National Catholic Register


At The Pope’s Side

John Paul’s Secretary Publishes Intensely Personal Memoirs



February 4-10, 2007 Issue | Posted 1/30/07 at 10:00 AM


VATICAN CITY — In a new book containing some fascinating revelations, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz has written a moving account of the 40 years he spent as secretary to Pope John Paul II.

A significant announcement about Pope John Paul II’s beatification cause is expected April 2, the second anniversary of his death.

In his memoirs, A Life With Karol, published in late January in Polish and Italian, Cardinal Dziwisz recalls many key events in the life of Karol Wojtyla, from accompanying the former archbishop of Krakow in Communist Poland, to being at the Pope’s bedside when he died in 2005. (See also: “No Vatican Prisoner,” page 5.)

Now himself archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Dziwisz reveals that in 2000, Pope John Paul considered resigning. The cardinal reveals that, suffering at the time from the later stages of Parkinson’s disease, the Pope consulted his closest aides on the question, including then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. But John Paul II concluded he would remain in office, saying that God had called him to the papacy and would “call me back, in the form that he wishes.”

Cardinal Dziwisz also discloses that John Paul had established a specific procedure for tendering his resignation in case he was unable to carry out his ministry to the very end. “So, as one can see, he considered the possibility”, he writes.

In other recollections, the former secretary says that he and John Paul strongly believed the KGB, the Soviet Union’s secret service, was behind the attempt on the Pope’s life in 1981. “Alì Agca was the perfect assassin,” he writes. “He was sent by someone who judged that the Pope was dangerous, a nuisance, someone who was afraid of him, who was immediately scared of him — so frightened by the news that they had elected a Polish Pope. And so? Wouldn’t the communist world think like that? How could one not arrive at the fact that at least in terms of a hypothesis, it could lead back to the KGB?”

In other passages, he recalls the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the 9/11 attacks and the war against Iraq.

The collapse of the Soviet Union, which Pope John Paul had only ever known as a superpower, took the Pope by surprise. “Not considering himself a prophet — as he’d say jokingly — the Holy Father did not expect the fall of communism to happen so soon. And, above all, that the liberation movement could be so rapid and bloodless,” writes Cardinal Dziwisz.

Also in the memoirs are vivid recollections of Sept. 11, 2001.

“The Holy Father was at Castelgandolfo,” he writes. “The telephone rang and at the other end of the line I could hear the frightened voice of Cardinal [Angelo] Sodano, secretary of state. The television was opened and the Pope was able to see the dramatic pictures, the collapse of the towers with so many poor victims imprisoned inside. He spent the rest of the afternoon between the chapel and the television, entering into all the suffering. … He was worried, strongly worried that it wouldn’t end there, and that the attack could set off an endless spiral of violence.”

The Holy Father’s vain attempts in 2003 to avert the war in Iraq are also recounted, including his last Angelus address before hostilities began.

“Three times, he repeated: ‘There’s still time!’ ‘It’s never too late!’” Cardinal Dziwisz recalls. “But all this clearly seemed insufficient to him. He had intuited, beyond the glimmers [of hope], that the situation was now precipitous, and as war came closer, he felt it risked being transformed into a civil war, or worse, a ‘holy war’.”

John Paul therefore tried another tactic: “He felt he needed to say something from the heart that had a personal testimony. He wanted to recall that he belonged to a generation that had known war, and therefore, for this reason, he felt he had a duty to affirm: ‘Never again war!’”

Some of the most moving passages are recollections of Pope John Paul’s last days, including his death.

“It was 9:37 p.m.,” writes Cardinal Dziwisz. “We had noticed that the Holy Father had stopped breathing. But only in that precise moment did we see on the monitor that his great heart, after continuing to beat for a few moments, had stopped.”

Someone, he said, blocked the hands of the clock to mark the hour of the Pope’s passing. Those around the Pope’s bed began singing a Te Deum of thanksgiving, not a requiem.

“We were crying. How could one not cry! They were tears of both sadness and joy. It was then that all the lights in the house were turned on. … And then, I can’t remember. It was as if it had suddenly become dark. It was dark above me, and it was dark inside of me. I knew well what had happened, but it was as if, afterward, I couldn’t accept it. Or I wasn’t able to understand it. I put myself in the Lord’s hands, but just when I thought my heart was at peace, the darkness came back.”

Shortly before the memoirs were published in Italy, news emerged that the Pope’s beatification cause will soon reach a crucial stage.

According to Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, the “diocesan phase” is almost complete, after which all the accumulated data — including three reported miracles and more than two million testimonies on John Paul’s life — will be sent to the congregation. The cause will then begin its “Roman phase.”

Cardinal Saraiva said that Cardinal Camillo Ruini, who is overseeing the local phase, had told him that that phase would be “complete in April.” The postulator of John Paul II’s cause, Msgr. Slawomir Oder, hinted in an interview with the Register that an announcement to this effect will be made April 2, the second anniversary of John Paul’s death.

“It is then up to the congregation to decide on the authenticity of the miracles and other documentation”, he said. Observers say that “John Paul the Great,” already a “Servant of God”, could reach the next stage of his cause and be proclaimed “Venerable” within the year.

Edward Pentin

writes from Rome.