Cardinal Dziwisz on the anniversary of Wojtyla's death
On the evening of 2 April 2005, Blessed John Paul II's earthly pilgrimage came to an end, thus concluding the long pontificate of the first Polish Pope. One of the best eyewitnesses of Wojtyla's episcopate in Poland and of his 27 years as Pope of Rome is his secretary, Stanislaw Dziwisz, currently the Cardinal-Archbishop of Krakow. In an interview granted to our newspaper just weeks before Divine Mercy Sunday — when Pope Francis will raise John Paul II to the altars of the Church together with John XXIII — the Cardinal remembers several key moments in the life of Karol Wojtyla and his connection to World Youth Day, whose next meeting will take place in Krakow.
You were at Pope John Paul II's side for so many years. What has been your experience of this important moment of his canonization?
I was Karol Wojtyla's secretary for 12 years in Krakow and then for the whole of his pontificate. This long period of time spent at his side has made a deep impression on me. So many memories pass before my eyes, beginning with the novelty of the election of the first non-Italian Pope in 455 years. Yet the memory of the tragic assassination attempt in 1981 when he almost lost his life remains even more vividly in my mind. Not to mention his numerous pastoral journeys and the great changes that were occurring at that time in Europe and in the world. His whole life marked history. We are all convinced that we lived beside a truly holy man.
Not only his life but also his death left a deep impression on the conscience of humanity. How did he live out his final moments?
Over the years he prepared us for those final moments, for the painful moment of his death. When the time came he was peaceful and confident in the resurrection. He said: "My entire life has been directed toward God and now the moment has come to pass on". He was conscious almost to the very end, even if we cannot say with certainty when he lost consciousness. Before dying he celebrated the Mass of Divine Mercy. He communicated by receiving several drops of the Blood of Christ, to prepare himself to pass to the next life. Then he recited Matins, the Divine Office. I am fond of remembering that in the final moments he prayed the prayer for Sunday, the next day, Divine Mercy Sunday. He died reciting Matins for that feast. Thus his whole life, from beginning to end, was united with the mystery of Divine Mercy. And he thereby offered us the programme for this millennium: Divine Mercy. The world will never find peace without turning to it.
His relationship with young people was very special. Is this perhaps the reason why young people still love him so much?
Essentially they loved him because he was a man of hope. He directed them to a path that certainly was not easy but nonetheless safe. And young people understood this. That is why they ran after him. His holiness confirms that the path he took — from his youth until the final moments of his life — was the right road. Even in the last days of his life, John Paul II wanted to send a clear message to the youth, saying to them: "Do not be afraid to be saints, because saints make history and advance society".
How did the idea of World Youth Day come about?
It took shape at the beginning of the 80s, especially after the Pope's large gatherings with young people in 1980 at Parc des Princes in Paris, in Rome in 1984 for the Jubilee Year, and in 1985 for the International Year of Youth. On those occasions John Paul 11 saw and understood that young people were looking for a guide. He knew their soul perfectly, because he had always stayed close to them, first as a priest, then as a bishop and finally as Pope.
What message did he wish to communicate through World Youth Day?
I believe that the most important message of all is the witness it offers to the world. Through young people, the Church demonstrates that she is still alive and able to be renewed. And she is renewed also through the World Youth Days.
Is Pope Francis' presence changing something in the Church's relationship with young people?
The newness Pope Francis has brought is always before our eyes. Each Pope has his own charism. Bergoglio's charism is a closeness to the people, and the faithful understand this. In Argentina he was pastor to the great diocese of Buenos Aires, and so he understands the poverty and weakness of individuals, and he seeks to respond to this. In comparing his actions with those of John Paul II, I can say that they are similar, though not equal.
How has the news that the next World Youth Day will be held in Krakow been received in Poland?
Krakow and Poland are overjoyed, because — after the 1991 celebration of World Youth Day in Czestochowa — they will become the city and the nation for youth. The next World Youth Day will be held from 25 July to 1 August 2016, in the expansive park on the city outskirts called Bionic. We are very pleased that Pope Francis has made this decision, and all of Poland is overjoyed. Each diocese will work for the success of this event. But above all the young people will be actively engaged by placing their enthusiasm at the service of this event. World Youth Days go hand in glove with John Paul II. And the next will be so all the more. We wish to dedicate it to his memory, to his holiness, to his great care for young people. It will also be an opportunity to thank him for the great love he had for the new generations, for all that he has done for them and for the legacy he has left.
Is the work of organizing the meeting already underway?
Krakow is opening. It will shine with joy over the arrival of thousands of young people from all over the world. On behalf of the whole Church in Krakow, I want to formally invite the youth from the five continents to the meeting. We pledge to warmly welcome them in the name of Christ and we ask them to return home carrying in their hearts the message of Jesus, which is John Paul It's legacy to us all.
Will it be a real challenge for the Church in Krakow?
Our diocese can offer the world an example of fidelity. The Church in Poland has always been faithful to the values of the Gospel, to the Holy See. It has always remained in union with Rome: this is its strength and the strength of the Polish people, who overcame every sort of difficulty under the Nazi regime and then under communism. The Church in Poland knew indeed that someone in Rome was thinking of her, and this gave her hope.