POPE PAUL VI CLOSE TO POLES
FR. ROBERT GROHS
In the Church which brings you up, takes care of you and leads you, you will find trustful hope which will provide you with good, busy and joyful life
Paul VI to Poles, 1971
On 17 October it was the 43rd anniversary of beatification of Fr. Maksymilian Maria Kolbe. What is interesting, similarly as now, there was a synod of bishops within the general session. It had been only the second meeting since the synod had been established four year earlier. In 1971 the episcopate of the whole world debated on two issues: ministerial priesthood and justice in the world. So, it is astonishing that Divine Providence through the servant of God’s servants Paul VI, whose beatification day was on 19 October, decided about the beatification of Fr. Maksymilian, just at this time when the debates on priesthood were ending and the more detailed one on justice were beginning. As the pope reminded to the gathered on St. Peter’s Square after beatification, which he had done in the Basilica of St. Peter, Fr. Kolbe did a heroic act of love in a concentration camp, which made him popular and raised him to the dignity of holiness. ‘I am a Catholic priest’ – he said and his sacrifice was accepted.
When diabolic communism seemed to be reigning
Despite that, it was a wonderful time for our Homeland. Not only because Poland was the subject of talks in relation to the beatification of Fr. Kolbe, and cardinal Karol Wojtyła touched on important issues in both synod topics, for which he was appointed a member of the Council of the Secretariat of Bishops’ Synod, as a candidate from Europe. For, there was also something extraordinary. Blessed Paul VI, today called ‘a helmsman of the Second Vatican Council’ by pope Francis, on the occasion of the beatification of Fr. Maksymilian, in the eyes of the whole world and in the presence of bishops from the whole world, he gave a special speech to Poles. It is worth returning to those prophetic thoughts of the great pope Paul VI, because many Poles seem to be overwhelmed by their concern about earthly matters, and live without any hope. And Poland still has a great mission to complete in God’s plans. Great things were prepared for you by the Father in order to perform in the name of Jesus, our Lord (see J. 5,36,17.4).
Time of worshipping the Supreme Lord
Greeting the gathered at the meeting after the beatification ceremony, Paul VI mentioned a few Polish bishops in the beginning. In the first place – with ‘worship and love’ he mentioned cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, ‘who did so much for beatification of Fr. Maksymilian Kolbe’. Next he spoke to cardinal Karol Wojtyła. What is extremely significant, is the fact that he welcomed him as ‘the successor of famous cardinal archbishop prince Adam Stefan Sapiecha, belonging to the Papal House’. The Holy Father Paul VI reminded in this place that he was lucky to have met him in summer 1923 in Oświęcim on the occasion of sanctifying bells in the College run by the Salesian priests. ‘We still remember words which he said to us, as workers of the Apostolic Nunciature. At that time we were visiting the excellent cathedral at Wawel, in which there are tombs of Polish kings’. Did those words and the example of the life of the great ‘steadfast Prince’ form the way of thinking of the future Pope about Poland? Anyway, it is worth remembering that Paul VI had Poland and the great Poles in his heart for forty years. Finishing his word to cardinal Karol Wojtyła, he thanked him for ‘his presence and works which he does in various congregations of the Roman Curia’. Among Polish bishops he also welcomed cardinal Jan Król, of the Polish origin, archbishop of Philadelphia in the United States and bishop Władysław Rubin, the Secretary of bishops’ synod.
An awaited moment
The Holy Father used that speech to realize what he wanted to do 5 years earlier, within the jubilee of the millennium of baptism of Poland, when marionette communist authorities of the People’s Polish Republic did not allow him to arrive for the millennium ceremonies. Therefore, having welcomed the present people, in the beginning of the main part of his speech, he said: ‘First of all, we welcome you on behalf of your history of thousand years which makes you a great brave, Christian nation of high culture. We welcome you, referring to the ceremonies connected with accepting the Holy Faith through your first Christian ruler Mieszko I from the Piast dynasty.
Later he referred to Bolesław Chrobry, St. Wojciech, the Camaldolese from Italy. He also called St. Czesław and St. Jacek for this important meeting of the Polish nation with the Viceroy of Christ, as well as ‘St. Stanisław – Bishop and Martyr, the patron of Poland who was related to the history of Oświęcim and everyone who increased the inherent and Christian virtues of Poland through their faith’. Next, in a particular way, he called ‘Our Lady of Częstochowa’, assuring about his further prayer to Her in intention of our material and spiritual good. Finally, he said that he greeted Poles on behalf of St. Peter and Paul.
A message of Paul VI to the Polish nation
And there came time for great words of a calling and a new message to Poles: ‘And now we speak to you. Let everything which we have in our hearts, be summarized in one word and it is as follows: Children of Catholic Poland, be faithful! Faithful to your Catholic faith, faithful to your religious and civilian traditions, faithful to your attitude of a good, united and strong nation. Do not think that this our calling will inhibit you on the way to economic, social and cultural development, to which you are called. But, on the contrary, we tell you: be able to gain a lot from faithfulness to your spiritual and cultural tradition and to your national and civilian personality; be able to gain a lot of power from your progress and ability to solve newer and newer issues which are brought by today’s times. Be faithful, so behave as honest Catholics! Be faithful, so be aware of your belonging to the contemporary international family and your vocation: the united nation living in harmony and having high good manners. Be faithful in finding moral values in your past sufferings, through forgiveness and patience, especially through perceiving spiritual needs of the youth and social needs of your working nation! Be faithful and you will find trustfulness hope assuring you good, working and joyful life in the Church which brings you up and leads you to permanent purposes of God’s Kingdom, being present here and forever.
Let the example and help of your new Blessed strengthen this calling. Let it make it fruitful for all of you, present here, and for all your dear people in Poland and in the world, to whom we pass our blessing’.
Let it happen so
Can we forget about this calling to find power in faithfulness to our tradition today? The Pope who was not a Pole, a great prophet of XX century, a helmsman of the Vatican Council and the world, calls us to be a good, united and strong nation like we used to be throughout centuries. This is our vocation which is hardly mentioned to the young generation, with accenting individual vocation. We will find trustful hope in the Church through our faithfulness to Catholic faith.
Thank you, our Heavenly Father, for the great father- pope Paul VI, who was courageous in ministry to You, praying for us and leading us in a difficult moment of history, when there were attempts of destroying the Polish tradition, morality and deprive us of ‘an invincible spirit’ (see Ps. 51.12). Let’s remember about his calling. Let he become a patron of rebirth of Poland for mission for the sake of evangelization of the world.