Holy Father, be still close to us!

Monsignor Ireneusz Skubis talks to Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, Archbishop Coadjutor of Lviv.

Msgr Ireneusz Skubis: - Your Excellence, you were named the Latin-rite Archbishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of Lviv. This is a great event for all of us, especially that we got to know you when you had served great John Paul II and the present Pope Benedict XVI. You are one of the most important witnesses to the pontificate of John Paul II, and now you are one of the closest Polish witnesses to the pontificate of Benedict XVI. So I am talking to the witness of two pontificates. What are you feeling now, remembering that you were with John Paul II not so long ago?

Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki: - I think that I feel some kind of inner peace, with which the Holy Father strengthened us. My nomination to Lviv is first of all a very important event in my life. Speaking from the human perspective I could feel lack of peace. However, I am convinced that all matters are in God's hands and that confidence, which I experienced for over ten years serving John Paul II and serving the present Holy Father for over two years, is actually the source of peace. My reflection is that the experience of the presence of both popes was a great grace for me, undeserved grace, and I am thankful to God for that and I would like to express it in my faithful service, trying to testify to this trust, the examples of which are John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

- Now we are preparing for the canonisation and beautification of the Servant of God John Paul II. How did you experience his sanctity?

- We read in the Holy Scriptures that people wanted to touch the robe of Jesus, and early Christians in Jerusalem hoped that at least St Peter's shadow might fall on them. Similarly, each of us, not only an ordinary pilgrim who came to Rome, wanted at least to touch or see the Holy Father John Paul II, to experience his physical presence. For me, every day was an occasion to be filled with inner joy, peace. He transformed all of us, including me. He changed others by his attitude, prayer, behaviour, words, and every gesture. He radiated joy, peace, and charisma. Each person was changed after having met the Holy Father, was filled with inner grace that flowed from Lord God through the Holy Father. He simply changed people. All people felt better and ready to do good in his presence. This is perhaps the best witness to his sanctity.

- The Pope is said to have been a spiritual strongman. This term is very accurate. Almost every day the Holy Father received difficult matters concerning the whole world, painful thorns, apart from good news, human cordiality, various gifts, flowers. You witnessed that. How did the Holy Father endure those blows to the Church, to the most important values, and also - what really happened - blows to him?

- From the human perspective he experienced that very much, but on the other hand, he was a man of deep faith, great love and unlimited confidence in Lord God. He entrusted all those difficulties to God at prayer. He completely dedicated himself and all matters to the Divine Providence. He always trusted God, being convinced that he would solve things in the best possible way. He dedicated all difficulties, and actually all things, to God. Being the Vicar of Christ he must have painfully felt the attempts to marginalize the Church and Christian morality since he knew that Jesus' proposal of evangelical life was the best life for man. One was struck by his extraordinary confidence that the truth would come to the surface - the truth would not only defend itself but also would win because otherwise man would reach the absurd, would negate himself. That endurance in the truth, and in life according to it, the confidence that his task was to give witness like Jesus did, let him find the proper perspective: only the truth counts, nothing else.

- You experienced the universality of the Church throughout those times. You looked at the Holy Father as the universal Shepherd. How do you carry this big, beautiful and wonderful experience of the universality of the Church, which you will now take to Lviv as your great personal experience?

- As a priest of the Diocese of Lviv, but still living in Poland, I did not have wide contacts with the universal Church, focusing more on my ministry in the diocese. Studying in Rome, and then serving the Holy Father, I experienced, tangibly, that the Catholic Church was one big family, that we were all brothers. Priests coming from other countries were very close to us. And one could feel that closeness; there were no language barriers, no races and nations. Faith is enormous power that unites through love, and this experience always constitutes a source of extraordinary enthusiasm: there are other people, numerous people, who think, feel and desire what we do. The awareness that we all have the same aim - God to whom all things go - is a source of our feeling that our ministry is universal, that each of us contributes to the one big breath of the universal Church.

- The funeral of the Holy Father showed how much priests of all races and nations loved John Paul II.

- Yes, it did. This was unique, not only for the Church but also for the whole world - great testimony to the strength and sanctity of John Paul II who during his pontificate could unite nations and bring crowds of people to Lord God.

- When you became secretary of Benedict XVI we all were happy in Poland since we saw this pontificate as a continuation of the big work of evangelisation of John Paul II. It even seemed that Poles welcomed the new pope more cordially than Germans. Then it was important to us that Polish priests who were close to us remained in the Vatican. What would you like to tell Benedict XVI now?

- Benedict XVI is also a good and beloved Holy Father. He is a humble man and at the same time he is tough, in his own way. In a different way, but actually like John Paul II. His dislike to show off is connected with certain self-restraint in his gestures but he is a man of deep heart and I can see that he has loved Poles very much. I also think that he feels some sentiment towards Polish people not only because of the Holy Father John Paul II but generally speaking, our nation is close to his heart and he would like to do his best for Poles. He expresses that when he delivers speeches in Polish and when he tries to speak Polish as much as possible and greets Poles in their native language. One can see that he is concerned with Polish matters, which are close to his heart. What could I say! Thank you for your goodness that I experienced from the first moment, for the confidence he had in me, for his cheerfulness...

- Does Benedict XVI put hope in the Polish nation, in its faith and in the Polish Church?

- The Holy Father knows the history of the Polish Church well, he knows the history of our nation and he knows that we have always defended our independence and human dignity in the universal dimension with the conviction that the dignity reaches its most perfect expression in faith, in the Gospel. He knows the great shepherds of our Church and nation. He knew Cardinal Wyszynski, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. He also trusts that Poland will give great testimony to Christian faith and do its best to preserve the values of faith in the European Union. Many people in Western Europe expect that of us.

- Certainly the fact that the Pope is an outstanding theologian and intellectualist, the author of many theological works, is important. You experienced the spiritual and intellectual influence of Benedict XVI...

- When the Holy Father was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he had great authority, he was known for his clear and deep statements. He loves theology and he still spends much time writing books, reading, preparing homilies. I think that nowadays he has even bigger possibilities to pass his knowledge and spirituality to the world.

- What would you like to tell this Pope who made Fr Mieczyslaw - as we still say - first his secretary and then Coadjutor Archbishop in the Diocese of Lviv?

- I am very thankful to the Holy Father for this big gesture of confidence, for the distinction, which is not only mine but it is a great gift and expression of confidence for the Holy Father John Paul II, the Church in Poland and the Church in Ukraine.

- Recently I have talked to Cardinal Marian Jaworski in Lviv. He was radiant in joy because of your nomination as coadjutor archbishop ...

- I am happy about it and in some sense I do not wonder it since Cardinal Jaworski treats me as son and I treat him as father. He ordained me, earlier (for four years) I was a seminarian in the Major Seminary of the Diocese of Lviv, located in Lublin, he made me deacon, too. I was also his chaplain. It was Cardinal Jaworski that sent me to study in Rome. Then he wanted me to prepare the beautification of the Servant of God Jozef Bilczewski but the Holy Father John Paul II asked me to be his secretary. Cardinal Jaworski followed my life and career. For my part I have always tried to meet his expectations. My relationships with Cardinal Jaworski have always been very close and sincere. Therefore, I am happy that I can help him in his ministry in the Diocese of Lviv.

- What did you study in Rome?

- Cardinal Jaworski directed me to Angelicum. I completed theology of spirituality at this pontifical university. I defended my licentiate and then doctoral dissertations, my task being to return to the Major Seminary of the Diocese of Lviv, now in Lviv, and serve as spiritual father. The title of my doctoral dissertation was 'The Present Priestly Formation in the Diocese of Lviv in the Light of the Post-conciliar Documents.'

- What would you like to say to the Servant of God the Holy Father John Paul II?

- Lord God sent me to the archdiocese, which was close and dear to the Holy Father John Paul II - to the Archdiocese of Lviv, with which Fr Karol Wojtyla was connected through Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak. Since he was ordained bishop by him, and he had the occasion to serve with him in the Church. Facing this new task I feel free to say something to our beloved Holy Father John Paul II because he was very friendly, very close to people and he did not create any barriers in personal contacts. I can say these things as if he were present here. I can see him as a very cheerful, joyful man, and I would like to thank him for all the moments I could spend with him. I would like to thank for giving me the great grace to be close to him - the Vicar of Christ and Peter of our times. I would like to thank him for his great witness of faith, for his humanity; thank him for showing others and me how to be first of all a human being. He taught me how to treat others, how to talk to them. He taught and showed me that we should be humble and at the same time should be able to listen to others. I want to thank him for his great testimony of apostleship and love for the universal Church. There were no barriers, borders, differences between races or nations for John Paul II. For him all people were brothers, he treated all people equally and without any differences. I could learn a lot from him. I thank him for this unique testimony of religious, spiritual and inner life. For me it was the biggest and deepest school of spiritual life. Being with him I could form my personality, deepen my spiritual and religious life. I learnt how to celebrate the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, how to pray with others, how to pray in private. That was the best school of life. Well! I would like to say, 'Holy Father, be still close to me, look with cordiality, care, peace and goodness - as usual smiling so that we could feel security and strength thanks to which we become better.

"Niedziela" 31/2007

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