That Hymn Sung Softly Before the Tabernacle
Cardinal Giovanni Coppa*
The profound Marian spirituality of Karol Wojtyła
John Paul II's love for the Virgin knew no bounds. He never missed an opportunity to speak of Mary. He dedicated the Encyclical Redemptoris Mater to her. Redemption was in fact the guideline of his Petrine Magisterium. Furthermore, he not only honoured her with his ministry as Supreme Pontiff but also in many other ways.
From the outset he wanted to recite the Rosary with the faithful on every first Saturday of the month. With his unflagging creativity he enriched the Rosary with the Mysteries of Light and, towards the end of his Pontificate, he celebrated the Year of the Rosary which bore so many fruits of devotion and spiritual renewal.
Then I remember his pilgrimages to Lourdes and Fatima. Besides, on all his journeys he planned a visit to the world's most important Marian Shrines.
I know of his longing to have an image of Our Lady stand out in the Vatican Basilica, where, moreover there are some marvellous chapels dedicated to her. And he wanted the Apostolic Palace at least to display an image of Our Lady, that rises tall and maternal on St Peter's Square.
Everyone knows that the motto he chose prior to his episcopal Ordination was Totus tuus. The
future Pope took these words from the prayer of Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, a great Marian saint. Well, not only did the Pope recite that prayer every day but he also wrote a passage of it on every page of his Homilies, Discourses and Encyclicals, on the top right hand corner of the page.
On the first page he wrote the beginning of the prayer: Tuus totus ego sum, "I am all yours"; on the second page he wrote Et omnia mea tua sunt, "And all that I have is yours", on the third, Accipio Te in mea omnia, "Be my guide in all things!" on the fourth, Praebe mihi cor tuum, "Give me your heart". And he continued in this manner on every page, when necessary repeating the individual invocations until he had finished writing. In the archives of the Secretariat of State there are thousands of these pages in which John Paul II expressed his love for Our Lady in such intimate and moving way.
His boundless love for Mary was born from the love he had for Christ. Loving Jesus is the fulcrum of our whole life. And if this is true for every Christian, it is even truer for the Pope. It is something so obvious that it might seem pointless to stress it, but I mention it to you because I have a special memory of John Paul II's last Apostolic Visit, which he made to the Czech Republic in 1997.
He had already been to Czechoslovakia in 1990, just after the Fall of the Berlin Wall. He then stopped in Prague, Velehrad and Bratislava. In 1995 he came on a second Visit, stopping in Prague, Bohemia and Olomouc, in Moravia. He was already ill. He was beginning to use a walking stick and joked about it with the young people, ever enthusiastically gathering around him. But he was still strong so that he could walk up stairs and did not need to take the lift.
On the first evening, after his arrival and dinner with the Bishops, he paused in the chapel before the Blessed Sacrament. The sisters had prepared a large priedieu for him but he preferred to kneel on the kneeler. I accompanied him, waiting outside the chapel. On the following evening I was detained by some engagements and urgent telephone calls and could not go with him to the chapel. I arrived there later, when he was already kneeling.
Before entering I had heard some barely perceptible singing and, when I quietly pushed the door open, I heard him singing softly before the tabernacle as he knelt on the bench. The Pope was singing in a low voice before Jesus in the Eucharist: the Pope and Christ in the Host, Peter and Christ. For me this was overwhelming, a very strong appeal to faith and love of the Eucharist, and for the reality of the Petrine Ministry. I have never forgotten that faint singing which was, as it were, a loving conversation with Christ.
I have only once recounted this episode in the Czech Republic, but it is good to make it known, especially now, when his Beatification is approaching because it says magnificently that we must always have a living, intimate and profound bond with Jesus, alive in the Eucharist. And it shows superlatively that John Paul II was truly in love with Christ.
Lastly, I would like to emphasize the love of the Slav peoples for the Polish Pontiff. In 1990 I was posted to Czechoslovakia, which two years later was peacefully divided into two States, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This was the greatest gift that John Paul II gave to me after that of ordaining me a bishop. I remember further that on my departure for Prague I saw him at the Vatican heliport, returning from a Visit to an Italian diocese and I said to him; "Holy Father, I am leaving tomorrow, so at last I shall see 'your' Tatra Mountains in Slovakia". But he answered me smiling, "Oh! The Tatry are far more beautiful on the Polish side than they are on the Slovak side!"
My experience as an Apostolic Nuncio was the most intense I had ever had. In those years, I could feel tangibly how deeply the Pope was loved by the Czech and Slovak peoples, starting with the authorities.
President Havel told me twice that John Paul II had played a fundamental role in the fall of Communism: "Of course", he maintained, "there were also other causes for the victory of freedom over Communism, but, without him, the result would not have been so sudden and unexpected".
On other occasions he stressed to me that his conversations with the Pope had always been very informal and cordial: "He spoke in Polish and I in Czech", he said, "and we understood each other very well".
What made everyone like him was the fact that he was the first Slav Pope of history. The people, born for 40 years with atheistic propaganda were beginning to realize what the Church was, what the mystery of communion and brotherhood was that she brought to people together with faith in God and the love of Christ, for so long denied.
For this reason too, John Paul II was a great gift of God to the Church and to humanity.
*Cardinal Deacon of San Lino
Weekly Edition in English
6 April 2011, page 8
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