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from issue no. 10 - 2003

25 YEARS OF PONTIFICATE. An article by the President of the Pontifical Council for Culture

The Pope cannot have a personal anthropology

Wojtyla is a man of culture, an intellectual become Pope. But once, leafing through an essay on his anthropology, he told me: «Only Karol Wojtyla could say these things»

by Cardinal Paul Poupard

Cardinal Paul Poupard

Cardinal Paul Poupard

Twenty five years … the first image I remember of Pope John Paul II is that from the first day of his pontificate, when all the cardinals, in the celebration in Saint Peter’s Square, came to offer obedience. And here came Cardinal Wyszynski. The Pope got up and there was something like a struggle between the old primate who wanted to kneel and the young Pope raising him up, so as to bring him to his own height and embrace him. This scene has been immortalized in stone: a splendid sculpture in the heart of the University of Lublin. Another fine image is of the Sala Clementina, where a little girl had managed to intrude and to grab on to the Pope’s cassock… But the scenes are countless, and they blend together.
The first time I entered the private library of Pope John XXIII he greeted with a «My handsome son!». Working, always at the Secretariat of State, for Paul VI, he would call me «Dear Monsignor». And when I went in to Pope John Paul II for the first time, he gripped me with his strong hand and said: «Well? How is it going?» I’ve been thinking: times have changed!»
At the moment of that first conversation of mine with the Pope, when nothing gave me any hint of my future work next to him in the years to come, he appeared interested in the habits and methods of Paul VI: « I know you had the privilege of working with my great predecessor, I’d like you to tell me about it». Which I did.
What I most dearly keep of the Pope is the sense of his humanity; he, become Pope, never tried to disguise a failing, as everybody does try. And I’ve often happened to see his total simplicity in face of the truth. And I am struck by the way it’s natural in him to go where he wants to go, without becoming victim of maneuvering and delivering everyone over to their own conscience.
At no time, even when asked the most incongruous questions, have I seen him give signs of impatience. His calm has deep roots and I believe that is also the reason for… his good contacts with journalists: he is never irritated by their questions. On the other hand, if you had seen what the editor of Le Monde wrote about him more than twenty-five years ago, others would have yielded to the delights of such media recognition. Not he. I have in mind the “Long live the Pope! Long live the Pope!” to which he courteously replied: « Yes, thanks be to God, he’s still alive!».
There’s an important factor to consider. This Pope is a man of culture. An intellectual who has become Pope.
One day I went to lunch with the Pope taking the Dictionary of religions, as a present. He began to leaf through it, and that went on endlessly, under the desolate eyes of his good secretary who saw the meal getting cold! I looked at the Holy Father out of the corner of my eye and I saw him lingering over an article devoted to the anthropology of Karol Wojtyla. Without thinking too much about it, I hazarded: «It’s dangerous for a collaborator of the Pope to write an article on the anthropology of John Paul II!». « Dangerous? But why?» he said. And me: «Ah, yes, in truth… I say such things…» Then something amazing happened: it was as if the Pope’s eyes suddenly veiled with nostalgia: «These things on anthropology, could only have been said by Karol Wojtyla», that in other words meant: «Now I’m the Pope, I can no longer have a personal anthropology». Then he passed the book to Don Stanislao, with a gesture that said: «I offer this renunciation as sacrifice».
What strikes me is that this Pope is the man of syntheses. He always has a large vision of things. He suffers when people work secluded in their own sectors without paying attention to what’s happening around. He acts with great simplicity, and at the same time with magnanimity, longanimity. Speaking in preparation for the pre-synodal symposium for Europe on culture, that he had asked me to organize and that took place on 28 to 31 October 1991, I remember his explicit request: «You need to give a lot of space to the Russians». And so I did, creating a large numerical disparity in favor of the Russian delegation composed of ten to twelve people, while the French, German, Italian and others had groups of only two people. The large concern of the Pope, after so much separation, was this: «The Russians need to feel completely inside Europe». And his insight is ever more valid today, in his 25th year of pontificate.
(text gathered by Giovanni Cubeddu)

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