Up Close With Postulator of John Paul II’s Sainthood Cause (Part 2)
Monsignor Oder Discusses the Trials of a Young Polish Pope
By Anita S. Bourdin and Sergio Mora
VATICAN CITY, APRIL 8, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Having been elected Pope at the age of 58, John Paul II brought a freshness the Church that helped it to successfully address the many challenges of the modern age, says the postulator of the Pontiff’s cause.
Monsignor Slawomir Oder, who is also the judicial vicar of the court of appeal of the Diocese of Rome, told ZENIT that John Paul II “providentially brought to his Petrine ministry the energy of a young man; he was a young Pope.”
John Paul II died April 2, 2005, at the age of 84, after having completed a 26-year pontificate. The cause for his beatification began on June 28, 2005, after Benedict XVI waived the customary five-year waiting period before a beatification process can begin. He will be beatified May 1 in Rome.
Leading up to the Pontiff’s beatification, ZENIT is presenting a four-part interview with Monsignor Oder in which he reflects on the challenges that faced the young John Paul II in the early years of his pontificate, and the influences of his early life. Part 3 of this interview will appear Sunday.
ZENIT: How did the Polish authorities see John Paul II? Did he slip by them under the radar, or did he not attract their attention?
Monsignor Oder: They were afraid. In fact, there are traces in the documentation of the Secret Services that speak of the danger of Karol Wojtyla. He was dangerous because he was a sublime intellectual, a man of dialogue; from the moral point of view he was unassailable. Precisely because of this he was dangerous. He was a man of weight; the weight of a man of God, a man of dialogue, of openness, absolutely prepared intellectually, superior, and yes, they feared him.
However I think that, as always, the Lord was greater than they were. The Evil One was doing his accounts and God was doing his accounts. Karol Wojtyla did not escape the attention of the Communists.
Perhaps they feared Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński more because he was, in fact, a different man; he was different also in the way he faced the authorities. And yet, Providence moved Wojtyla’s history forward in the way we know.
I remember the embarrassment of the journalists when he was elected; they did not know how to transmit the news, which in any case was important for Poland. It was one of many news items they gave during the television newscast, but they had to report it.
Then I remember the first trip he made, it was overwhelming. They didn’t know how to invite him, who should invite him. He was invited by the Church, but he was also a guest of the government. They found a diplomatic loophole so that he could come, because in any case, as a Pole, he could return. He wished to return and bring with him the leaven of the revolution of the spirit. In this first trip one could see how the Polish media was manipulated. If one sees shots of the broadcast, one sees only close-ups of the Pope or some elderly man, without seeing the millions of people who surrounded the Pope. No young faces, no families.
ZENIT: When John Paul II became Pope at the age of 58, the Church was facing a series of grave challenges that seemed to have no solution, and by the end of the pontificate so many steps had been taken to unite the Church and to resolve these problems.
Monsignor Oder: Yes, he was a Pope who providentially brought to his Petrine ministry the energy of a young man; he was a young Pope. He was also a Pope used to living a situation of confrontation with hostility: the Church in Poland in confrontation with Communism. [He was] a Pope of great intellectual, cultural and scientific preparation, a Pope of great sensitivity, including aesthetic, and mindful of so many values.
And he was able to give back freshness to the Church, always making reference to the freshness [the Church] was given by the Second Vatican Council. He was the Pope who actualized, who carried forward the thought of Vatican II. And in this regard he took ever so many steps, he undertook so many activities which were able, somewhat, to restore the boat of the Church.
ZENIT: One sees that the Church took a big step forward during the time of John Paul II’s Pontificate.
Monsignor Oder: Certainly a renewal of the faith, of evangelical enthusiasm.
ZENIT: The Pope used to say that he was Pope because he was the bishop of Rome. How did he live this out?
Monsignor Oder: He felt himself very much the bishop of Rome, and he repeated this often, “I am Pope because I am the bishop of Rome.” And this is how he approached his pontificate. He always maintained a particular interest in the diocese, and a sign of this were the numerous pastoral visits that he made.
ZENIT: There were two moments in which I saw the Holy Father almost angry: during an address in which he was defending the family and once when he was speaking out against the mafia in Sicily. In both cases was it because the value of life was at stake?
Monsignor Oder: Certainly, because of the value of life, but also because at stake was the truth about man. He was a Pope who built his pontificate in a very humanistic key, in the evangelical sense. His first encyclical, “Redemptor Hominis,” gives a correct perspective on how to understand precisely the centrality of man who has, at the center of his existence, Christ himself. His was a Christian humanism. This concern of his for human life in all its dimensions stemmed from the Christian concept that he had about the value of life, for which the Savior gave his life.
ZENIT: It seems as if holiness ran in the family. Are there plans to begin the cause for the beatification of John Paul II’s father [also named Karol Wojtyła], who was an extraordinary paternal figure who truly marked his son?
Monsignor Oder: Absolutely. But look, to see this family is to see how the Lord worked. John Paul II always said that his father was his first teacher of spirituality, first guide in the spiritual life, the first seminary he attended. No doubt he had this image of his father, this military man, soldier, who knelt down and prayed at night before the icon of the Virgin. These are things that remain in the heart of a boy. A man who accompanied his child by the hand on pilgrimage to Czestochowa. He initiated him in prayer. However, there was also the figure of his brother Edmund, who was also an uncommon figure. He dedicated himself completely to the service of charity and then paid the price [John Paul II’s brother Edmund worked as a physician, and died of scarlet fever.]
ZENIT: It was John Paul II who wanted the beatification of the parents of Thérèse of Lisieux. Did he learn from his own family the value of the beatification of spouses?
Monsignor Oder: This is difficult for me to say, but no doubt he had an extraordinary example [of holy spouses] in his life. Nevertheless he gave clear signs of being truly convinced of the truth confirmed by Vatican Council II, namely, of the universal vocation to holiness of all Christians. With the number of beatifications and canonizations during his pontificate, which represented the entire spectrum of the Church, he gave a tangible sign that [holiness] is possible for everyone.