Italian Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, who was a close collaborator of Blessed John Paul II, said the future saint believed that "the first duty of the Pope was to pray for the Church and the world."

"I worked very closely with Pope John Paul II, from the beginning of his pontificate until the end," he said.  

Speaking with CNA on April 2, the ninth anniversary of the death of John Paul II, Cardinal Re reflected on the late pontiff's testimony.

"He would say that the first duty of the Pope was to pray for the Church and the world, to obtain help from God and to be able to make things better."

"It was amazing to see how he could go from contact with huge crowds to the solitude of prayer," Cardinal Re said. "When he prayed, he had a great ability to concentrate, and before every big decision he would pray for a long time."

Cardinal Re worked at the Vatican Secretariat of State when Cardinal Karol Wojtyla was elected Pope in 1978.

He was ordained a bishop by Pope John Paul II in 1987 and in September of 2000, he was made prefect of the Congregation for Bishops and president of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America.

"My first contact with Pope John Paul II," he recalled, "was because he would write his homilies and speeches in Polish, and later they were translated by Poles into Italian, and then finally they were brought to me for linguistic review and to ensure that all the translations from the Italian point of view were correct."

"The first speech I was tasked with reviewing was the one he gave in St. Peter's Square, in which he said, 'Be not afraid! Open the doors to Christ!'" Cardinal Re said.

Pope John Paul II, he continued, was "a great man" in many aspects.  

"He was a great man because of his deep thought, his ability to speak different languages, his skill at speaking to the multitudes. He was also a great mystic who was near to people and to situations, and in this way he influenced society and history."

"He had the advantage of a long pontificate, because otherwise not many would have understood him," Cardinal Re continued. "And he is a great saint, because he was a man of prayer and at the same time a great man of action."

The cardinal said he is looking forward to the upcoming canonizations of John Paul II and John XXIII on April 27, the feast of Divine Mercy.