Cause for Beatification of John Paul II

Opening Session: Cause for Beatification of John Paul II

Cardinal Camillo Ruini
Vicar of Rome

Basilica of St John Lateran: Tuesday, 28 June [2005]

The opening session of the Diocesan inquiry into the life, virtues and fame of holiness of the Servant of God Pope John Paul II was held on Tuesday evening, 28 June, in the Basilica of St John Lateran. It began with the solemn singing of First Vespers of the Solemnity of the Apostles Sts Peter and Paul; Cardinal Camillo Ruini, Vicar General of His Holiness for the Diocese of Rome, presided at the Celebration.

All the legal procedures for the opening of the Cause of Beatification and Canonization were complied with, and the Session ended with the following discourse, given in Italian by Cardinal Camillo Ruini.

Last 13 May, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, the Holy Father Benedict XVI announced that he had granted a dispensation for the required five-year interval after the death of the Servant of God John Paul II (Karol Wojtyła), and that the Cause of Beatification and Canonization of the Servant of God could begin immediately. The Pope made this announcement at the end of his first Address to the Roman clergy in the Lateran Basilica. It had been only 41 days since the death of John Paul II, and it was the 24th anniversary of the attack on his life in St Peter's Square on 13 May 1981.

Certain that I am expressing your unanimous sentiments, I would like to renew to the Holy Father Benedict XVI the deepest gratitude for this decision of the Dioceses of Rome and Krakow and of the whole world. Thus, he has accepted the petition of a very large number of Cardinals who made themselves the voice of the ardent choral plea of the People of God on the unforgettable days of the death and funeral of John Paul II.

Every word that I can now add might in one sense seem superfluous. This is always the case at the end of the opening session of a diocesan inquiry into the life, virtues and fame of holiness of a Servant of God. To illustrate the figure of John Paul II and give the reasons for the inauguration of the Cause of his Beatification and Canonization is no exception, since the knowledge of him is so great and universal and the conviction of his holiness so deep and unanimous. What I am about to say, however, wells up from my heart, and I am confident that it will meet with a felicitous response from the hearts of each and every one.

Childhood experiences

Karol Józef Wojtyła was born in Wadowice on 18 May 1920. His parents, Karol Wojtyła and Emilia Kaczorowska, were devout Catholics. He was baptized on 20 June that same year in the parish church of Wadowice. Poland had but recently regained its unity and independence and only two months later, on 16 and 17 August, defended it victoriously, for itself and for Europe, by driving back the invasion of the Red Army in the battle known as "The Miracle of the Vistula". I mention this event that enabled Karol, as a child and adolescent, to grow and to be raised in a tranquil social and cultural context steeped in Catholicism, for on many occasions I myself have heard John Paul II recall "The miracle of the Visual" with deep gratitude.

In September 1926, Karol, nicknamed "Lolek", started elementary school. While still a child, at the age of nine he lost his mother, on 13 April 1929; she died of an illness when she was only 45 years old. A month later, he made his First Communion. In 1930 he was moved up to middle school at the State School in Wadowice, choosing neo-classical studies.

Once again however, on 5 December 1932, he was seriously bereft after the death of his elder brother, Edmund, a young doctor who lost his life after caring for the sick in a scarlet fever epidemic. Karol, therefore, was left with his father, who guided him to a life that gave a crucial place to prayer and asceticism. Thus, there was sufficient leeway not only for studies but also for games, fun and sports.

Another person who made a great contribution to Carol's Christian formation was Fr Kazimierz Figlewicz, a young priest who was teaching catechism at the school in Wadowice in 1930 and looked after the altar boys, including Karol, in the parish. As a small boy, Wojtyła went to him for confession, admired him and had deep love for him. In turn, the priest describes Karol as "a very lively little boy, talented and very intelligent and good".

The specific features of the piety in which the boy was formed were love for the Virgin Mary and devotion to the Holy Spirit, characteristics that remained deeply engraved in his soul and to which he was ever faithful. His religious life was nourished by diligent personal prayer, frequent recourse to the sacraments, pious practices, especially pilgrimages to Marian shrines, but also dedication to Catholic associations: on the eve of the Assumption in 1934, he joined the Marian sodality of his parish and two years later became its president.

In 1934, Karol was already beginning to act in plays and two years later initiated an intense collaboration with the avant-garde producer, Mieczysław Kotlarczyk, who loved theatre and was deeply Catholic.

On 3 May 1938, Karol received Confirmation, and on the 27th of the month graduated from school: he was asked to give the farewell speech at the ceremony for the awarding of diplomas. The following August, he moved with his father to Krakow to enroll in the Faculty of Philosophy at the Jagiellonian University, where he took courses in Polish philology. As the future John Paul II writes in his book Gift and Mystery, this route introduced him "to the mystery of the word itself".

The outbreak of the Second World War, which began with the invasion of Poland on 1 September 1939, radically changed the course of Carol's life. In the spring of that year he had already completed a book of poems, then unpublished, Renaissance Psalm / Slav Book, of which the hymn Magnificat is part, in which one can read: "Here, fill the cup to the brim with the sap of life at your heavenly banquet — I your praying Servant — grateful, because you mysteriously make my youth angelic, because you carved a robust form from the trunk of a lime tree. You are most marvellous, Almighty Carver of saints". These words, that cannot but move us, say much not only about the life, spiritual depth, self-understanding and poetic genius of the young Wojtyła, but also, prophetically, about how Providence was to carve his figure and personality through the tragedies and unforeseeable events of history.

Work in stone quarry and factory

The Jagiellonian University was obliged to interrupt its courses and in September 1940, to avoid deportation and forced labour in Germany, Karol went to work in a stone quarry that belonged to the Solvay chemical factory where, a year later, he was directly employed.

He symbolically expressed the deep effect upon him of this experience, a profound lesson in the reality and drudgery of a hardworking life, as well as in solidarity among men, in a verse of the poem The Quarry, which he wrote in 1956: "the greatness of work is inside man".

On 18 February 1941 his father died suddenly. He had long been ill but had not been considered in danger of losing his life. So it was that Karol lost his last and very strong family connection and love. He was later to remember: "I never felt so lonely" as during that night of vigil and prayer, despite the presence of a friend beside him.

Life in occupied Poland was terribly harsh, the Church was systematically persecuted, and a multitude of priests were killed or put in prison. Yet, precisely in that situation Wojtyła as a young man not only continued to write, especially plays, but also to act in the clandestine "Rhapsodic Theatre". By so doing he reinforced his moral resistance to Nazi oppression and his Polish spiritual and cultural identity and deepened his religious experience, especially through his contact with Jan Tyranowski. This profoundly spiritual tailor and authentic formation teacher of the young introduced him to the great Carmelite mystics, St John of the Cross and St Teresa of Avila, and to the Treaty of True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin by St Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort. From reading this he acquired a deeper understanding of the bond between Mary and Christ, and drew from it his motto of entrustment to Mary, "Totus Tuus", the authentic emblem of his life and not only of his Episcopate. Pilgrimages to the Marian Shrine of Kalwaria helped to outline this itinerary of prayer and contemplation that was to orient the steps of the young Karol towards the priesthood.

Teachers and friends, first in Wadowice and then in Krakow, had told Karol several times that in their opinion he seemed cut out for the altar; but he always resisted this idea, mainly because he was deeply attracted by another vocation: the theatre, the arts and literature. As John Paul II himself testifies in his book Gift and Mystery, a special role was played in the mystery of his vocation to the priesthood and his acceptance of it by the important figure of Adam Chmielowski, the Holy Bro. Albert, a famous Polish patriot and painter who had the strength of mind to give up his own art when he realized that God was calling him to serve the underprivileged and share their life. To him Karol Wojtyła was to dedicate his play Brother of our God, and when he became Pope, he beatified him in Poland in 1983 and canonized him in Rome in November 1989, while the "Iron Curtain" was disintegrating.

Karol's vocation to the priesthood reached full maturity in 1942. It was in autumn that year that he took the decision to enter the underground seminary of Krakow, while continuing his work at the factory. At the same time, in the course of formation for the priesthood at the Theological Faculty of the Jagiellonian University, also functioning clandestinely, he embarked on the systematic study of philosophy, and metaphysics in particular.

It was not long before the Cardinal Archbishop of Krakow, Prince Adam Stefan Sapieha, organized the clandestine seminary in his own residence; it was here that the seminarian Wojtyła sought refuge in September 1944 and spent the night of the liberation of Krakow by the Red Army on 18 January 1945. The academic year 1945-46 was able to take its normal course and Cardinal Sapieha, after deciding that Karol Wojtyła should complete his studies in Rome, ordained him to the priesthood before his course companions, on 1 November 1946, in his own private chapel. In his book, Gift and Mystery, John Paul II has left us a stirring description of his ordination and of the three Holy Masses that he celebrated as a new priest the following day, 2 November, in the crypt of St Leonard in Wawel Cathedral.

Determined to 'learn Rome'

By the end of that November, Fr Karol was already in Rome. He enrolled in the degree courses of theology at the Pontifical Athenaeum "Angelicum" with the outstanding Fr Réginald Garrigou Lagrange, O.P. Fr Lagrange was the moderator of Fr Karol's doctoral thesis: Doctrina de fide apud S. Ioannem a Cruce, the doctrine of the faith according to St John of the Cross. Fr Karol defended his thesis on 19 June 1948. He lived for those two years at the Belgian College in a very lively cultural and spiritual atmosphere. He was fired with enthusiasm and with the determination to "learn Rome" that the Rector of the Seminary in Krakow, Fr Karol Kozłowski had inculcated in him. Effectively, not only did he learn about the history and beauty of Rome, but he also assimilated its universal and catholic breadth that was spontaneously grafted onto the great Polish Catholic tradition.

In his summer holidays Fr Karol visited France, Holland and Belgium, becoming acquainted on the one hand with the new pastoral problems, expressed in the formula: "France, land of mission". On the other hand, however, he also stayed at Ars, where his encounter
with the figure of St John Mary Vianney convinced him that this priest carried out the essential part of his mission in the confessional, as he attests in his book, Gift and Mystery. Fr Karol's overall approach to life at that time is well expressed by what he himself said, cited by one of his companion priests: "It is necessary to organize life in such a way that the whole of life can glorify God".

On his return to Poland, he was sent to Niegowic as parochial vicar, but after only a year he was summoned to Krakow to be parochial vicar in St Florian's Parish and to set up a chaplaincy for university students. Despite the obstacles put in his way by the Communist regime, he showed extraordinary educational ability and pastoral and cultural creativity: indeed, he knew how to penetrate the troubled hearts of the young and to be deeply in tune with them, introducing them at the same time to the truth, beauty and commitment of the person and of the Cross and Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus. Thus, he was already beginning in this way to exercise that marvellous fascination over them that he would express as Pope through the World Youth Days.

After the death of Cardinal Sapieha, Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak wanted Fr. Karol to devote himself to university teaching and as from 1 September 1951, granted him two sabbatical years in which to write the thesis required to qualify for the post. Its title was: Evaluations of the possibility of building a Christian ethic on the basis of Max Scheler's system. This study, that obtained academic approval on 30 November 1953, enabled Fr Karol to penetrate phenomenological thought. He reached the conclusion that phenomenology is an important and precious means for investigating human experience but needs to be based on the realistic concept of the being and of knowledge which the young priest had examined in his previous studies. This indicates the basic approach of his personal philosophical project whose intention was to link the objectivity and realism of classical thought with the modern emphasis of subjectivity and experience. It was to culminate in his great work, The acting person, published in 1969 when Karol Wojtyła was already a Cardinal. Moreover, this basic outlook is also very visible in his Papal magisterium: I recall here only the first pages of the Encyclical Dives in Misericordia with his principle of linking theocentrism and anthropocentrism in a "deep and organic way".

The suppression of the Faculty of Theology of the Jagiellonian University, decreed by the regime in 1954, obliged the new professor to carry out his academic career at the Catholic University of Lublin and not, as foreseen, in Krakow. He went to Lublin in autumn 1954. In November 1956 he obtained the chair of ethics in the Faculty of Philosophy, where he continued regular academic activity until 1961. Those were the years of his continuous train journeys between Krakow and Lublin: in fact, Karol Wojtyła, who had only accepted out of obedience the two sabbatical years that Archbishop Baziak had asked of him, continued an intense pastoral activity in Krakow, especially with young people, and even went on holiday with them. He also continued to write plays and poems.

It was precisely in the middle of a holiday with young people, on 4 July 1958, that Fr Karol heard from Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, Primate of Poland, that Pope Pius XII had appointed him Auxiliary Bishop of Krakow. He was only 38 years old. He was consecrated in Wawel Cathedral on 28 September, the feast of St Wenceslas, Patron of that Cathedral, by Archbishop Eugeniusz Baziak. In the book Rise, let us be going!, John Paul II fully describes these events and the spirit in which he lived them. On the evening of his ordination he went as a pilgrim to the shrine of Częstochowa with his closest friends, and the following morning celebrated Holy Mass before the Icon of the Black Madonna.

After Archbishop Baziak's death, the Metropolitan Chapter appointed Bishop Wojtyła Chapter Vicar of the Archdiocese of Krakow. A year and a half later, on 13 January 1964, Paul VI raised him to the rank of Metropolitan Archbishop. On 8 March he solemnly took possession of the Archdiocese. Those were the years in which Archbishop Wojtyła participated intensely in the whole of the Second Vatican Council, making an extraordinarily important contribution, especially to drafting the Constitution Gaudium et Spes, as well as to the Declaration on Religious Liberty, to the Constitution Lumen Gentium and to the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People.

The Council experience was crucial to the Episcopate of Krakow and to the subsequent Roman Pontificate of Karol Wojtyła in harmoniously completing his entire formation and his previous experience: indeed, the conviction that the Second Vatican Council was "a key event of our era" (Address to the Clergy of Rome, 14 February 1991; L'Osservatore Romano English edition [ORE], 18 February 1991, p. 2), remained for ever carved within him.

In order to implement the Council and to enable the whole Archdiocese to relive the experience of it, Archbishop Wojtyła, who in the meantime had been created a Cardinal by Paul VI at the Consistory on 26 June 1967, convoked the Synod of Krakow on 8 May 1972, after a year of intense preparation. It was a particularly involving Synod in which many took part, it lasted for seven years and was closed by John Paul II himself, who by that time had become Pope, on 8 June 1979, during the ninth centenary of St Stanislaus. This is also the name of his most faithful Secretary, Archbishop Dziwisz, so dear to us all, who shared his life for 39 years and has now succeeded him in the See of Krakow, after Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, in turn an age-old friend and invaluable collaborator of John Paul II.

Trust in Divine Mercy

If I am permitted to sum up Karol Wojtyła's 20 years as Bishop of Krakow, I would say that on the basis of total trust in Divine Mercy, in which he had always been steeped, particularly through his encounter with the mystical experience of St Faustina Kowalska whom he beatified on 18 April 1993 and canonized on 30 April 2000, he was able to synthesize his intellectual energy and artistic genius with the passionate love for Christ, for the Church and for men and women that the Holy Spirit had infused in him.

Thus, he succeeded in being a Pastor who could understand, guide and enable his clergy and people to grow, even in situations of the gravest difficulty. He was also not only able to resist the pressure of the regime but undermined its foundations on human and cultural as well as spiritual levels, in accordance with the great insights that he later set down in the Encyclical Centesimus Annus. He was the Bishop who has and must have courage, as he himself wrote in the last chapter of his book Rise, let us be going!, and at the same time he was the man and witness of love and forgiveness that conquers evil with good, as the Apostle Paul says (cf. Rom 12:21), and which he was to reaffirm in his last Message for the World Day of Peace.

On 16 October 1978, in accordance with the designs of God's Providence, Karol Wojtyła was appointed Bishop of Rome and universal Pastor of the Church. The 26 and a half years of his Pontificate are engraved in the memory and heart of each of us, and it is not necessary to present them again here. We all remember, in fact, his forceful invitation at the solemn beginning of his ministry on 22 October 1978: "Do not be afraid! Open wide the doors to Christ!" (Homily marking the beginning of Pope John Paul's pastoral ministry; ORE, 2 November 1978, p. 12). He was the first to be ever faithful to this invitation.

We remember his innumerable pastoral journeys to bring Christ, our one Saviour, to every corner of the earth; his visits to the Roman parishes, the love and the constant care with which he governed this Diocese, through the Synod, the City Mission and the Great Jubilee that involved the whole world. We remember his extraordinary pastoral initiative of the World Youth Days, that opened a broad new avenue to young people's encounter with Christ.

And how could we forget the love and care for humanity, however threatened, that impelled him to work tirelessly to avoid war and re-establish peace, to assure the poorest peoples, the earth's lowliest, a hope of life and development, to defend the inviolable dignity of every human life from conception to its natural end, to safeguard and promote the family and authentic human love.

Furthermore, we cannot forget the farsightedness and courage with which he helped to tear down the wall that divided Europe and then to remind Europe itself of its Christian roots. Nor can we forget the generosity with which he strove for Christian unity that he felt to be a precise and indeclinable will of Jesus; the disarming sincerity with which he asked forgiveness for the sins of the Church's children and, at the same time, his strength and tenacity in defending and proclaiming the Church's indissoluble bond with Christ and the integrity of Catholic doctrine.

His 14 Encyclicals, the Catechism of the Catholic Church and all his other Documents and Discourses are an outstanding expression of this doctrine, of its truth and importance for contemporary men and women. The 15 Assemblies of the Synod of Bishops that he
convoked witness to his concern for the collegiality of the Episcopate and the unity and life of the Church, as do the promulgation of the Codes of Canon Law of the Latin and Eastern Churches.

It is clear that at the root of all this tireless apostolic activity is the intensity and depth of John Paul II's prayer, which so many of us have directly witnessed, the intimate union with God that accompanied him from his childhood until the end of his earthly existence. I would like to recall only the words that he spoke at the beginning of his Pontificate on 29 October 1978 at the Shrine of Mentorella: "Prayer... is... the first task and almost the first announcement of the Pope, just as it is the first condition of his service in the Church and in the world" (ORE, 9 November 1978, p. 1).

Blood that converts

However, there is a further dimension, equally crucial, of the relationship that united Karol Wojtyła with Christ the Saviour and with the humanity redeemed by him. It is the blood relationship. In his short poem Stanisław, written a few days before the Conclave that was to elect him Pope, he wrote, "If words have not converted, it is blood that will convert". John Paul II did truly pour out his blood in St Peter's Square on 13 May 1981, and then again he offered not his blood but his whole life during the long years of his illness. At the end his suffering, and with his death his blessing, now voiceless, from the window at the end of the Holy Easter Mass, were for the whole of humanity an extraordinarily effective witness of Jesus Christ dead and risen, of the Christian meaning of suffering and death and of the power of salvation that can find a dwelling place in it, in the final analysis, of the true face of man redeemed by Christ. Therefore, the days of mourning for him became for Rome and for the world days of extraordinary unity, reconciliation and openness of the soul to God.

Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as he was then, focused his homily at John Paul U's funeral Mass on Friday, 8 April, in St Peter's Square, on the words "follow me" that the Risen Christ addressed to Peter when he made him responsible for tending his sheep (cf. Jn 21:15-23), identifying in the following of Christ a synthesis of the life of Karol Wojtyła, John Paul II, to conclude subsequently: "We can be sure that our beloved Pope is standing today at the window of the Father's house, that he sees us and blesses us" (ORE, 13 April 2005, p. 3).

Yes, we too share this certainty, and let us therefore ask the Lord with all our hearts that the Cause of Beatification and Canonization which begins this evening may soon reach its culmination. The many testimonies that we are receiving concerning the holiness of the life of the late Pontiff and the graces entreated through him confirm our prayer.

I conclude by saying, as an Italian, a great and special thank you to John Paul II for his love and concern, not only for Rome but for the whole of his "second Homeland", Italy. I also express my heartfelt gratitude to our Sister Church of Krakow and the entire beloved Polish Nation, in which Karol Wojtyła received his life, his faith and his wonderful Christian and human patrimony, to be given to Rome and to the whole world.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
6 July 2005, page 9

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