exist. Because there are no evidence for that either. I believe that God does not refuse a grace to those who ask Him for it. And here we should find hope.

– Priest Primate, what is the most important in life?

– For a believer it is important to fulfill the will which God has towards him. Not his own will, not his own plan for life but the will and plan of God. whereas an unbeliever finds it essential to look for earthly ideals, professional achievements, education, gaining knowledge, discoveries and scientific experiments. It is a lot because it is a positive acceptance of the reality which leads to changes of the world into the better one. The worst thing is when there is emptiness in man and he cannot or is not trying to find a treasure which sometimes lies nearby. Gaining knowledge is very important not only for the fact that this life has a kind of sense, but also because reliable knowledge leads to faith by rule. It helps the man realize what is imperfect, shows the fragility of existence and transience of this world. Hence the Church has had one answer to the question for two thousand years: ‘how to live?’ and this answer is Jesus Christ.

– Does Eminence often return to the past in his memories?

– Yes, I tend to. I refer to memories; to the times of my youth spent in Kujawy, to experiences from the times of war, the period of puberty. It is still astonishing to me that a boy like me, born in a small, poor village near Inowrocław, received priestly ordination and later entered the group of cardinals and got into the Basilica of St. Peter, also entering the whole world’s heritage of culture and art, that he has travelled to so many countries and met such prominent people. It astonishes me. It is a rich material for my reflections and great gratitude to God.

– Priest Primate observes current events in Poland, sees them in a perspective of history. How does he evaluate this political life?

– There are still too many emotions in it, and too little rational thinking and acting. It is still a state of maturation. Sometimes in the dark, but we are looking for good. It is not so that we live in the worst periods of all. Today any divisions are dangerous which lead to nothingness. Building elements are: unity, work, love to Homeland.

– How does Eminence perceive the situation of the Church? Is it the same Church which Your Eminence had lead for so many years, or is it completely different?

– The Church is the same, only circumstances have changed in which it must function. Therefore the Church must be faithful to Christ. This is a basic criterion. There are various forms of pastoral action in today’s world, but there is only one Church, which believes, and which is seen in parishes, where we can see people who pray and are fervently engaged. People maintain deep faith which cannot be proven by many statistics.

– Despite your illness, Priest participates in many celebrations.

– I am also trying as much as possible to participate in various celebrations. But my attempts are various. Therefore I ask for a prayer so that I could fulfill God’s will also in my experience of illness.

Unauthorized interview


"Niedziela" 5/2013

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