Interview with Cardinal Stanislao Dziwisz, personal secretary to JPII
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The publication of the book was already a scandal, all the more so just before the beatification. The book contained several “depositions” — supposed to be kept secret —that were collected during the canonical process. One had the impression that some of the witnesses, however well meaning, had reported their own thoughts more than that of John Paul II.
But for Cardinal Stanislao Dziwisz, the former personal secretary to Pope John Paul II and current Archbishop of Krakow, it was even more scandalous that an alleged pontifical approval of the events of Medjugorje had been released, based on something which Wojtyla confided to a Polish friend and which subsequently was reported during the process.
I still remember Dziwisz’s reaction when I communicated the news by phone. “No! No! It’s not true! That’s not what happened.” Two years later, in the book “I Lived With A Saint,” he returned to the subject. He explained that because “the exercise of the Petrine ministry demanded a continual spiritual discernment, especially in difficult issues,” the Pope had entrusted the whole matter to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Cardinal Dziwisz then spoke of its merit, saying: “I have to say that the Holy Father was impressed by the spirit of prayer, penance and conversion that characterized the pilgrimage of the faithful to the Mother of God. However, he always kept a prudent distance. And that is why he never received the “visionaries” in audience.
Two points in his comments immediately struck me. First, the fact that the Pope has been impressed by the large number of people traveling to Medjugorje; and even more, that they were going there to pray — to begin again to pray — and that they often returned converted.
Second, the reference to the “Mother of God,” as if to say: all the spiritual fervor, the transformation of Medjugorje — regardless of how it began — into a place of prayer … well, one couldn’t possibly understand it, let alone explain it, if not through a “presence.” That “presence!”
And here one could clearly perceive the Marian piety of Karol Wojtyla.
This was a Pope who was convinced that he’d been miraculously saved by Our Lady of Fatima, the day that Ali Agca cocked his gun to kill him. “One hand shot and another guided the bullet.” The same young Pole who, in Czestochowa, learned to be a man of “great confidence,” and “not to be afraid.”
Later, as a priest and bishop, he would travel to Jasna Gora. There, before the image of the Black Madonna, he explained, one could sense the heart of the Polish nation beating in the heart of his great protectress and patroness.
But there was one further point of interest found in Cardinal Dziwisz’s comments: his having put the word ‘visionaries’ in quotation marks. What did it mean? I am asking him today.
Your Eminence, was there any particular reason why you put the word ‘visionaries’ in quotation marks?
“It was only to accentuate the ‘prudent distance’ the Holy Father wanted to maintain in relation to the event, while it was being examined by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and also towards the visionaries themselves.”
One of the visionaries, Mirjana, claims to have had a private meeting with John Paul II, and that he told her: “If it was not Pope he would have gone to Medjugorje.”
“I can exclude it in the strongest terms. They say that one of the visionaries, though it isn’t clear if it was Mirjana,or Vicka, came one day to the general audience and greeted the Pope as he passed. But he said nothing to her. Otherwise he would have remembered. Besides, the Pope had not even realized who it was.”
And so he did not want to receive them in audience?
“Out of prudence, the Holy Father thought it was the right thing to do. But, believe me, he had nothing against them personally. In fact, I never heard, even in private, a single word of condemnation about the event or the people involved. He just wanted everything to be investigated thoroughly, with serenity and balance. And then, as I told you, the Holy Father was deeply impressed by the the abundant spiritual fruits Medjugorje was able to unleash.”
And you personally?
“I often had contact with groups of people, especially young people, who went there and came back different, changed, more serene, more convinced about what they believed.”
And the visionaries?
“I don’t allow myself to judge. Maybe there was lack of seriousness in certain behavior. But for the rest, I see it as a place of prayer. Outstanding! Yes, a place to pray. And to listen. There is Someone who is speaking! Speaking to the hearts of everyone.”
Here ends my conversation with Cardinal Dziwisz. Although it was absolutely not his intention, his words do help to clarify what the papal pronouncement might be; namely, the decision to emphasize the distinction between the “apparitions” (whose striking supernatural character is not yet fully apparent) and the “place,” which is abundantly and continuously bearing great spiritual fruit.
Indeed, as Cardinal Dziwisz said, it is a place of prayer. It is therefore a place that could lead to new “beginning,” by awakening a sense of the supernatural in people today. It is therefore also a place that should lead men back to the foundation of the faith, to the only true “sign” that counts: Jesus Crucified and Risen.
Gian Franco Svidercoschi was sent by ANSA to the Second Vatican Council and currently erves as deputy director for “L’Osservatore Romano.” He is a biographer of St. John Paul II, with whom he co-wrote the book “Gift and Mystery.” One may write to him at the following e-mail addess: firstname.lastname@example.org