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from issue no. 01/02 - 2005

Little Teresa and the old Pope

«Little Teresa wrote she saw Pope Pecci almost dead. Instead the Pope lived for years and did many important things». Interview with Cardinal José Saraiva Martins

by Gianni Cardinale

Cardinal José Saraiva Martins

Cardinal José Saraiva Martins

«Dominus conservet eum». Cardinal José Saraiva Martins, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of the Saints, is lapidary. And he entrusts to prayer, his own and those of all the Christian people, the health of John Paul II. The cardinal is Portuguese by birth, but Roman by adoption, since he has lived for more than fifty years in the city, where he came as a young seminarian to then become professor and rector of the Pontifical Urbanian University, then secretary of the Congregation for Catholic education and finally, from 1998, head of the department that collaborates with the Pope in the proclamation of the new blesseds and saints of the Church.

With what feelings are you following the Pope’s time in hospital?
JOSÉ SARAIVA MARTINS: I am following our Pope’s illness with great affection and great trepidation. As very many are doing, believers and non-believers throughout the world. All, independently of their religious and political creed, wish the Pope well, they pray for him, especially in these days, and they hope to see him leave the “Agostino Gemelli” hospital as soon as possible to return to the Vatican and take up his usual activity as bishop of Rome and pastor of the universal Church.
What witness is the Pope offering in this phase of his pontificate?
SARAIVA MARTINS: In his physical frailty, in the way in which he accepts the illness, the Pope is an admirable example for all. He teaches us, not abstractly, but in a concrete, existential way, how to live what the Pope himself has described as «the Gospel of suffering», and how to turn it into an effective instrument of evangelization. Pain is, in fact, the most immediate, incisive idiom to which people are most sensitive. How many families there are who have loved ones suffering at home or in hospital! However the Pope doesn’t offer his comfort only through his own sufferings. But also by thanking the Lord and the faithful for the affection he feels surrounded by. On that point I was very struck that the word of the Pope that was most strongly heard in the course of the Angelus recited from the windows of the hospital was: «Thank you!».
The Pope is in hospital, but he is always the Pope…
SARAIVA MARTINS: The words pronounced by Archbishop Leonardo Sandri on behalf of the Pope in the course of the Angelus of February 6 were very clear: «Here, too, in hospital in the midst of other patients I continue to serve the Church and the whole of humanity». In these circumstances one cannot but remember the indefatigable Petrine ministry of the sick Pope: his constant work for peace among men and peoples; for a real peace, founded on truth, on justice, on love and on forgiveness. And then one always has to remember that the Church is not governed by the legs and not even by fine words. But with the head and with the heart. And the head and the heart of the Pope are alert.
The press has given a lot of space to the Pope’s eventual resignation…
SARAIVA MARTINS: Avvenire, reporting some opinions, rightly had a heading Distasteful gossip from the media. At this time our noblest task is that – I repeat – of praying the Lord to preserve this Pope and safeguard His Church. On that point I much appreciated that Senator Giulio Andreotti reminded us of the passage from the diary of Little Teresa of Lisieux in which the holy protectress of the missions spoke of her audience with Leo XIII. Little Teresa wrote she found Pope Pecci almost dead. Instead the Pope lived for years and did many important things!
Your Eminence, you head one of the most “active” Congregations of the Roman Curia, given the great numbers of beatifications and canonizations there have been during these last twenty-six years. In this phase have you perhaps slowed your pace?
SARAIVA MARTINS: Thanks be to God we are not in a situation of Vacant See. And so our Congregation continues to work at the usual pace. Everything is going ahead as usual.
What good wishes would you send the Pope?
SARAIVA MARTINS: The most heartfelt and cordial wish is that the Lord gives this “Pope from afar” long life still. The Church and the world still need him: his prophetic witness, his deep faith, his apostolic courage, his rich and fertile magisterium.

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