EVERY EVENING I CAN SEE HIS FIGURE
ALEKSANDRA ZAPOTOCZNA TALKS WITH CARDINAL JÓZEF TOMKO
ALEKSANDRA ZAPOTOCZNY: - Cardinal Camillo Ruini revealed me a secret that it was Priest Cardinal who was the initiator of the idea of opening the beatification process of pope John Paul II immediately. How did it happen?
CARDINAL JÓZEF TONKO: - After the funeral of the Pope, there were debates of cardinals concerning the future conclave. We were a big group, as we, cardinals from all over the world, arrived at the funeral of the Pope and stayed in Rome till the conclave. The meetings were presided over the cardinal of that time Joseph Ratzinger. There were discussions, questions, debates. When I started speaking, I suggested presenting a request to the future pope concerning opening the process of John Paul II. We knew him, we all were convinced about his holiness, we lived with him…
Cardinals, however, pointed to the fact that it is impossible as according to procedures, it is necessary to wait for five years after death of a candidate for altars. I answered that norm can be agreed on and it can also be abolished.
Indeed, my argument was quite brave, but hearing my words, cardinals were looking at one another in silence, whereas I already had a prepared letter – a request written only on my behalf. When I was presenting it to cardinals, I noted that if it was necessary, I would re-write that letter and present it as a collective request and who wanted to sign it could do it.
Next day cardinals fulfilled the sheet with their signatures, which was given to cardinal Ruini after the end of the conclave, and he passed it over to Benedict XVI. And in this way, this process was begun at once. Also its proceeding and end were quick. Certainly, for me they were only formality, although it was necessary to obey rules of canonization provisions. But it seemed useless to wait for five years, as one might get to the point in which one has already been…
- Cardinal says that it was obvious that John Paul II had been a saint. Why?
- John Paul II was a saint in his inside. He had been a saint earlier than he was proclaimed so. Before the funeral ceremonies of the Pope, I had been returning home – I live at Via Conciliazone street – and the street was filled with people so much that it was impossible to pass, pilgrims were sleeping on pavements. Among them I noticed a boy with tattoos, spiky hair and rings in his nose and ears. He was standing in a queue to a catafalque in order to say farewell to the Holy Father, in order to pray briefly at his coffin. I did not think that I would meet there somebody like him. And how many millions people were there I do not know….So, I came up to him and asked: ‘Why are you standing here, torturing yourself?’. And that boy answered: ‘He did so much for me, and won’t I do anything for him?’. At that moment I understood how people had understood holiness of John Paul II – in such an ordinary and clear way: he did a lot for us…They understood that he had lived for people. He was a saint.
- How does Cardinal remember the last meeting with the Pope, were those moments particular and very intimate?
- Very painful. It was in his bedroom. I was to take a letter to cardinal Dziwisz. The cardinal opened door to me and asked me follow him to a hall where the Pope was. I saw him lying and breathing with effort. My friend, a papal doctor, said to me: ‘It started…..’Agony had already started. It was Friday evening.
Next day everyone was awaiting the news from Vatican. In the evening I heard on TV that the Pope was feeling bad and was dying. At once somebody phoned me to inform that the Pope had died. I went up to the third floor quickly – he was lying still, with his mouth tied with a scarf. He had all pipes removed from him to which he had been connected. I remember his hand was full of holes after needles. I kneeled and kissed his hand. I still feel his hand on my head till now, remembering him consecrating me for the office of Bishop and Cardinal…
It was my last meeting with him. With the great pope John Paul II…
- What will remain after the saint Pope?
- Wherever we touch the life of the Church, we will find heritage after John Paul II there. First of all, he was really Peter- the successor of Peter and a stone on which the community is based on and which builds the Church. He had a function about which nobody speaks and which is the most important – he was a rock, the fundament of a community. He could maintain variety in a community, in faith in Christ. The Pope shouted to the world which wanted to forget about God: ‘Do not be afraid of Christ!’. It was such a loud shout that everybody looked at one another and nobody dared to question the words of the man who proclaimed Christ all over the world. Only the Pope could do it, the Pope like him.
Whereas, as for details…today history books write that John Paul II prepared the pulling down the Berlin wall without carrying out any political actions; he ran policy of spirituality, spread the spirit and hope. He gave people hope!
I think that the world will return to the person and works of John Paul II even in many years, in a few generations. I also think that the further we are from his death, the nearer him we will be. We cannot lose him off our eyes, this is a great person, glory to Poland and glory to the Slovaks, well and – our Pope.
- And who was John Paul II for Cardinal?
- He was a father for me. I served to many popes, but to him the longest. I knew him personally. When I published my book about mixed marriages, I sent him this book and he sent me his thanks, which I have kept till today in my library. It has been many years since then, but luckily, one can read this sheet, this is a relic…
When he arrived at my office, I had an album about Tatra mountains on the Polish and Slovakian side. The book was on the table. When the Pope entered the room, he looked at it at once. He opened it and looked through it, pointing to mounts. We enjoyed looking through this book together. He had already been a newly-elected pope, but he was in the mountains in his heart. He spoke Polish to me, and I answered him in Slovakian dialect, which is similar to Polish language. We understood each other very well, and near us there was a group of cooperators from various countries. They were looking at us, wondering about which we were talking in the joyful way. Whereas we were talking about the mountains! It was seen that the Pope knew Tatra mountains very well. And when he had already been holding the album in his hand for a long time, he closed it, saying: ‘It is enough now…It can’t be so any longer…’ I answered: ‘Why not? Even it must be so…’.
Mary’s religiousness was the Pope and mine common thing. Mary is very close for us, He adored the God’s Mother with his heart and reason. Spreading this form of religiousness which is understood with heart but brightened with reason, is right for Slovakian characters: we are not cold, rational intellectualists, we are sentimental and faith brings us closer to Mary. This faith of heart and reason is characteristic for John Paul II.
The Pope from Poland appointed me bishop. The ceremony took place in the Sistine Chapel, and he preached a sermon in Slovakian, Slovakian songs were also sung. Later he exalted me the cardinal dignity…
I do not regret that I somehow destroyed norms of beatification process, I will never regret it! I was sincere when I suggested I, and I am still so today. Every evening I walk on the Square of St. Peter. There is a marked place here from which Ali Agca shot at John Paul II on 13 May 1981. I often stop here, on this white stone and every time I see his figure…
- We thank Eminency for the brave initiative and presenting it to cardinals.