A new book released by a Vatican official on Wednesday details lesser known facts about the late John Paul II, including his self-mortification practices, hand written instructions for his resignation in case of incurable illness, and a plot by Italian militants to kidnap him in the 1980's.
"Why he is a Saint: The True story of John Paul II," by Monsignor Slawomir Oder, a Church official heading the cause for John Paul II's canonization, was made available in Italian bookstores on Jan. 27. According to the Italian news agency ANSA, Fr. Oder discusses how the late pontiff used to practice self-mortification as part of his devotion.
“Members of his closest entourage, both in Poland and the Vatican, heard with their own ears how Karol Wojtyla used to whip himself,” wrote Msgr. Oder. “There used to be a particular belt, intended for trousers, hanging from a hook in his wardrobe among all his robes.”
Msgr. Oder spoke of how the late Holy Father “used this as a whip and always brought it with him when he went to (the papal summer residence) Castel Gandolfo.” Oder also cites the testimony of Sister Tobiana Sobodka who was in the neighboring room at the summer residence, and witnessed to the Vatican assembly considering John Paul II's cause for canonization. “We would hear the sound of the blows,” she testified.
In his new book, Msgr. Oder also outlines the other self-mortification practices the late Pontiff would undergo such as fasting during Lent – eating only one meal a day, abstention from food before ordinations and sleeping on a hard, cold floor as opposed to a bed. The Polish monsignor wrote that John Paul II began to sleep on the floor as far back as the 1960's and would often rumple the covers of his bed to make it look like he has slept in it.
The book also details hand written documents from John Paul II conveying his determination to continue with his papal duties as long as his health allowed. One document from 1989 states that he would only cease in his ministry “in the case of a lengthy illness, thought to be incurable that prevents me from carrying out my duties sufficiently.” In a 1994 letter, the late Pope also stated “I feel it is a serious conscientious obligation to continue carrying out the task given to me (by God).”
Msgr. Oder also discusses how John Paul II learned shortly before the 1981 assassination attempt that an Italian militant group called the Red Brigades planned to kidnap him.
“Shortly before the attack, the Italian secret services warned that the Red Brigade terrorists has a plan to kidnap John Paul,” Msgr. Oder wrote, explaining that that was why the late pontiff remarked “just like Bachelet” to his secretary on his way to the hospital after being shot. Catholic Judge Vittorio Bachelet was previously assassinated by the Red Brigades.
While presenting his book on Wednesday, Msgr. Oder stated that there has not been an official date set for John Paul II's beatification. Though the process is “well under way” the Congregation of Saints has yet to recognize a miracle attributed to the late Pontiff.
Pope Benedict XVI announced last month that he was declaring John Paul II Venerable and had previously waived a rule requiring that a canonization process cannot being until five years after a prospective saint's death.