Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz: St. John Paul II ‘Showed People the Way to Christ’

‘His death and funeral were, I think, his most beautiful encyclical,’ says the archbishop of Krakow and longtime friend and aide to the late pope, upon the 10th anniversary of his passing.

Then-Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz helps Pope John Paul II to his chair as the Holy Father arrives for his weekly general audience on Oct. 2, 2002.
Then-Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz helps Pope John Paul II to his chair as the Holy Father arrives for his weekly general audience on Oct. 2, 2002. (photo: Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

KRAKOW, Poland — “He was a saint. He was a saint,” Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz previously told the Register about the pope to whom he was secretary.

The archbishop of Krakow and longtime friend and aide to Pope John Paul II spoke to Register correspondent Filip Mazurczak on March 27, ahead of the 10th anniversary of John Paul II’s death, April 2.

The cardinal spoke about St. John Paul II’s enduring impact on the faithful and the Church, including his prolific teaching on the dignity of life and sanctity of marriage.


Pope John Paul II died 10 years ago. Five million people traveled to Rome for his funeral, which was the largest pilgrimage in the history of Christianity. Have any spiritual fruits of this great event remained?
The whole world and all of humanity assisted to John Paul II’s turning back to his Father’s house. His death and funeral were, I think, his most beautiful encyclical. This was a testimony to his life and to his faith, and this has remained. His love for God and for his fellow man remains. People whom he met with, not only Christians, have always reciprocated the love that radiated from him. People continue to return to his figure and want to deepen knowledge of his life and who he was. On the other hand, we need to remember his legacy, his literary and academic output, his teachings as a bishop and pope. This has not become irrelevant and continues to be fresh, not only in its content, but also in its language. He was communicative, convincing and was always led by the good of man and by his deep faith.


Your Eminence, you have said that the suffering and death of Pope St. John Paul II were his most beautiful encyclical. Jean Vanier said something similar: He claimed that never was he more beautiful than in his frailty and physical weakness. Yet we live in a time when youthfulness is worshipped and many people pay big money to look younger. Why, then, did John Paul’s public illness and death attract the world’s attention?

This was all authentic and fresh. He was not an actor, not in his own life and ministry. All that suffering was real and authentic — and, therefore, convincing. He was not playing the role of a pope, but living his ministry to God and man; and as a result, people accepted what he was saying. I think that, for many people, John Paul II showed the way to live out the Gospels, and this is convincing to people.


Your Eminence, you spoke of John Paul II’s academic output. During his canonization homily, Pope Francis called John Paul II “The Pope of the Family.” Papal biographer George Weigel boldly predicted that John Paul II’s theology of the body was a “theological time bomb” that will revolutionize the Church. Ten years after John Paul’s death, is interest in his philosophical and theological thinking increasing?

The saints are original people. They contribute something. John Paul II contributed a great deal to the Church. The Church was different during John Paul II’s pontificate than it was before. John Paul greatly contributed to theology: theology of the Holy Trinity — don’t forget three encyclical letters, Redemptor Hominis, Dives in Misericordia and Dominum et Vivificantem. He was showing God present in the world, criticizing two totalitarian systems, Nazism and communism, and two economic systems, socialism and materialism (Centesimus Annus). He was a traveling pope, spreading the Gospel to the whole of humanity. He was the “Pope of Life,” defending unborn life and old people. In particular, his stance towards the woman was revolutionary. Never before was there a papal document that spoke of respect of women. Similarly, his attitude towards the human body was new. The theological reflection on the body had not been previously treated in such a way. The theology of the body is a novelty that greatly enriches the theological doctrine that we will have to continue returning to, to the matters of the family, marriage and dating. This matter needs greater reflection and study. There are institutes that deal with this in Rome, Poland and around the world. Among the new things that John Paul II called into the life of the Church is the question of the new theology regarding the woman and the human body.


In recent months, several cardinals from various continents have proposed “relaxing” the Church’s teachings regarding sexuality and marriage. In particular, they have discussed letting divorced-and-remarried Catholics receive Communion under some circumstances. What can the theology of the body and, more broadly, John Paul II’s personalist philosophy and his works like Love and Responsibility offer as a response?

The Pope’s teaching enters the depths. Perhaps today’s world is not used to deeper reflection. John Paul II’s teaching concerning respect for life, contraception and the problem of marriages in crisis is very deep and important. He never condemned such marriages. He always responded with great love and concern for them. However, he simultaneously respected the rules that result from the Church’s teaching and also from his deep reflections based on the philosophy of personalism. Here, John Paul II may be difficult to understand to the modern world, yet he proposed that the problems of marriages in crisis be resolved by the Gospels and by the teachings of Christ.


Your Eminence frequently travels the world and distributes relics of St. John Paul II to many Catholics. What are some of the most moving examples of people whose lives changed under the influence of John Paul II that you have encountered?

People ask for relics because, as a result of their love for the late Pope, some people want something to remember him. These are relics that enjoy great esteem. After meeting John Paul II during his life, many people deepened their internal lives and discovered God. I have heard that many people were transformed after meeting John Paul II. Their faith was deepened, and their attitudes towards other people changed. They began to feel greater love for their fellow man. This also happens now. The desire to grow closer to John Paul II by getting relics shows that these people want to grow deeper in their faith and closer to God. Furthermore, during his life, so many people thanked God for graces they received after meeting John Paul II, especially childless couples who were blessed with children after meeting with him. This is also happening now, which shows that people miss him and want to come closer to him. They pray to God through his intercession.


Pope Francis has told Italian youths gathered at St. Peter’s Square shouting, “Francesco, Francesco!” to instead cheer, “Gesù, Gesù!” Like Francis, St. John Paul II was a charismatic and popular pope. Did his popularity bring people closer to God?

He showed people the way to Christ. He never kept people close to him. He was a great leader who guided young people to God.

Register correspondent Filip Mazurczak writes from Krakow, Poland, the site of World Youth Day 2016.