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The Pope John Paul II I knew: “Would you cut my hair so that I could look nice at the conclave?”


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Anna Gębalska-Berekets - published on 06/05/20

Br. Marian Markiewicz, a witness to many important events in the life of John Paul II, reminisces about his experiences.

The Holy Father smiled and pointed his finger at me: “I know this one. He is the culprit who brought me to the conclave and left me there,” Br. Marian Markiewicz, a witness to many important events in the life of John Paul II, is reminiscing today about his experiences with Karol Wojtyla.

In January 1977, Brother Marian Markiewicz started working at the Collegio Polacco in Piazza Remuria in Rome. In October 1978, he was to pick up Cardinal Wojtyła from the airport. They had previously seen each other in August, when the cardinal flew in for the conclave following Pope Paul VI’s death. It was also then that Brother Marian thought to himself that the time had come for “our cardinal” to be elected pope.

The friar remembers him as a well-organized man who used every free moment for reading. “He liked to go out of town and would always walk part of the way,” Br. Marian recalls. “When he arrived at the airport in Rome, his hat screened his eyes a little; he was pensive, as if absent-minded.”

The list of the clergy taking part in the conclave included the name of Cardinal Wojtyła. Nobody expected what would happen soon. “Marian, the Holy Spirit will be our guide,” said the Cardinal then. Br. Marian drove Cardinal Wojtyła and Fr. Stanisław Dziwisz to the meetings that took place in the Vatican. He still remembers the special day on which the conclave was to take place. He took Cardinal Wojtyła’s suitcase to Room 96 at the Vatican. It was located right above the papal floor.

The pope’s hair

The prospective pope asked Br. Markiewicz to give him a haircut. “Marian, would you cut my hair so that I could look nice at the conclave,” said Wojtyła. Br. Marian kept the hair he had cut. It turns out he had practiced his hairdresser’s skills by cutting the hair of novices, then student priests and bishops. “I proudly pointed out that the first photographs of the Holy Father showed him with my hairstyle,” says Br. Marian.

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The white smoke

Cardinal Wojtyła also found out that his dear friend, Bishop Andrzej Deskur, had fallen ill. After lunch he went from the Pontifical Polish College to the Gemelli Clinic. Karol Wojtyła dressed up in the choir dress (the formal clerical garb required in the conclave) in Bishop Deskur’s apartment. From there they headed quickly towards the Vatican. They had very little time, as in a few minutes the Bronze Door was to be locked.

The farewell of Brother Marian and Cardinal Wojtyła was filmed by French television. “This sequence was then used by Krzysztof Zanussi in the film From a Far Country,” explains Brother Marian.

On October 16, 1978, everyone was waiting for the white smoke to appear and it finally did. “I was in the College TV room when I heard the first name ‘Karol’ and then the surname ‘Wojtyła.’ Out of joy, I took one of the students on my shoulders and would run round and round the room,” says Br. Marian in an interview with Aleteia. He adds that the Italians wanted to have a second John Paul, a smiling pope. “I remember his short address from St. Peter’s Square. Some people thought that someone from Africa or another continent had been elected pope. The name Wojtyła sounded strange in the mouth of the cardinal announcing the election. The pope blessed the faithful, on the next day he dissolved the conclave and celebrated Holy Mass.”

“Stanisław, ski trips are over”

Brother Marian Markiewicz recalls that John Paul II was a person everyone wanted to greet. He had a fine sense of humor and cared for everyone. His greatness lay in his being keenly observant.

On the next day Br. Marian had a chance to ask Fr. Dziwisz about the first impressions and the latter replied that when he first saw the pope in the white cassock, John Paul II joked: “Stanisław, my ski trips are over.” In addition, when the Holy Father entered the Papal Library, he remarked: “My God, when will I read all this?!”

John Paul II was remembered by Br. Marian as a “pope of human affairs.”

“When there was a need to address some pressing issue, he did that. He clearly and directly indicated what must not be done. He began and concluded his day with prayers. He was always the first to arrive at the chapel. He drew his strength from prayer. He was very well-organized. One could feel he was talking to God. Holy Mass was the pivot of his life. Each day he prayed all the three parts of the Rosary and contemplated the Stations of the Cross,” continues Br. Marian.

The friar would often visit the pope in his papal suite. He would also drive Polish bishops and remembers how joyful they were about the Polish pope.

Attempted assassination 

Br. Marian also remembers the attempted assassination of the Holy Father on May 13, 1981. He was taking some Polish bishops to a conference that was held in the Vatican and was supposed to deliver letters to the Polish center on the Via Pfeifer. He delivered the letters and then went towards St. Peter’s Square. A chopper was hovering above the place and the wailing of police and carabinieri sirens was heard. The friar approached the colonnade.

“A woman ran towards me and shouted that the pope had been assassinated,” explains Br. Marian. He adds, “The pilgrims who came from Poland, from Kościan, set an image of Our Lady of Częstochowa on the papal throne. A gust of wind overturned the painting and the people were afraid that it was a bad omen and that the pope was dead,” reminisces Brother Markiewicz.

However, at that time the Holy Father was in surgery. Everyone prayed for him. “I clean forgot to pick up the two bishops I had driven to the conference earlier. Fortunately, despite the late hour, the conference was not yet over,” recalls Marian. So he approached Bishop Szymecki and told him about what had happened. The bishop also passed sad information. The bishops prayed for the Holy Father’s successful operation. 

The friar also remembers that on May 17, 1981, a rug was hung from the papal window and the faithful gathered in St. Peter’s Square heard a recording of the pope’s voice, full of suffering and pain. The Holy Father forgave the man who had shot at him.

“Everyone, even men, had tears in their eyes. We could only hear the pigeons cooing and the water splashing in the fountains. The people in the square did not talk to one another.”

“He is the culprit who brought me to the conclave and left me there” 

In 1982, Brother Marian Markiewicz returned to Poland. He met with the Holy Father only when he was a guide of Polish pilgrim groups in Rome and when he went with bishops to Rome.

Today many people ask him to pray through the intercession of St. John Paul II.

As he explains, “People tell me that since I was so close to him, the saint is bound to hear my prayers. After his death I prayed to him rather than for him.”

Br. Marian remembers that when the pope was visiting the Polish town of Skoczów, he stood next to the then Polish Prime Minister Józef Oleksy and President Lech Wałęsa.

“When all were introduced, I found myself in the foreground. The Holy Father smiled and pointed his finger at me: ‘I know this one. He is the culprit who brought me to the conclave and left me there,’” recalls Br. Marian.


Read more:
At the end of the Nazi occupation of Poland, the future Pope John Paul II saved a young girl’s life


Read more:
Pope John Paul II changed the world from his knees, says biographer

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