VATICAN CITY — In lengthy excerpts of an interview published in an Italian newspaper, Benedict XVI speaks of his time collaborating with Blessed John Paul II, highlighting the soon-to-be-canonized pope’s sanctity and commitment to the truth.
“In the years of collaboration with him, it became ever more clear to me that John Paul II was a saint,” the pope emeritus told Polish journalist Wlodzimierz Redzioch in a written interview, selections of which appeared in Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on March 7.
Published as part of the book Beside JPII: Friends and Collaborators Speak, released by Italian press agency Edizioni Ares, Benedict’s written interview was originally requested by Redzioch in November 2013, which he agreed to and completed in January of this year.
During the interview, Benedict XVI recalled that he originally met John Paul II in the conclave where John Paul I was elected pope, explaining how they had both read each others’ work previously and had been wanting to meet each other.
Observing how the then-Cardinal Karol Wojtyla had quoted his book Introduction to Christianity during the spiritual exercises he preached for Pope Paul VI in 1979, Benedict noted that “it is as if, interiorly, we both were expecting to meet each other.”
“Above all, I immediately and greatly perceived the human fascination that he exuded, and from the way he prayed, I noted how deeply united to God he was,” he said.
The Prefect and the Pope
Speaking of his appointment by Blessed John Paul II as prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), Benedict recalled how the pope allowed him to continue publishing theological works for his home diocese and that he was “always very gracious and accommodating with me.”
Referring to certain doctrinal challenges which the two faced during their years of working together, Benedict XVI noted that the first major topic that came up was liberation theology.
“Both in Europe and in North America, it was common opinion that it was a support to the poor and, therefore, that it was a cause that surely needed to be approved,” he explained.
However, “it was an error,” stated Benedict, adding, “Poverty and the poor were, without a doubt, set at the center of the liberation theology, yet in a very specific perspective. ... It was said that it was not a question of help or of reforms, but, rather, of the great upheaval from which a new world would spring.”
Observing how “the Christian faith was being used as a motor for this revolutionary movement, transforming it into a political force,” Benedict explained, “[a] falsification of the Christian faith needed to be opposed precisely for the sake of the poor and in favor of the service rendered to them.”
Drawing attention to Blessed John Paul II’s experience with Marxism in Poland, which Benedict referred to as “the godmother of liberation theology,” the retired pope said it was “on the basis of [John Paul’s] painful experience” that made it “clear to him that it was necessary to fight that kind of ‘liberation.’”
Turning to his decision to open JPII’s cause for beatification, which advanced the times established by canon law, Benedict noted that he had been convinced of his predecessor’s sanctity for many years due to his “his intense relationship with God” and his immersion “with the Lord.”
“From here came his happiness, in the midst of the great fatigues that he had to sustain, and the courage with which he carried out his task in a truly difficult time,” Benedict said.
“John Paul II did not ask for applause, nor did he ever look around concerned about how his decisions would be received,” he said. “He acted beginning with his faith and from his convictions, and he was also ready to receive blows.”
“The courage of the truth is, in my eyes, a criterion of the first order of sainthood,” the retired pope said, adding that “only departing from his relationship with God is it possible to also understand his tireless pastoral commitment.”
Noting that Blessed John Paul II’s commitment was “inexhaustible,” Benedict stated, “He committed himself with a radicality that cannot be otherwise explained” and that was not limited to “the great trips” he took, but also “day after day, beginning with the morning Mass until late into the night.”
Speaking in reference to the fact that the Church has officially recognized the holiness of Pope John Paul II, as he was one of his predecessor’s closest collaborators, Benedict XVI said, “[My] memory of John Paul II is filled with gratitude.”
“I could not, and I should not, try to imitate him, but I tried to carry on his legacy and his job as best I could,” he said. “And so I am sure that even today his kindness accompanies me and his blessing protects me.”
Already on store shelves, the book is a memoir compiled for the occasion of Blessed John Paul II’s canonization, which is slated to take place this year on April 27 (Divine Mercy Sunday), and is available only in Italian.
The book includes recollections from more than a dozen of Blessed John Paul II’s other closest friends and collaborators, including his secretaries, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Archbishop Emery Kabongo and Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki.
Also featured are interviews with the former director of the Press Office of the Holy See, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, the Pope’s lifelong friend Wanda Poltawska and the postulator of his cause for sainthood, Father Slawomir Oder, as well as many others.
Corriere della Sera is the same Italian daily which recently published an interview with Pope Francis, in which the Holy Father spoke of key topics in the Church, including the upcoming Synod of Bishops.
This interview has been translated from the original Italian by CNA’s Alan Holdren and Estefania Augirre.