Polish Cardinal and Pope St. John Paul II: United in Faith; United in Suffering

COMMENTARY: Cardinal Marian Jaworski’s presence at the death of Pope St. John Paul II capped long years at Karol Wojytła’s side.

Ukraine Cardinal Marian Jaworski attends a Mass celebrated by Brazilian Cardinal Eugenio Sales de Araujo in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on April 12, 2005. Starting with the funeral of Pope John Paul II on Friday, cardinals celebrated a series of funeral Masses for nine days known as the "Novemdiales."
Ukraine Cardinal Marian Jaworski attends a Mass celebrated by Brazilian Cardinal Eugenio Sales de Araujo in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican on April 12, 2005. Starting with the funeral of Pope John Paul II on Friday, cardinals celebrated a series of funeral Masses for nine days known as the "Novemdiales." (photo: Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty / Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty)

As Pope St. John Paul II was leaving this world to go to the house of the Father, his longtime friend Cardinal Marian Jaworski gave him viaticum — food for the journey, a few drops of the Precious Blood from the Mass of Divine Mercy Sunday, celebrated in the dying Pope’s room. Cardinal Jaworski, archbishop emeritus of Lviv, Ukraine, has now made the journey himself, dying on Sept. 5.

Cardinal Jaworski’s deathbed presence capped long years at Karol Wojytła’s side. They were young priests together in Kraków and scholars together in the academy. 

In 1967, Archbishop Wojtyła asked his fellow philosopher and friend to replace him at a lecture he was booked to give out of town. Archbishop Wojytyła was not able to give the lecture as he was in Rome to be created a cardinal. The train taking Father Jaworski to the lecture crashed; he lost his left arm in the accident. They would henceforth be united in suffering. 

As the reconstruction of post-Soviet Ukraine began, John Paul entrusted Father Jaworski with the delicate task of rebuilding and reconciliation, making him archbishop of Lviv. In 1998, John Paul named him — along with Archbishop Jānis Pujats of Riga, Latvia — as cardinals in pectore, meaning that they were secretly appointed. In 2001, their appointments would be revealed.

John Paul never explained why he made the in pectore appointments, but he evidently wanted to demonstrate his closeness to the persecuted Soviet-era Churches. Perhaps he worried about Russian objections in majority Orthodox countries.

Upon the news of Cardinal Jaworski’s death, Pope Francis sent a lengthy message of condolence to the Church in both Poland and Ukraine, indicating the uniqueness of the figure who expressed in his very person the complex history which shaped the life of St. John Paul II.

Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, archbishop emeritus of Kraków and John Paul’s personal secretary for 40 years, recalled Cardinal Jaworski as a “witness of a difficult history.” That history included the tensions and the challenges of reconciliation between Poles and Ukrainians, complicated by the long years of Soviet atheism. Cardinal Jaworski lived that extraordinary history. Even now, in death, he accompanies his saintly friend, St. John Paul II. 

Marian Jaworski was born in 1926 in Lviv (Ukrainian spelling; “Lwów” in Polish). That city, now in western Ukraine, was at the time part of Poland. Poland recovered its independence in 1918 after the Great War and sat on the map significantly to the east of where it does now. For example, both Lviv and Vilnius (the capital of Lithuania) were part of 1920s Poland. 

Prior to recovered independence, both Kraków and Lviv were part of the Habsburg Empire ruled from Austria. John Paul’s father, also Karol Wojtyła, served in the Austrian armed forces. Perhaps that is why, even in old age, John Paul referred in personal conversation not to Lviv (Ukrainian), Lwów (Polish), Lvov (Russian) or even Leopolis (Latin), but “Lemberg,” the Austrian-era German name for the city. He would have no doubt heard his father use that name.

The variety of names indicate the complicated history of Lviv. During the nearly 125 years of rule by the Habsburgs, Kraków and Lviv became sister cities, with cultural leaders moving easily between the two. That was certainly true of ecclesial life. While Lviv served as the seat of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church, led for many years by the formidable Metropolitan Andrey Sheptytsky, it was also a Latin Rite diocese. Priests and bishops of Kraków and Latin Rite Lviv went back and forth.

With the coming of Polish independence, and the rise of the expansionist Bolsheviks in Moscow, the territories of eastern Poland and western Ukraine came to be contested. Eventually, after World War II and the descent of the Iron Curtain, Poland would move westward on the map, and Lviv would come under communist rule as part of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. A fierce religious persecution would follow. 

All of this led to tension between Poles and Ukrainians, with resentment of the former by the latter for what they regarded as “polonizing” tendencies. This was the world into which Marian Jaworski was born.

He joined the Lviv Latin Rite seminary, but in 1945 the Soviets closed the seminary, and all the students were expelled; so, too, was the Latin Rite archbishop of Lviv, Eugeniusz Baziak. They all fled to Kraków. Archbishop Baziak, maintaining his position as archbishop of Lviv in exile, would be appointed archbishop of Kraków in 1951, uniting in his person both sister cities and local Churches. The regime refused to recognize Archbishop Baziak, so he carried only the title of “administrator” during this life. His tomb in Kraków’s Wawel Cathedral identifies him as archbishop of both dioceses, recognizing in death what was denied by the communists in life.

Archbishop Baziak — who ordained Father Wojtyła a bishop in 1958 — would ordain Jaworski a priest in 1950, subsequently assigning him to academic studies. He would live in the same residence as Father Karol Wojtyła in the shadow of Kraków’s cathedral. When Bishop Wojtyła became archbishop of Kraków, he would ask Father Jaworski to move to the archbishop’s residence to continue their collaboration. In the 1980s, as the Holy Father began to dismantle Polish communism, John Paul appointed Father Jaworski to be the first rector of Kraków’s Pontifical Academy of Theology (now the John Paul II University).

When in exile from Ukraine in the 1940s, the Lviv seminarians took up residence and completed their studies at the Shrine of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska near Kraków, a vast transplanted “Jerusalem,” with dozens of chapels commemorating the lives of Mary and Jesus as he makes his way to Calvary (Kalwaria). Father Jaworski developed a deep devotion to the pilgrimage site and would be ordained a priest in the shrine church.

Cardinal Wojtyła was a regular visitor to the shrine, spending hours walking the trails and praying over his most difficult problems. After the death of his mother when he was only a boy, Wojtyła’s father brought him to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, entrusting him there to the Blessed Mother. It remained for the rest of his life the shrine closest to his heart. 

In 1979, on his first papal visit to Poland, John Paul asked the pilgrims of Kalwaria “to pray for me here during my life and after my death.” In 2002, on his final papal pilgrimage to Poland, his last visit was to Kalwaria; he would definitively take leave of his homeland there.

“When I first visited this shrine in 1979, I asked you to pray for me, while I am alive and after my death,” John Paul said. “Today I thank you and all the pilgrims of Kalwaria for these prayers, for the spiritual support I continually receive. I continue to ask you: Do not stop praying — once again I repeat it — as long as I am alive and after my death.”

Cardinal Jaworski, ordained 70 years ago at Kalwaria, asked to be buried there. After a lifetime of praying for his friend, Cardinal Jaworski will participate after death in the prayers John Paul himself asked for. And one expects that, from heaven, St. John Paul will pray in a particular way for his friend buried in his beloved shrine.

 In Lviv, the Latin Rite Catholics are a minority and have an orientation toward the west, toward Kraków. The majority of Catholics are Eastern Rite Byzantine Ukrainian Greek Catholics. Historic tensions between the two communities had been suppressed during the long years of common Soviet persecution. When John Paul chose his friend to head the Latin Rite Church in Ukraine, the charge was not only to rebuild after the communist years, but also to work for reconciliation between the Catholic communities. 

An important part of John Paul’s vision of history was the “healing of memories,” applying the medicine of mercy to the evils of the past. The universal Church largely understood the roots of this to lie in the efforts of the Polish and German bishops to reconcile their nations after World War II. Yet it is likely that John Paul began to think about these issues in terms of Poles and Ukrainians. That was a much different dynamic, for in that context Poles were not the aggrieved but accused of being the aggressors. The healing of memories that John Paul saw as necessary likely began on Poland’s eastern border, not the western one. 

Whenever Cardinal Jaworski would visit Rome, he would stay in the papal apartment with John Paul. He was there for the last month of John Paul’s life in 2005. It is likely that in those hours of conversation, no doubt touching upon common philosophical and theological interests, the topic of memory and identity, mercy and reconciliation was often discussed. 

The obsequies (funeral rites) for Cardinal Jaworski will include, on Thursday, a Mass at the collegiate church of St. Anne, part of the ancient Jagiellonian University, to which both Wojtyła and Jaworski made their contributions. The final Mass will be at Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, where Jaworski will be buried. A scholar and a pilgrim like his friend, he will be buried as both.