Fr. inf. Ireneusz Skubiś talks with dr. Wanda Półtawska about pastoral priorities of blessed John Paul II, his educational methods, the greatest life passions and signposts for the contemporary Church
FR. INF. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ: – I remember an episode of my cleric life: Fr. Prof. Stefan Barela, the later bishop of Częstochowa, sent me to bishop Karol Wojtyła with a typescript of an important book: - 'Love and responsibility'. The future pope showed the fundaments of the Christian anthropology in it. What were the circumstances of creating this work?
DR. WANDA POLTAWSKA: – In fact it was not even a book, only a monographic lecture given at the Catholic University of Lublin. Later it was published as a book entitled: 'Love and responsibility' I participated in creating it. Indeed cardinal Adam Sapieha sent young Fr. Karol Wojtyła in Cracow for two sections of work: for academic ministry and for pastoral ministry among doctors. We met with him as a group of Catholic doctors during the Holy Mass, after which there was always a discussion. Moreover, he was dealing with academic youth at the age of 18-20. Not only was he a priest in the strict sense, meeting with young people from time to time, but he was also their friend. He used to take them on trips at weekends, on holidays and he used to observe them.
He was terrified with how the youth lives. He was particularly concerned about the fact how the communists had imposed the act of abortion. As a young doctor, I was terrified to see a queue of girls in a gynecological clinic, who were waiting for having their babies killed. He was concerned about it and his whole activity was aimed at one thing: he wanted to save the holiness of love between a man and a woman, holiness of love and holiness of marriage. All his actions were aimed at it, both in theory and in practice, in pastoral actions. First he developed the issue of love and responsibility, and in the next philosophical analysis he was trying to answer the question who are the people who love and are supposed to love. In this way the daylight was seen by the 'Person and an act' – the analysis of the structure of the human being who, as the author said, is 'persona humana in fieri' – the human being in development.
Later the 'body theology' appeared, the typescript of the book entitled 'They were created a man and a woman' was created. The cardinal was elected a pope at that time.
His teaching from 50 years before is current at present. I use it all the time, refer the youth to what love is, who the human being must be and what sexuality is – the fact that one is a man or a woman. I have been dealing with it for 60 years.
– Today we are dealing with new revelations of the anthropological mistake...
– John Paul II was suffering from the degradation of the Polish family, not only in Poland but also in the whole world. We must remember that in our times there were not so many divorces, the family was protected by the state and by the Church. In our eyes there has been a collapse of the family, there is a growing number of divorces, the right for killing children appeared. The pope was grieving over it all the time, and for him the problem was how to save the family.
When cardinal Wojtyła became a pope, at once he organised the First Synod for Family at which I was an expert. Mother Theresa from Calcuta had a function of an auditor there but she was asked to speak. Everyone expected her to give a speech but she said only one sentence to bishops: 'Give us saint priests and all problems of people and the family will be solved'...
– What did the work of Karol Wojtyła look like?
– When cardinal Wojtyła became a pope, he was the first to organize the World's Youth's Days. When I analyze issues of particular meetings, I see his thought in them. He wanted to show people, every man, that he was present not only with his body, but also with his spirit. He used to say to young people: 'Remember, the human body is holy'.
His message addressed to the youth was very simple: You are children of one Father. He taught young people that they are loved by God. I have never heard him say: you had better do this or that. He rather used to say: let's see what God says about it. And every time he checked. And later it brought fruits, when he became a pope. His encyclicals are written according to the line that the man should recognize his identity of God's child.
– Can we notice the program for today's times in the teaching and pastoral practice of John Paul II?
– The program of the institute in Cracow which I had run for over 30 years (Family Theology Institute by the Papal Theology Academy), was very compatible with this line. Now we must warn bishops which the Holy Father was doing personally during his visit to the Catholic University of Lublin. He said very clearly: - Remember that not every science is real and not every truth is scientific.
Today there is also a problem of false science widespread in a very aggressive way. In my opinion the Church should definitely oppose to these trends and it is important to have clear priorities. For John Paul II they meant holiness about which he spoke all the time, in a way completely different than average people. Generally it is thought that a saint is extraordinary. Whereas he spoke that holiness should be a way for the Christian life. Simply: you must be saint because you must return to Heaven, you are created for Heaven. Holiness is simple, is very easy, because it is based only on obedience. This is the whole philosophy. However, how to behave to help the youth understand it?
Personally I think that at this moment the best part of the nation is the youth. He also thought so. He spoke to them: - You are my hope. But we should also remember what he said during the first audience for Poles: - Give me a possibility in Poland so that I would not have to be ashamed of you. I think that he was often ashamed of Poles.
– And now?
– Now he is safe....but there is a chance that people will wake up and will start realize – what he taught. Because all encyclicals are remedies for holiness which refer to the individual man and to the family.
– That is – is there educational essence in the teaching of John Paul II? I mean the teaching...
– ...of pure love. It was the central matter of his life, he devoted everything to it. The youth understands it but adults do not, because they have their own past, ruts of sins. But young people, although they are able to understand what beautiful love is, often say: - It is too difficult, it is an ideal. Whereas he said it last time in Toronto: - Do not get satisfied with mediocrity, but aim at the ideal. And if nobody demands it from you, you should demand it from yourselves. Love must be demanding.
Television shows a lot of horrors and crimes but very little holiness and beauty. If something is broadcast, it is at 2 am when nobody watches it. The whole policy is directed towards the promotion of crime and sin, and the aim would be to bring the world to this ideal about which he spoke: - The new Millennium is to mean conscious aiming at holiness. It concerns all people and races, the healthy and ill, believers and non-believers. Here it is all not only about Catholic knowledge but also about faith in the human being who has an ability to distinguish between good and evil.
– It is a summary of the great papal catechesis. Do you think that it is a road which blessed John Paul II shows us also on the occasion of the canonization?
– He shows all adults that they are supposed to take care of the youth. In order to save the youth, holiness of the youth. It is his main task – he devoted his whole life to it.
– ‘Niedziela’ publishes the bimonthly ‘My Rainbow magazine’. We started publishing it in 1993 in cooperation with French people. Later the French publishing house finished its functioning and we were left alone. We publish the ‘Rainbow’ for 20 years now. The idea of the magazine was to help parents and grandparents talk with little children about God. We must note that today also grandparents do not always want to talk with children about God…
– At present nobody in the family talks about God, the family rather talk about material things about what must be bought and how to find money for it. Today there is materialism and hedonism.
The Holy Father wrote a beautiful letter to elderly people, that they are guardians of values and that they should pass them to others. Unfortunately, today neither parents nor grandparents, nor teachers, nor priests do it. People are afraid of talking about God. Priests set up, for example, a social school. I ask: - Why not the Catholic one? But they say: - Better not. Why do the Muslims or Jews admit to their faith, but the Catholics are afraid to admit to their faith?
We often observe the chase after converting atheists. Leave atheists! Concentrate rather on baptised Catholics who have the marriage sacrament but they do not talk about God. We must concentrate on them. This was also the concept of the Holy Father: concentrate on young married couples, because they do not know how to realize the holiness of marriage.
Recently I have talked with a man who said that he was a believer but did not go to the church because he did not need it. In his opinion God does not need the Church because the Church is ‘these or those priests’. Man, what God do you believe in? What does it mean that you do not need the Church? Are you saint? When you die, without a priest you will not receive absolution and you will not go to Heaven. The Church is necessary for absolution of sins, not for anything else. Lay believers, engaged in the activity in the Church should build churches and priests should take care of confessionals.
‘Abundant harvest, few workers….’There is a lot to do. Glory to ‘Niedziela’ for what it does and thanks to God that there are also other Catholic magazines. But in reference to the number of atheistic magazines there is always very few people who speak about God. Because the purpose is to teach people to think and speak that God is not somewhere else but only here.