Fr. Ireneusz Skubiś talks with Fr. Jan Góra OP about incredible meetings with John Paul II, a funny story about casting the papal hand and about fascination with the Saint

FR. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ: – I am holding a beautiful gift in hands – a book, containing letters from the Holy Father to Fr. Jan Góra, published by Academic Pastoral Ministry of the Dominicans in Poznań….

FR. JAN GÓRA OP: – First of all, I am happy that I can speak about the man whom I love, whom I owe the beauty of my life, the beauty of my priesthood, enthusiasm of faith. And letters? I insisted on publishing them because it does not happen every day that an emperor or a king would write them to a soldier. Therefore, I thought that the letters must be saved. It is an evidence of how the Holy Father participated in the life of an ordinary priest, how he blessed all the steps, how he was worried and how he talked. It is excellent and emotionally moving. Having a hundred and several dozen letters from the Holy Father, I thought that it could not be wasted but it had to be perpetuated. It is not a book for salebut I give it to special people who are sensitive and can appreciate that the Holy Father had such a humble attitude.

– We also have a statue of John Paul II and his hand…

– I did a cast of the hand of the Holy Father personally. The confirmation of this fact was signed by cardinal Dziwisz. The youth said that in America artists, prominent people do casts of their hands, feet, etc. My dream was to do the same for the Holy Father, but I did not know how. I asked the police in Poznań how to do fingerprints professionally, I asked dentists, prosthetists who do casts of teeth. Finally one of professors got 15 litres of two-part silicone with curing agent. I was to prepare troughs and ask the Holy Father to put hands and feet in it. I prepared everything and asked the Pope during dinner: ‘Holy Father, I am asking Holy Father for a permission for doing a cast of Your hand’ – I humbly suggested one hand. He looked at me and said: “Are you crazy? What do you need it for?’. ‘I would like to have this hand cast in a golden bronze, because this hand blessed me and I kissed it’. The pope tapped his head. I say to cardinal Dziwisz: ‘Priest, Stanisław, he is a great man and you do not have a cast of his hand. The hand blessed the world. There are going to be negligence’. I ate dinner, dessert, and wiped my face’. After a while, the phone rang: ‘Come in the evening’. Everything was prepared. The Holy Father finished his supper. I kissed his hand, took off the ring and mixed silicone. I did not have any skill, I asked the Holy Father to put his hand into the trough and poured the mixture onto it. The Holy Father is sitting and says: ‘Staś, why do we inflict with this pal? Will I sit so till my death?’. After 7 minutes we took out the hand of the Holy Father, ‘Staś, do the cast of another hand and feet’. Unfortunately, there rest of it was not done into cast but I am glad that we did a cast of the right hand.
It took a year to do a cast in Vatican, it failed, I did not know how to do it professionally, I did not know that it was necessary to pour more mixture. And the professor of dental prosthetics put the hand into glycerine, and modelled everything beautifully and today we have the hand of the Holy Father – and I have a confirmation that this event took place. One of priests says to me that he also would like to do a cast the hand of the Pope in any kind of material. I asked him: what do you mean by ‘any kind of material’?
I have three copies of the papal hand: one is in the house of John Paul II on Pola Lednickie, one is in Jamna and another one is on my desk – this is my antenna to Heaven. Every day I say: ‘Lead me!’. And this is incredible.

– Indeed, this is a real hand of the Holy Father. I remember this hand…

– I have kissed it many times….

– The Holy Father was blessing for his whole life – it is an excellent idea for priesthood and Christ blessing everything.

– I am grateful to the Holy Father for everything. He let me be so close to him and I felt so obliged that I could not disappoint him. I remember a meeting with priests, the jubilee in the 80s of the last century. The Basilica was full of priests and the Pope says one sentence: ‘The world needs priests, because the world needs Christ!’ – he raised his voice by an octave. Priests started hopping, being happy, crying, squeezing one another’s hands. Something excellent!
The pope let me participate in many excellent moments and I got filled so much at that time, that today I am radiating. I cannot live without him. Young Dominicans laugh at me a bit: ‘What can you see in this elderly man?’ And I say to them: ‘I have known him as a young and elderly priest, he emanated with holiness throughout his life’. I can see it and I am absolutely sensitive to his holiness. He fed me with it. I asked him how to live, what to do. ‘Live in such a way, so that people would ask you about God’ – he taught. I think with his thoughts, I speak with his words, I follow him all the time.
I have participated in all the meetings of John Paul II with the youth in Poland. I was at Jasna Góra in 1991, where there was a spirit madness. And ‘Abba Father!’ I wrote the words of this hymn, not suspecting that they would raise souls so much. Then the Pope said the words of the Confirmation to us: ‘Take the spirit!’. It was the Confirmation of the youth in the world. Later there appeared Jamna, Lednica. I loved the Pope and I still love him. I think that his victory is the fact that he lived in me, lives in us; I still live with him, the generation of John Paul II is not literary or journalistic fiction, these are only people, to which the lack of fear is a key (‘Do not be afraid!’) and who took Christ into four dimensions, which He had pointed: into politics, economy, civilization and culture. These are people of John Paul II.

– Can Father discuss more thoroughly these four issues – they are important for today’s man.

– The Pope removed fear, won the way of thinking that faith is a private thing. I remember an excellent speech of Benedict XVI on the occasion of beatification of John Paul II, who compared the Polish Pope to a giant, who used the power of faith in order to reverse an irreversible process of atheization. The spaces about which the Holy Father John Paul II says – politics, economy, civilization and culture – are human spaces. And Christ should be there because it belongs to the full of humanity. I liked it and I would like this upbringing of an integral human being take place in the program of Lednica.

– - How was the presence of Christ implemented, for example, in politics? Politics was still the Soviet Union on the one hand, and on the other hand – it was America and the cold war. And in this background pope John Paul II…

– The Holy Father did not undertake a game on suggested spaces. He suggested a completely different space – mainly the man is the road of the Church. He had experience of a man of two regimes – the Nazis one and communist one, humiliation which was painful to him. He had a completely different view at history. He knew that it was in God’s hand, that seconds were very significant,and centuries were not, that we are getting closer to God not with a watch on the hand, but only through grace, and we are getting further from Him through a sin. He introduced completely different categories which caused that politics ‘not for the Church’, civilization ‘not for the Church’, economy ‘not for the Church’ stop being significant. He did not participate in a communist or any other discussion, but he started with the human dignity. The human dignity was a key of his teaching; personal relations, not substantive relations. Another key word, besides dignity, is the gift – ‘the man cannot find the full sense of his life in anything else but the unselfish gift from himself’. And I was impressed by these things, therefore I did not have to join discussions with the old-fashioned, trivial analysis of politics, economy, civilization and culture. The Pope used to ask: ‘What is culture?’. And he answered: ‘Culture expresses humanity’. Gniezno, the first pilgrimage: What measure should be used to evaluate the man? – ‘The man should be evaluated with the measure of his heart’ – he emphasized it also in his speeches addressed to students at the church of St.Anna; Appeal Prayer: ‘You must demand from yourselves, even if nobody would demand anything from you’; Westerplatte: ‘Everyone has his own Westerplatte’; at the Curia in Cracow he said: ‘You must be stronger than the conditions in which you must live’. Bad conditions are everywhere. We must be stronger with the power of faith than with the conditions in which we must live. I know all these speeches nearly by heart. These are golden words. In Lednica he left his eight speeches which became steps of human development, a program of integrated personality development. As cardinal Nagy said: ‘You have golden words, the greatest relics, you have relics of his mind and heart’.

– Could the words addressed to participants of Lednica become a program for formation of the Polish youth?

– They have already become. These words of John Paul II became a genial program of personality development. They show a new chance. When Benedict XVI said that the language of faith finished, that it is somehow burnt out, then speeches of the Holy Father John Paul II show new spaces in which we can meet and find Jesus. Our Pope says that, firstly, the interpersonal relation is the basis, that the human being is its essence, hence there is a need for a personal relation with Christ, relation among us, people and relation with oneself. Another point is responsibility. The man must be responsible – for himself, for another person, for God. Finally, the community – the third speech of the Holy Father; the fourth – Christ, God’s word, participation, social maturity, that is, fulfillment in God…
These speeches are arranged in such a way that the first one is like asking questions to the seminary, and the last one is like an exam: do you love Me, do you love Me more. The last speech of the Holy Father was completely like an exam. It is a great treasure.

– Today, in the public media we are dealing with the anthropological mistake, which distorts completely the idea of the human being, also in the creative act of God. How did John Paul II see this idea?

– On Pola Lednickie, every Saturday we gather together in order to study John Paul II. This is an integral vision of personality. Speeches in Lednica show the beauty and the full of personality engaged, emotionally and intellectually developed. We are going to go in this direction, having blessing and continuation both of Benedict XVI and pope Francis. Once I said to the Holy Father Benedict XVI: ‘Can I ask Pope for a word for the youth in Lednica’. And he answered: ‘But we know each other: ‘Courage! Go back with it!’. The Holy Father Francis did an unusual thing for us. When our beloved John Paul II and Benedict XVI used to speak Polish to us, Francis speaks Italian to us. Then people in the world started being interested in Lednica. What is Lednica? Why did the Pope devote so much time to it? They started calling me. Fantastic! I have already got a pillow of the Holy Father Francis from the airplane, when he was flying to Rio, I have 10 litres of oil sanctified for the nearest meeting – we enjoy his great favours.
– But returning to John Paul II, it is worth saying that he was a beautiful man. When he prayed he looked as if he was fused with kneelers. I am afraid if we will manage to show that he was simply beautiful. And in his elderly age and in his wonderful voice; a beautiful face, movements, his being engrossed in prayer. The Holy Father looked into people’s eyes, and it seemed that the world did not exist.
He blessed my guitar for the youth, but I robbed him of everything, what I could – I took off his shoes, I took his cap. I say: ‘Can I ask Holy Father for this cap, please?’. Naturally, I know that it is a skullcap. And he says: ‘After my death’. ‘After death of the Holy Father they will forget me and I will not go onto stairs at all…’He took it off and gave to me. I asked him to give me something which was very dear to him. He took off and gave me the scapular. I have his handkerchief and towel. Somebody will say, that I am a fetishist….No, all this radiated with his goodness. He was readable.
Therefore, I insisted so much on taking these letters and publishing them; especially that these are facsimiles. When the Holy Father died, I felt embarrassed that I would keep this all for myself. In Lednica we prepared a room for John Paul II. Cardinal Dziwisz was impatient from time to time, because I always wanted something. Once I say: ‘Stanisław, give me something, please’. And he said: ‘Take this parquet, this window and go away!’ It was parquet from a bedroom and the window from Franciszkańska street 3, through which he was looking not as the pope yet, but already as a saint, and he was lying the cross there…..I say: ‘In half an hour there will be a car’. I ordered a van, took clerics, packed the 130-year-old parquet on which Wojtyła had walked, as well as Sapieha, Puzyna – the great cardinals. During half an hour I took away things and we prepared a room for John Paul II with the parquet, one part and I thought: ‘How ridiculous these Cracovians are, but I would not give it. They have everything papal there’. Later Stanisław said: ‘We regret having given it to you’. In this way I made this altar, and, remembering cardinal Ratzinger saying that our beloved Pope is standing in the window of Father’s home, is looking at us and is blessing us, I made a window, behind the window – the Pope and I made a chapel of John Paul II in Lednica. Another time I am in Cracow again ( maybe they will make me report on it) and I say to the cardinal: ‘Stanisław, I would also take the papal kneeler’. ‘All right, take one, because we have got three of them’. We are taking it but Fr. Dariusz Raś comes and asks: ‘What is it?’. I say: ‘With the permission of Cardinal’ Cardinal may have a soft spot for Father because he did not know what he was doing, go back, please’. ‘Boys, to the car, at once!’ – I decided. Later I still had letters to go back the kneeler of the Saint with places impressed by His knees. I said that I would not give it back, that it was bolted to the floor…


"Niedziela" 15/2014

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