KRAKOW, Poland — Will this month's four-day trip to his beloved Poland be Pope John Paul II's final visit home?
That's up to divine providence, the Holy Father told more than 2 million faithful gathered here at a beatification Mass on Aug. 18.
“Goodbye. I would like to say that I will see you soon, but this is totally in God's hands,” the 82-year-old Pope said following the beatification of four Poles in Blonie Park under a burning sun.
“We wait for you,” an enthusiastic crowd responded in unison.
“I entrust it totally to Divine Mercy,” the Pope responded, visibly moved by the fervor of his countrymen.
Some young people cried out, “We wait for you in Wadowice,” his birthplace near Krakow. And the crowd pleaded: “Stay with us! Stay with us!”
“You want to convince me to desert Rome,” John Paul said jokingly, in a response to rumors that he would resign and remain in Poland until his death.
When young people began to sing “The Boat,” the hymn of the “Oasis” movement of Polish Catholic youth, the Pope put his hand on his forehead, again visibly moved.
The hymn says: “I leave my boat on the shore, as I am going with you, my God.”
“I heard this song when I left Poland 23 years ago. It resounded in my ears when I heard the conclave's verdict,” said the Holy Father, who was elected as pope on Oct. 16, 1978. “I have heard it during all these years. It has always reminded me of my home-land and has guided me on the different ways of the Church.”
At the Mass, John Paul beatified four Poles and highlighted Divine Mercy as the answer to contemporary man's suffering.
The newly beatified are Zygmunt Szczesny Felinski (1822-1895), archbishop of Krakow for 16 months before being deported to Siberia by the czar; Father Jan Balicki (1869-1948), confessor and teacher of seminarians; Jesuit Jan Beyzym (1850-1912), “apostle of lepers” in Madagascar; and Sister Sancja Szymkowiak (1910-1942), known as “the angel of goodness” by English and French prisoners of the German army during World War II.
Among those attending the Mass were Lech Walesa, founder of the Solidarity movement that championed Poland's liberation from communism in the 1980s; Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski; Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus; and Slovakian President Rudolf Schuster.
In his homily, the Pope said from “the beginning of her existence the Church, pointing to the mystery of the cross and the Resurrection, has preached the mercy of God, a pledge of hope and a source of salvation for man.”
“Nonetheless,” he continued, “it would appear that we today have been particularly called to proclaim this message before the world. We cannot neglect this mission, if God himself has called us to it through the testimony of St. Faustina Kowalska,” the Polish nun (1905-1938) who received revelations and visions from Christ on his Divine Mercy.
“God has chosen our own times for this purpose,” the Holy Father said. “New prospects of development are opening up before mankind, together with hitherto unheard-of dangers. Frequently man lives as if God did not exist, and even puts himself in God's place. He claims for himself the Creator's right to interfere in the mystery of human life.”
Added the Pope: “Perhaps for this reason, it is as if Christ, using the testimony of a lowly sister, entered our time in order to indicate clearly the source of relief and hope found in the eternal mercy of God. The hour has come when the message of Divine Mercy is able to fill hearts with hope and to become the spark of a new civilization: the civilization of love.”
After the Mass, John Paul lunched with Poland's 120 bishops and prayed in the medieval cathedral where, newly ordained, he celebrated his first Mass on Nov. 2, 1946, for his dead parents and older brother. Then, visibly moved, he visited the family tombs in a nearby military cemetery.
John Paul's mother, Emilia Kaczorowska Wojtyla, died of kidney and heart failure when he was 9, and his brother Edmund, a doctor, died of a scarlet fever he contacted treating patients in an epidemic when the young Karol Wojtyla was 12. His father, also Karol, an official in the Austrian and Polish armies, died of a heart attack in 1941 when the young Karol was 21.
In the evening, a crowd of young people chanted, “Stay with us,” to the Pope outside the archbishop's residence, Associated Press reported.
“In my heart and my mind forever,” he replied, adding in the local Krakow dialect, “The farewell wish to the one who departs is, ‘Speedy return.’ I hope that this is your wish for me.”
Clogs of the Fisherman
The previous day, the Pope had dedicated the new Divine Mercy shrine in Lagiewniki, a suburb of Krakow. Celebrating the first Mass in the church, he removed his ring and anointed the bare, white marble top of the altar with holy oil.
Behind the altar hung a painting of Jesus as he appeared to St. Faustina, in white robes with red and white rays, symbolizing the wine and the water of the Mass, emanating from his heart. Sculptures of the bare branches of two twisted trees, recalling the crucifixion, and a large golden globe stood below the painting.
“How greatly today's world needs God's mercy,” John Paul said. “In every continent, from the depth of human suffering, a cry for mercy seems to rise up.”
The 4,000-seat church, which is shaped like a boat, was filled to capacity. Some 8,000 worshippers watched the Mass on television screens in the church garden while an estimated 200,000 more gathered in fields surrounding the convent of the Sisters of the Merciful Mothers of God.
Just a few meters from the shrine is the site of the Solvay quarry where the Pope worked in his youth during the Nazi occupation of Poland. At the end of the Mass, he recalled, “The Solvay industry was near this place. When I passed every day, going from home to work, dressed in a pair of wooden shoes, I would never have said that one day this person with the wooden shoes would consecrate the Basilica of Divine Mercy in the place where I stopped to pray so many times on my return from work.”
Driving back to the residence after the Mass, John Paul stopped briefly to bless a library under construction at the Pontifical Theological Academy at Pychowice near the new campus of Jagiellonian University and the former quarry. Msgr. Tadeusz Pieronek, rector of the academy, presented the Pope with a student identity card entitling him “to study whenever you want without having to take any exams.”
The Pope's motorcade also stopped outside the house where he lived in an apartment with his father from 1939 to his father's death in 1941. John Paul did not get out of his car, but the present tenant, Dorota Bielatowicz, and her neighbors gave him an album of photographs of Krakow, and Bielatowicz's four small children handed him a bouquet of flowers.
The Holy Father concluded his 98th international trip Aug. 19 by celebrating a Mass at the Shrine of the Passion of Jesus and of the Virgin of Sorrows in the Basilica of Kalwaria Zedrzydowska, where he often visited as a boy and as a young priest.
Seated at the altar beneath a gilded painting of Mary and the child Jesus, he signaled his resolve to keep serving as pope, Associated Press reported.
Said the Pope: “Most holy mother, our lady of Calvary, obtain also for me strength in body and spirit that I may carry out to the end the mission given to me by the risen Lord.”
- August 25-31, 2002