John Paul II had a magnetic personality.
The memory of meeting him on so many occasions during his pontificate and chatting with him about each new book I wrote, remains precious to me.
When I think of him, I recall his piercing eyes as they penetrated my soul. I still feel the emotion I experienced every time he patted my cheeks, smiled and seemed to enjoy whatever I was trying to explain.
These last few years I reminded him about Pius XII’s beatification, telling him that 50 years had passed since John XXIII said his predecessor should be canonized. John Paul II, in agreement, would smile lovingly.
I was aware that he was waiting for the Positio to be presented to the Sacred Congregation for Saints.
I was privileged to visit John Paul II whenever I was in Rome, one or two times each year. For more than 10 years, I accompanied groups of college students for a six-week summer course in Italian and the highlight of each trip was a papal audience. This was followed by 10 years of pilgrimages to the shrines in Italy, which included a papal audience for each group while, at the same time, I was able to do some research for my new books.
Each time I was privileged to attend Mass in his private chapel and to greet him afterwards, his secretary never failed to introduce me as a member of the Religious Teachers Filippini and a defender of Pius XII. The many photographs I have confirm these privileged encounters and are among my most treasured possessions, especially the one when I am wearing the medal, Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice, which I received from Pope John Paul II.
As I presented a copy of my last book to His Holiness, I was overcome with emotion. I realized his health was failing, Archbishop Stanislaus, his private secretary, later asked me why I was speechless during the audience. This was so unusual. Perhaps it was a premonition that this was the last time I would kneel before him and receive his blessing as he patted my checks and I kissed his hands.
Friend to the Jewish People
No Pope throughout history did more than Pope John Paul II to create closer relations with the Jewish community, to oppose anti-Semitism, and to make certain that the evils of the Holocaust never occur again.
Pope John Paul II visited the chief rabbi at the Synagogue in Rome in 1986 and declared that “the Jews are our dearly beloved brothers,” and indeed “our elder brothers in faith.” He requested forgiveness for past sins by Christians against Jews. He established full diplomatic relations between the Holy See and the State of Israel. Relations between the Catholic Church and Jewish people are presently marked by mutual respect and understanding.
Peace was the clear message John Paul II gave on March 25, 2000, the last day of his stay in Jerusalem: “The honor given to the ‘Just Gentiles’ by the state of Israel at Yad Vashem for having acted heroically to save Jews, sometimes to the point of giving their own lives, is a recognition that not even in the darkest hour is every light extinguished. That is why the Psalms and the entire Bible, though well aware of the human capacity for evil, also proclaims that evil will not have the last word.”
The Holy Father assured the Jewish people that the Catholic Church was motivated by the Gospel’s laws of truth and love, and was deeply saddened by the displays of anti-Semitism. The Catholic Church rejects racism in any form as a denial of the image of the Creator inherent in every human being.
“Jews and Christians share an immense spiritual patrimony, flowing from God’s self-revelation. Our religious teachings and our spiritual experience demand that we overcome evil with good. We remember, but not with any desire for vengeance or as an incentive to hatred. For us, to remember is to pray for peace and justice, and to commit ourselves to their cause. Only a world at peace, with justice for all, can avoid repeating the mistakes and terrible crimes of the past.”
Like that of his predecessors, the voice of Pope John Paul II was heard again and again as he pleaded for courageous workers willing to serve and suffer — in the footsteps of Christ — for peace. On Palm Sunday, March 28, 1999, he declared to a crowd in St. Peter’s Square: “The Pope stands with the people who suffer, and cries out to all: It is always time for peace. It is never too late to meet and negotiate.” In his Easter message, he pleaded: “Peace is possible, peace is a duty, peace is a prime responsibility of everyone.”
On May 3, he stated: “I raise my voice again, in the name of God, that this attack of man against man come to an end, that the instruments of destruction and death be stopped, that all channels of aid be activated to help those who are forced to flee their land amid unspeakable atrocities.”
When Pope John Paul II visited the United States in January, 1999, he stated: “If you want Peace, work for Justice. If you want Justice, defend Life. If you want Life, embrace the Truth — the Truth revealed by God.” No Pope throughout history did more than Pope John Paul II to create closer relations with the Jewish community, to oppose anti-Semitism, and to make certain that the evils of the Holocaust never occur again.
Friend to Pius XII
When the Vatican chastised the Anti-Defamation League for its ads in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune criticizing the papacy, Cardinal Walter Kasper, head of the Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, in a May 18, 2001 letter to Abraham Foxman, obtained by The Jewish Week, defended John Paul II.
“To defame the Holy Father by attributing ‘silence’ to him is quite unjust and cannot go uncontested. …It wounds our relationship.” In August, historian Peter Gumpel, representing the Vatican, denounced the “slanderous campaign” against the Catholic Church and accused some Jewish historians of “clearly incorrect behavior.”
The vilification of the person of Pope Pius XII and the denigration of Pope John Paul II affects the magisterium of the Catholic Church. Today, Catholics should promote the truth about the Holocaust — an important contemporary issue. Both popes are accused of “silence.”
Although 50 years have passed, the faithful continue to remember Pius XII. Several years ago, a petition, asking Pope John Paul to expedite his beatification, was circulated, and the signatures of thousands of people from all parts of the world were deposited in the Vatican.
The petition read: “With profound respect and sincere devotion, We, the undersigned, humbly request that the cause for the beatification of Pope Pius XII proceed without delay. Pius XII’s virtuous life speaks for itself and is supported by an abundance of incontestable documentary evidence. The truth regarding his service to the Church and the world, as a diplomat and during his pontificate, prior to and through the World War II period, is also historically established. He has been the victim of an unjust smear campaign for 50 years. Now, however, overwhelming evidence has been amassed that proves beyond doubt that he labored without pause for peace, that he sought to assist in every way possible the victims of war, especially Jews, hundreds of thousands of whom were spared through his efforts, and that he constantly warned the world of the horrors of Nazism and communism. We urge that you honor this holy and brave pontiff at the soonest possible date.”
It is interesting to note that Pius XII consecrated John Paul II a bishop.
On March 18, 1979, 40 years after Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli became Pope Pius XII, John Paul II recalled:
“I shall never forget the profound impression which I felt when I saw him close-up for the first time. It was during an audience which he granted to the young priests and seminarians of the Belgian College. Pius came to each one and when he reached me the College Rector (Msgr. Fürstenberg) told him that I came from Poland. The Pope stopped for a while and repeated with evident emotion ‘from Poland’; then he said in Polish ‘Praised be Jesus Christ.’ This was in the first months of the year 1947, less than two years after the end of the Second World War, which had been a terrible trial for Europe, especially for Poland.”
John Paul II continued: “On the 40th anniversary of the beginning of this important pontificate we cannot forget the contribution that Pius XII made to the theological preparation for the Second Vatican Council, especially by his teachings on the Church, by the first liturgical reforms, by the new impetus he gave to biblical studies and by his great attention to the problems of the contemporary world.”
Speaking to a group of Jewish leaders, Pope John Paul II stated that documents “reveal ever more clearly and convincingly how deeply Pius XII felt the tragedy of the Jewish people, and how hard and effectively he worked to assist them.” His Holiness called for “genuine brotherhood” between Christians and Jews.
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the “Uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto” (April 6, 1993), Pope John Paul II stated: “As Christians and Jews, following the example of the faith of Abraham, we are called to be a blessing for the world (Genesis 12:2 ff). This is the common task awaiting us. It is therefore necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to be first a blessing to one another. This will effectively occur if we are united in the face of the evils which are still threatening: indifference and prejudice, as well as displays of anti-Semitism.”
Throughout his pontificate, the voice of John Paul II has been heard again and again as he pleaded for courageous workers willing to serve and suffer, for peace, in the footsteps of Christ.
Religious Teachers Fillipini Sister
Margherita Marchione, Ph.D., has written
more than 50 books. She lectures widely
in North America and Europe.