KRAKOW, Poland — The opening Mass of World Youth is always celebrated by the local archbishop. For the most part, the pilgrims are indifferent about whom that might be, if they notice at all. Yet, in Kraków, there is unusual interest in the local archbishop — or, precisely, who the local archbishop used to be and what he used to do.

Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, archbishop of Kraków since 2006, is the only elector in the College of Cardinals who is now occupied with the second-most-important job of his life. For the 39 years before he was archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Dziwisz served as the personal secretary of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, from 1966 to 1978 as archbishop of Kraków, and then, from 1978 to 2005, at his side as pope. Stripped of all family before he was ordained a priest, John Paul had no one in his life closer, and for longer, than the young man he himself had ordained a priest. In many profiles of the cardinal, he is described as more of a son than a secretary.

Just three years after his ordination, Father Stanisław received a call from the young Archbishop Karol Wojtyła of Kraków, suggesting that the priest might be able to help in the archbishop’s office. Within a few days, he reported for duty, not knowing how long the assignment would last. It lasted four decades — and even beyond John Paul’s death.

As archbishop of Kraków, Cardinal Dziwisz — aside from governing one of the most historic dioceses in the world — has dedicated himself to two principal tasks — last acts of service to the man he served. The first was shepherding, if from a distance, the sainthood cause, which was accomplished in record time, nine years after John Paul died. As a celestial gift to Cardinal Dziwisz, as if to recognize his lifetime of service, John Paul’s canonization date was set for Divine Mercy Sunday 2014 — which was also the cardinal’s 75th birthday. As required, he had to submit his letter of resignation that day, though it has yet to be accepted. He could have signed it Nunc Dimittis, the nighttime prayer of the Church — “Lord, now let your servant depart in peace.”

The other great project has been the shrine of St. John Paul just beside the sanctuary of Divine Mercy. The shrine tells the story of John Paul’s life in a series of chapels, as well as mosaics and bronzes, and serves as a center of memory and devotion. There is also intended to be a research center for the study of John Paul’s works, as well as a retreat center for pilgrims. Cardinal Dziwisz celebrated the first Mass in the principal upper church on his own 50th anniversary of priestly ordination in 2013. Pope Francis will celebrate the first papal Mass in that shrine on Saturday.

At the opening Mass on Tuesday evening — held in the same Błonie Park where John Paul celebrated his papal Masses on his visits to Kraków — Cardinal Dziwisz exercised his longtime discretion, not reveling in stories about his life with John Paul, but focusing on the World Youth Day theme of mercy.

“Kraków is alive with the mystery of Divine Mercy, owing to humble Sister Faustina and John Paul II, who made the Church and the world sensitive to this specific trait of God,” Cardinal Dziwisz said in his homily, which did not emphasize Pope John Paul. “Returning to your countries, homes and communities, carry the spark of mercy … so that human hearts will beat to the rhythm of the Heart of Christ, which is ‘a flaming fire of love.’ May the flame of love engulf our world and rid it of egoism, violence and injustice, so that a civilization of good, reconciliation, love and peace will be strengthened on our earth.”

It is widely expected that Cardinal Dziwisz, 77, will retire this fall, and he faces two remaining projects, having completed what might be called a valedictory World Youth Day.

The first task is to encourage a shift from valedictory mode in the next generation of Church leaders in Poland, both clerical and lay. The canonization and the shrine were worthy but backward-looking projects, looking to celebrate what Pope John Paul had done.

The need in Poland today is not so much to look back, but to apply John Paul’s vision to the future.

“Polish young people know that John Paul is a great hero of the nation,” said Michał Łuczewski, director of the Center for the Study of John Paul II in Warsaw, a think tank devoted to applying the teaching of John Paul to contemporary Polish issues. “They need to discover in him not just a hero from the past, but a pattern for life and thinking in the future.”

The second task left to Cardinal Dziwisz is to organize for posterity his private papers. Knowing that Soviet spies had thoroughly penetrated the Vatican in the 1970s and 1980s, Pope John Paul did not keep written records of his meeting and conversations for the official files. Rather, he would have a daily conversation with his secretary, leading to a daily diary that recorded the Holy Father’s day and what he wanted recorded from it. It’s a day-by-day, hour-by-hour record of a pontificate that fills more than 27 volumes. What Cardinal Dziwisz will do with the papers to regulate their publication and/or access to scholars remains his last great act of service to John Paul, after a lifetime of doing just that in exemplary fashion.

 Father Raymond J. De Souza 

is editor in chief of 

Convivium magazine.

He is in Kraków to cover

World Youth Day for

the Register and EWTN.