Pope John Paul remains touchstone for Poland’s Catholic Church

December 17, 2009
JP2 commemoration
(Photo: Candles in Warsaw on fourth anniversary of Pope John Paul’s II, 2 April 2009/Peter Andrews)

Four and a half years after his death, Pope John Paul II remains a dominant presence in Poland’s Roman Catholic Church. Pictures of him are still ubiquitous in his homeland, and not only in churches. His former private secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, regularly invoked the name of the Polish-born pontiff during an interview in Krakow with Reuters, either lauding his role in the victory of democracy over communism in eastern Europe two decades ago or speaking of the need for the church today to follow his example in reaching out to other faiths in a spirit of ecumenical dialogue.

Perhaps the issue playing most on the cardinal’s mind was the expected beatification of John Paul by his successor, Pope Benedict XVI. Beatification is the last step before sainthood. Benedict put his predecessor on ae fast track shortly after taking over at the Vatican in 2005. Dziwisz said the process was now well advanced but the timing of a final decision depended on Benedict.

“(The beatification) is important not only for the Catholic Church,” he said. “This Pope is still alive, the memory of him is still vivid and he is still the reference point for many people. This love is still present.”

Below are excerpts from our interview with Cardinal Dziwisz at his office in Krakow, where John Paul served as archbishop before moving to Rome in 1978. The interview has been translated from the Polish.

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Cardinal Dziwisz in Reuters interview, 16 Dec 2009/Irek Dorozanski

“The beatification process is now completed, regarding formal procedures. In Krakow, this procedure was completed relatively quickly; however it doesn’t mean it wasn’t conducted in a detailed and careful way. We undertook it according to all the criteria of  canon law, so that no one had any queries regarding its correctness…

“When it was completed all the documents were forwarded to the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints. Then the positio summing up all the work done so far and all available documents were prepared. Theologians and experts looked at it and the results of their work were forwarded to the Cardinals of the Congregation. The result of this plenary was then submitted to the Holy Father. We hope that on the basis of this evidence the Decree of Heroism of Virtues will be issued.

“Another procedure which needs to be completed is the process of determining a miracle or miracles. It is still in progress …  We in Poland, in Krakow, pray for this day to come because the people are expecting it. People already regard John Paul II as a saint, which is crucial in the beatification process. During the funeral there were numerous chants of ‘santo subito!’ (make him a saint now!) from the crowd.  His saintliness was fully apparent during his death and funeral.

“The material on miracles is being studied at the Vatican. During the beatification and canonisation process the evidence of ‘signs from Heaven’ is needed.  In the case of John Paul II there is plenty of such evidence. One of them has to be selected and then carefully examined.

“We live at a time when Divine Providence has sent us the excellent Pope — Benedict XVI . He is a person of great culture and a great thinker of the Catholic Church. People love and respect Benedict XVI but at the same time they also remember John Paul II.

“Different popes are meant for different times. John Paul II had different tasks and in my opinion none of them remained unfulfilled. Not only regarding the Church but also social and political matters. The world has changed significantly during his reign.

“The pope also has to make a decision regarding canonisation. According to some people, the canonisation of John Paul II should be done right away, since beatification allows only for a local cult and in the case of John Paul II it is hard to limit the cult geographically.”

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Pope John Paul, 23 May 2002/Laszlo Balogh

“John Paul II cared about dialogue. He stressed that the world needs to strive for dialogue, also with the Muslim world. The same can be said for the religion of Moses. John Paul II had a huge respect for Jews and they keep this in mind even today.

“I think that today the historic role that John Paul II played is not fully appreciated. People talk about the fall of the Berlin Wall. However that was the end of the whole process. When John Paul II took up his post in Rome, all groups were convinced that the future belongs to Marxism, to the class struggle. The pope opposed this from the very beginning. Marxism deprived people of freedom – the freedom of faith, religion and conscience. The pope was fighting for the freedom of the individual, for human rights. In my opinion this is how history is going to judge him.

“The fall of communism started in Poland, with John Paul II. He underlined that Marxism is not the correct path, that following solidarity and love is the right way. The pope supported the Polish people at difficult moments.”

The Church in Poland today:

“The role of the Church today is to fulfill its traditional mission as well as remain engaged in social matters. The Church is needed for the making of balanced moral judgments.  The Church has to be very attentive regarding the problems and needs of its followers.  We have democracy and freedom today, but there are still poor people and issues such as unemployment and work-related emigration which cause many tensions. The Church cannot be indifferent to social problems since this would run counter to the Gospel.”

(Commenting on Primate Jozef Glemp’s retirement) — “At this moment the primate does not hold any special power in Poland, however it is a post of moral authority. We hope that the new primate will be a moral authority as well as the uniting factor between the Church and Poles.

“The strength of the Polish Church is its good religious education. I fear ignorance since a person who is spiritually uneducated is exposed to numerous dangers such as sects or liberalism. The educated person, on the other hand, knows in which direction to go.

“The number of practising Catholics in Poland is still quite high. It is even more substantial when compared with other European countries. It is reflected in our stronger involvement in social matters.”

On sending Polish priests abroad:

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Polish priests during Pope Benedict's visit to Krakow, 28 May 2006/ Laszlo Balogh

“Nowadays there is less need for priests (from Poland) in Europe.  However recently we had to send priests to England and Ireland since many Poles migrated there over the last few years.  In such situations, Polish priests are always  subordinate to the local bishops because they are invited by them.

“Currently we have a mission in Tanzania, we also have priests in Brazil. Today it is based on the needs of the inviting side or of exchange. It does not happen any more that priests want to go abroad to seek a better life than they have in Poland. Many priests are also temporarily helping in Ukraine.  Priests are ordered for the Church in general, not for one church in a particular country.

“We do not want to interfere in the competences of local episcopates and churches. We send our priests only if asked by local bishops. We do not want to establish Polish enclaves; however we are trying to help as much as we can.

“The economic situation in Poland has significantly improved. Therefore more people are returning from the United States than are going there nowadays.Also migration to Ireland doesn’t seem to be so lucrative anymore.”

About the crucifix ruling by the European Court of Human Rights:

“Obviously this fact was perceived as scandalous by the whole of Europe. This ruling runs counter to the identity of Europe. The cross is a religious symbol for us, but it is also a cultural one. It is a case of European culture. Where is Europe going?  If Europe relinquishes her roots, her future will be unhappy. The cross is part of Europe’s heritage.

“In my opinion, at this point Europe has forgotten about her identity. But there are still forces which can rebuild it. I think the time will come for epiphany and rebirth.”

On EU consultations with religions under the Lisbon Treaty:

“Many international organisations have consulting bodies and I believe there is a need for such consultations with churches so as not to make mistakes on moral or ethical issues for the benefit of societies.  If we still want to remain on this Earth, such consultations have to take place, that is the reality.  Let’s not forget that religion is also a great force that creates cultures and societies. It cannot be bypassed.

“Apart from that, religious matters are part of European culture and world culture. There is no country in the world which is completely areligious. Religion is part of human nature. It is impossible to properly raise an educated person without knowledge of religion.”

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Cardinal Dziwisz in Reuters interview, 16 Dec 2009/Irek Dorozanski

“The rapprochement of these two churches was very dear to the Holy Father John Paul II. He always insisted that the universal Church needs the Eastern Church. I think that the two churches (Catholic and Orthodox) were brought closer during his time and this process continues today. These two churches are siblings, very close to one another, although not everyone wants to accept that. We really want these two churches to be closer to one another and one day hopefully to be finally united.

“Regarding the rapprochement of the Eastern and Polish (Catholic) churches, the Katyn issue is crucial to us.  In Poland, in Krakow, we have very good relations with the Orthodox Church.  It is also an obligation for Poland to have as good relations as possible with this neighbouring Church.

“The noble example for relations between churches is the letter of  the Polish and German bishops  saying ‘We forgive and ask for forgiveness’. (Evil)has to be forgiven, but at the same time we have to remember so that evil is not repeated in the future, so that neither Katyn nor Oswiecim (Auschwitz) will ever happen again. To forgive does not mean to forget.

“Reconciliation of the two churches is not an easy task to accomplish. Mutual trust and respect are crucial conditions that have to be met. Also the sensitivities of people have to be taken into consideration.”

On the Swiss minaret ban:

“I will not comment on this issue since I wouldn’t want to interfere with the competence of the Swiss Episcopate and of Switzerland itself. I will only say that it is a very serious matter.”

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