Cardinal Dziwisz talks Krakow, Saint John Paul II

Pope John Paul II in Belgium circa 1995 Credit  LOsservatore Romano CNA 9 15 15 St. John Paul II, circa 1995. | L'Osservatore Romano.

As World Youth Day approaches, the Archbishop of Krakow recently spoke with EWTN Deutschland about the "city of saints" hosting the gathering, and about its most famous son – St. John Paul II.

"You ask me where I have seen [John Paul II's] holiness. Well, we know that he was a very talented man – a writer, a poet, a speaker, an actor; but most of all, a great pray-er," Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz told EWTN's Robert Rauhut.

Cardinal Dziwisz was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Krakow in 1963 by St. John Paul II, who was then an auxiliary bishop of the city. Wojtyla was appointed archbishop the following year, and then-Fr. Dziwisz became his secretary soon thereafter – a role in which he served until the Pope's death in 2005.

He said St. John Paul II "had already discovered the importance of prayer as a boy back in Wadowice. He organized his whole life in a way such that it had a great reference to God; such that his life became a prayer to the Lord himself … He did not split his time between work, sports, and prayer … Everything he did served the Lord's will, in some way."

"He granted audiences, he held different meetings, but the people who were close to him knew he was praying even then."

The cardinal reflected that when one of the Pope's staff would tell him of a difficult situation to which they couldn't find a solution, St. John Paul II would reply, "I do not see one either, because we have not yet prayed enough … Let us introduce this matter to the Lord: a solution will then arise in some way; the issue will solve itself, always through prayer."

St. John Paul II's prayerfulness was "with him from the time he was a child," Cardinal Dziwisz reflected. "His father played a great role for that matter. He taught him the prayer to the Holy Spirit, which accompanied him his whole life. Even on his last Saturday, on the day he died, he recited this prayer to the Holy Spirit."

He added that St. John Paul II was also very devoted to the Virgin Mary and the rosary: "for him that was always a Christological prayer: contemplation of the work of redemption with the Mother of God."

The late Pope spent time in Eucharistic adoration daily, and made a Holy Hour every Thursday. Cardinal Dziwisz said St. John Paul II "encouraged us to compensate the time that the Apostles overslept" during Christ's agony in the garden.

St. John Paul II "saw the positive in everyone," which Cardinal Dziwisz attributed to "his theology – the picture of God in men, this appreciation towards everyone."

The saint's legacy is kept alive particularly through his magisterium, the cardinal said, calling it "a point of reference in many areas," especially the family: "He has left us a great doctrine in that field." As an exemplar he mentioned Familiaris consortio, St. John Paul II's 1981 apostolic exhortation on the role of the Christian family in the modern world, noting that Pope Francis' own recent exhortation on the family "quotes John Paul II many times."

Cardinal Dziwisz also reflected on the central role that the Church played in the development of Poland as a nation – the country is celebrating the 1050th anniversary of its conversion this year. "Without a doubt, the Church played an important role in the first days of the Polish state and it still is significant for our people today," he said.

Krakow became the Polish capital in 1038, and was then also deemed the "center of culture, Christianity and religiosity in Poland." One of its early bishops, St. Stanislaus of Szczepanów, can be called the "conscience of the nation," Cardinal Dziwisz said, noting that he was martyred "defending human rights and defending the freedom of conscience."

St. Stanislaus "was the first to show that the Church is to serve the people and that it should do so in an autonomous way, not serving on behalf of the state, but with it … he demonstrated the sovereignty of Church authority from the state authority. That is how the church in Poland was upheld back then and is maintained today. Of course, both institutions cooperate for the common good, but in general, we deal with two independent orders."

Cardinal Dziwisz affirmed that Krakow "is indeed a 'city of saints'. No further place –except for Rome – has as many saints as Krakow. Here, we have many churches, and the quantity of churches is an expression of how religious the city is. Almost every church contains a grave of a saint. It has been like that all the time and we have numerous contemporary saints."

He noted St. Albert Chmielowski, who founded religious congregations and died in 1916, and who "was a role model for John Paul II."

St. John Paul II's pride in his native Poland showed a healthy and postive patriotism, Cardinal Dziwisz reflected. "He very strongly underlined the difference between 'nationalism' and 'patriotism'", he explained. "Nationalism is negative. By contrast, patriotism is positively connotated; it is something you have to develop. Patriotism entails a religious aspect. He was indeed a patriot of Poland … he always appreciated the culture of Poland, the Polish Church, of which I derive from, and the Polish people. He saw their great values. Hence, he tried hard: he was familiar with the European culture and its values. He was of the opinion that both the west and the east frame contemporary Europe."

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Cardinal Dziwisz believes St. John Paul II supported a united European community, albeit one based on Christian values.

"Without values, without the Christian culture on which Europe has evolved, the community would not be able to survive. So we have to return to those values, to his prophetic idea. If we will not, the already unstable community will suffer from greater problems and a crisis."

St. John Paul II's prophetic vision of Europe is needed today, Cardinal Dziwisz said: "It is the job of contemporary people, contemporary Europeans. It is up to the youth who make a pilgrimage to Krakow, to celebrate their faith here, their belonging to God, to Christ, and to the community of Christian culture."

The late Pope developed a close friendship with Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, who succeeded him as Benedict XVI, the Krakow archbishop then explained. "He cherished Cardinal Ratzinger a lot, whom he wanted to have on his side right from the beginning of his pontificate ... He knew right from the start that Cardinal Ratzinger was necessary to keep clear the matters of theology, particularly the disputable ones or uncertainties. He was convinced of him due to his enormous intellectual skills, his educational background, his abilities and skills for dialogue … they were a team, connected in mutual trust, in their dedication to work. They appreciated each other, so what they had was certainly something you might call a mutual understanding and a friendship."

Krakow is particulary important as "the capital of mercy," its archbishop added. It was here that St. Faustina Kowalska, to whom the Divine Mercy devotion was revealed, spent her last years. "Next to her as an apostle of divine mercy, receiving the message on behalf of the whole world, God has provided for a second apostle to realize this message," he said, indicating St. John Paul II. "The idea of Divine Mercy has always been present in some way in his magisterium, his documents, his homilies and speeches."

From Krakow "a spark will arise," Cardinal Dziwisz said, "a spark of Divine Mercy, just as Sister Faustina once wrote."

"That spark will assist to deepen the religious life in the world. We do have the hope that the young people will familiarize themselves with this dispatch, this message of Divine Mercy here, and that they will bring it to all countries … because young people from almost 200 different countries will come to Krakow" for World Youth Day, he said.

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"It is due to providence that the youth will celebrate a festival of mercy this year here in Krakow," Cardinal Dziwisz said. "The Lord wants to show us something, he wants to show us that this is the way to the future, the way of the Church, the way of societies… However, mercy means reversal and conversion, as well. We see that many people come to confess: they are keen to reconcile with God, but also with other people. Mercy – that is God's love to the people, who are also obliged to communicate and to share love and mercy. In this context works of mercy develop."

He gave as an example the location of the World Youth Day events, saying that "anticipating the Holy Father's intention, two houses have been built there, already! There is the house of bread, in which the poor are welcome to find shelter. It also has medicine for the sick; medical consultation or rehabilitation is conducted there. So we will not only celebrate and be happy there, but something will stay there permanently. We are already preparing cars and ambulances which will drive to Syria. The issue is not simply to announce mercy, but to live it by taking actions."

Cardinal Dziwisz also noted the need for catechizing the youth.

Good catechesis "is always needed, because ignorance is dangerous. Once the human being is afraid or does not know what to do next, he or she is most likely to be subjected to all different kinds of tendencies" that they need to be guarded against.

"The next point is to be with society, without merging with politics. We want to achieve a positive cooperation, but we also want to stay independent," he said. "Let us go back to Stanislaus, and be open for everyone, not shutting ourselves off to any political group. That will brings back the people's trust in us. That way we ensure that everyone can feel at home in the Church. No one will be locked out."

"Indeed, the task is indeed not easy; but living in a democracy, we have to understand to be independent concerning our service to society and the Church."

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