Forty years later, Polish bishops revisit election of Pope John Paul II

JPII CNA Pope St. John Paul II in 1979. | L'Osservatore Romano

The Polish bishops' conference is celebrating the anniversary of the election of St. John Paul II. October 16 marks 40 years since Cardinal Karol Wojtyla's rise to the throne of St. Peter.


Archbishop Józef Michalik of Przemyśl, who was the rector of the Polish College in Rome at the time of the 1978 conclaves - the second of which elected Wojtyla, gave his personal insight into the days following up to the election of Pope John Paul II.


"We joked, commented on the press reports and, sometimes, spoke seriously," said Archbishop Michalik in an account released by the Polish Bishops' Conference to mark the anniversary.


Cardinal Wojtyla had joined the college often for meals and daily prayers before the conclave began.


"The Cardinal always took these jokes and conversations with a smile, and sometimes he responded with humor," he said.


He addressed the days following the death of Pope John Paul I, who had passed away from a heart attack 33 days after his election to the papacy. He highlighted the apparent interest of the other cardinals toward Cardinal Wojtyla's election.


Archbishop Michalik had welcomed Cardinal Wojtyla at the airport shortly before the conclave. On their way to the view the body of Pope John Paul I at St. Peter's Basilica, he asked the soon-to-be pope how many cardinal's he had not known.


"Cardinal [Wojtyla] thought about it and replied: seven. For me, it was an indirect answer, that there is actually no other Cardinal who would know personally only seven Cardinals. This indicated that our Cardinal's chances were serious in the upcoming conclave," said Archbishop Michalik.


The Polish bishops' conference said Wojtyla was a major figure in the Church, who participated in synods, led retreats for the Roman Curia, and was a friend of Pope Paul VI.

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Archbishop Michalik said, though Cardinal Wojtyla was a respected clergymen and scholar, the polish saint had remained humble.


The Polish bishops' release included the anecdote that, on the day of the conclave, "one of the priests spontaneously prayed that Cardinal Karol Wojtyla would become pope." Cardinal Wojtyla responded with prayer, invoking the words of Christ in the Gospel of Matthew: "Get out of my sight, Satan," the future pope is quoted as responding.


"Finally, he added his own intention, asking that God's servant, who would accept the choice with humility and accomplish God's will, be chosen," the statement added.


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Immediately following the election of Pope John Paul II, the Polish College gathered in the chapel and sang the Te Deum, "giving thanks for this event and…recommending the new Pope to God," said Archbishop Michalik.


The Polish bishops' conference highlighted a conversation between John Paul II and Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, who had suggested the name John Paul II to the new pope.


"Primate Stefan Wyszyński asked John Paul II how he felt here in the Vatican, and the Pope replied: 'As if I have always been here.' 'This is the grace of God, the grace of the state,' commented Cardinal Wyszyński," according to the statement.