Monday, July 10, 2006

A Visit With JP's "Soulmate"

Cute story -- a small-town newspaper reporter from New York state visited Krakow recently, where she got some face-time with the city's archbishop, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz. Dzwisz was, of course, Karol Wojtyla's secretary from 1966 until John Paul II's death, and his visitor refers to him in her recap as Wojtyla's "soulmate."

As always with the most powerful papal secretary of all time, the Polish connection remains alive and well. If you're surprised about that, you haven't been paying attention.
Last summer while on a tour of Poland, I attended the first Mass of Cardinal Dziwisz as the Archbishop of Krakow, but left Krakow without formally meeting him. By chance, at this open-air Mass viewed by a crowd of some 80,000 faithful, I made the acquaintance of a German woman, Angelika Maassen, who had met with Cardinal Dziwisz earlier that week. He had made time during an exceptionally hectic period to greet one of "the little people" at the Archbishop's Palace. His kindness toward her and his deep-rooted spirituality inspired Angelika to convert to Catholicism.

In June of this year, a two-week pilgrimage to Poland led by Father David Bialkowski of Buffalo consisted of 18 Americans and one German as Angelika and I were headed back to Krakow, this time as friends and roommates. Angelika brought with her a letter from Cardinal Dziwisz, stating that he was delighted to hear she had found her place in the Catholic Church and inviting her to contact him when she arrived in Krakow....

When I presented him with a wall plaque bearing the U.S. flag and the words "God bless America," his response was a booming "God bless America and (gesturing to me) God bless YOU!" I immediately thought of how Pope John Paul II might very well have spoken the identical words in the same expressive manner.
Seems the late Pope's lunchtime exhortations for Stasiu to speak "Inglese! Inglese!" have finally paid off.
Cardinal Dziwisz graciously posed for pictures with us and consented to our request to attend his private morning Mass in the palace chapel. He then left the room with a wave of his hand and an informal "Do jutro!" ("See you tomorrow.")

The Mass in the chapel was in stark contrast to the open-air Mass he had celebrated the day before, which was the Feast of Corpus Christi in Poland. This close-up opportunity to participate in a Mass celebrated by such a devout man was a deeply moving spiritual experience for me and Angelika. Afterward he prayed in a back pew much like Cardinal Wojtyla had thousands of times over a 20-year period. Although it was in this chapel that the pope was ordained a priest, its appearance was astonishingly simple and unadorned. No bells and whistles here. It was truly a place for prayer, reflection and reverence to God.

Our third and final meeting with Cardinal Dziwisz was impromptu and spontaneous. Prior to departing for the airport, Angelika and I had arrived at the palace gate about 7 o'clock that Sunday morning to leave my gift for Fr. Darius with the security guards. To our amazement, the cardinal was slowly strolling the perimeter of the courtyard on the other side of the locked inside gate. When he noticed us, he motioned for security to let us in.
Still must be terribly tough for him, though, no?