24 Years of Polish Pope’s Pontificate – Time of Thanksgiving and happiness

When I recollect the day of October 16, 1978, I remember a gray, Fall day and a quick sundown. In the Krakow seminary, where I resided during my third year of studies, we were in a “Day of Reflection”, a day of silence and prayer. It was a time of the new pope’s election. Our holy father encouraged us to pray to the Holy Spirit so that the person selected is one that is most deserving of the title “Pastor of the World”. Even though we were required to obtain “silentium sacrum” – holy silence, we all felt the one ever-burning question: Which cardinal will be selected as the next pope?

At 5:00 PM, we gathered in the seminary’s chapel to hear the last conference of the day. Right before 6:00 PM, Fr. Franciszek Macharski stormed in like the wind and interrupted the conference, revealing the great news from the Vatican radio that the new pope is our own Krakow’s bishop, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. For a moment, everyone was silent as if though they did not believe their ears. Then after a few seconds, the chapel was filled with cheers of great joy.  With tears in our eyes, we exchanged hugs and laughed like little children.

Without permission from our superiors, we formed a parade of 300 seminarians within 20 minutes. With phrases “Our Cardinal is the Holy Father” and “Our Cardinal is the New Pope,” we started out into the streets of Krakow to share the good news with others. Hearing this unbelievable fact, the residence of Krakow embraced, crying with joy. Hundreds of people joined our parade. People stopped their cars, others opened their windows, and all shared in the happiness. This was a long night full of joy. After over 400 year, a non-Italian cardinal was selected for the Capital of St. Peter, and in addition, it was our fellow countryman, the first Pole, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. On this day, every Catholic wanted to be Polish.

I do not doubt that each one of us lived the day of Cardinal Wojtyla’s election in a very happy and interesting way, but I wanted to share with you my memories, since Cardinal Karol Wojtyla welcomed me into the Krakow Seminary and I am still a priest in that diocese. The 24th anniversary of this day makes me very happy and grateful for all the blessings we received  from God thanks to the service of our “Traveling Pope”. I invite all of you, especially during this time, to pray and thank God for the 24 years of service of our Great Pole, Pope John Paul II.

On October 16th, 24 years have passed since the moment when the world heard the surprising news: the election board of 111 cardinals selected a cardinal from Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, to be the new pope. For the first time in 465 years, at St. Peter’s Capital sat a non-Italian bishop, in addition a representative of a Slovak country in the Soviet block. Some could not believe it, others waited as if something else was to happen, and others yet looked with hope to the future. 24 years of John Paul II’s pontificate proved that his election was well deserved. Whatever I write about this great individual will not be enough.  I do want to recollect the most important events in our fellow countryman’s life.

Karol Wojtyla was born on May 18, 1920 in Wadowice near Krakow. At the age of 9, he lost his mother. After finishing high school in 1938, he moved with his father to Krakow, where he began his studies as a Polish major at the Jagiellonian University. War halted his studies, and he worked as a miner. In 1941, his father passed away, and a year later, Karol entered the seminary in Krakow. From August 1, 1944 to January 18, 1945, he stayed in hiding at the palace of Cardinal Stefan Sapiehy.

On October 1, 1949, Karol Wojtyla was ordained a priest. During the next two years he studied philosophy in Rome. Upon returning home, he served as a priest in Niegowici, and later in the parish of St. Florien in Krakow. In 1948, he finished his doctorate, and as a result, five years later he taught at the Jagiellonian University. During this time, he also wrote a play based on life of Adam Chmielowski. In 1954, he began working at the Catholic University of Lublin, where he quickly became the director of the School of Ethics. He continued to work here as a tenured professor from 1958 till his election as pope. Also in 1958, Pope Pius II named him Assistant Bishop of Krakow. At the age of 38, he was the youngest bishop in the diocese of Krakow. In 1967, he became a cardinal. He filled many important positions in the church of Poland, and at the same time, served on few Vatican congregations. In the fall of 1969, Cardinal Wojtyla visited Canada and the United States, when he also visited Cleveland.

During this whole time he worked very hard in the field of education, which is evident in his numerous works on ethics. During Vatican II, Cardinal Wojtyla participated in writing many documents. In 1976, Pope Paul VI invited him to lead the yearly Lent teachings at the Vatican. Two years later, he remained permanently at the Capital of St. Peter as pope number 264 in a long line of leaders of the Catholic Church.

Fr. Jerzy Kusy
Translated by Monika Glazar

Forum, 10/2002