The remembrances of twenty Cardinals
Twenty Cardinals write Part I
by Cardinal Bernardin Gantin,
Dean Emeritus of the Sacred College
The Pontiff who has left us was a great one. Mourning has been universal for him. I would say that it has been the mourning of the century. The history of the Church will be witness to his greatness and human immensity: human, spiritual, pastoral, missionary. John Paul II has left us a will of great simplicity, in which he several times refers to the great Pope Paul VI.
For me the memories are many. So many, having lived here in Rome more than twenty-five years with him, as his collaborator in the Roman Curia. The memories binding me to him are thus extremely numerous. But one in particular remains in my heart and is particularly dear to me. And is linked with the moment in which he allowed me to return to my native Benin.It was not easy either for me to ask, I was the Cardinal Dean, or for him to grant it. For three months he kept the letter with my request without giving a response. In the end he invited me to lunch and told me: «All right, I agree». He understood how strong the bond is that I have with my native land. To have given me back to my country was an unforgettable gesture for me. He allowed me to return to my Africa, as Roman missionary.
by Cardinal Roger Etchegaray
It is difficult for me to speak about John Paul II. I met him twenty years before he was elected. I knew him well because we worked together a great deal for Europe, already then. He was a pioneer of a Europe truly alive, expanded, at the service of the whole world. When he became Pope, Europe remained one of his work sites.
I would have many personal memories of him, but shall speak only of this one: I accompanied him many times on his journeys, but I remember in particular the first one he made to his native Poland. He then pronounced a phrase that I have never forgotten, quoted many times as a key phrase of his pontificate. It was in Warsaw, in Victory Square, precisely where the demonstrations of the communist regime were held. I hear him still, I hear his strong voice still, the one he had when he was younger. I hear it speaking this phrase: «Jesus Christ cannot be excluded from the history of mankind. To do so is to act against mankind». They are very strong words, I think, words that well sum up his whole pontificate.Today, seeing this enormous crowd, I am indeed sure of going through – and not only I – a kind of spiritual exercise, as if I were making a spiritual retreat. I owe it to the media that have offered us, with great skill and professional awareness, everything that has happened in these days. They have offered us a parade of people, of men, of women, of young people, sometimes of children, who queued toward a body, that of John Paul II exposed in Saint Peter’s, standing for six hours or maybe more. I asked myself why this Pope today, in these days, is more Pope thatnever, in the greatest days of his pontificate. Dead he is still Pope, more that ever, probably because the crowd approaches, with so much dignity, in silence. Probably each one does so for different reasons, but there is, however, in each man, in each woman, in each child that draws near the body of the Pope something very deep that makes us reflect. I mean John Paul II knew how to re-awake in us that portion, however small, of innocence that exists in every person, even if made old by sin, wounded by sin. I believe that in each person, however corrupt, there is a portion, a small corner that “remains exposed to the sun of God”, to use a poetic image. And thus the Pope knew how to give back faith to every person, precisely because he did not excludedJesus from the human vocation. To conclude, I believe that this Pope, John Paul II, must be taken all of a piece. He was Pope for more than twenty-six years, and we must take him from the sparkling dawn of his pontificate up to the sunset full of pain. He was always the same Pope, a Pope who represented all the aspects of the human condition. Certainly, this Pope, to whom I was very close, made himself known through the media, but maybe it is not known that for those who were close to him he was a man of inwardness, full of modesty about himself, about his faith. The way in which he lived his Christianity, his baptism like every Christian, was extraordinary.
Giovanni Battista Re
A MAN OF PRAYER
by Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re
This 263rd successor of Peter, this deeply human Pastor, this leader who drew young people after him, was first and foremost a man of prayer.
It was striking how he abandoned himself to prayer: one saw in him a transport that was connatural to him and that absorbed him as if he had no problems and pressing appointments calling him to the active life. His attitude in prayer was collected and, at the same time, natural and relaxed: evidence, this, of a communion with God intensely rooted in his mind; the expression of convinced, relished, lived prayer.The ease, the spontaneity, the promptness with which he passed from human contact with the crowds to the thoughtfulness of the intimate conversation with God was moving. When he was recollected in prayer, what happened around him seemed not to touch him and not to concern him.He prepared himself for the various meetings he would have during the day or in the week by praying.Before every important decision John Paul II prayed on it for a long time. The more important was the decision, the more prolonged was his praying.There was in his life an admirable synthesis of prayer and action. The source of the fertility of his acting lay precisely in prayer. He was convinced that his first duty to the Church and to mankind was that of praying. He himself said so: «The Pope’s first task for the Church and for the world is that of praying» (homily at the Mentorella Sanctuary, L’Osservatore Romano, 31 October 1978).This pontificate is thus only fully understandable if one notes the inner, contemplative dimension that animated and sustained this Pope, a man of great personal prayer as well as teacher in the faith. That is why he had the eyes “to see the invisible”. And that is why he had the strength to remain in the breach up to the last.
HOW TO LISTEN
by Cardinal Godfried Danneels
Archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel
The most personal memories I have of Pope John Paul II go back to the first days of our acquaintance, when the particular Synod of the Dutch bishops was convoked. I had been elected archbishop of Mechelen-Brussel fifteen days earlier and went to Rome to take part in that Synod, where I was elected delegate president. I spent more than three weeks in Rome close to the Pope. The impression the Pope made on me in those circumstances, and also afterwards, was that of a man who really knew how to listen at length. During the weeks of the Synod he did nothing else but listen, without saying much, to the Dutch bishops, who set out fairly delicate questions to him.
In my view John Paul II had two qualities that are rarely found in the same person. He was a natural leader who knew how to accept his responsibilities. And at the same time he was a very warm and cordial man. I know many leaders cold as ducks, though nevertheless good leaders. And others who may be very cordial but are worth nothing as leaders. And then a man of great intelligence with a culture in which philosophy, art, the sense of the civilization came together. He was a real philosopher. And his philosophy was a humanism. His thinking focused on the profound nature of man. From there began his battle for the humanization of mankind and against the tendencies to dehumanization taking place in the modern world. Everything he said about sexual morality belonged to that battle.
Another exceptional aspect of him was his great capacity for relationships. One saw it above all in his relations with young people, which for me had something extraordinary about it. He knew how to give to everyone, but especially to young people, a sense of fatherhood. That was the undeniable secret of his grasp over young people. In a generation without fathers, he represented the sense of fatherhood. When he came to Belgium in 1985, someone said: they loved the singer, not the song. They may not have agreed with what he said, but they listened to him because they felt trust in his person.
OF PILGRIMS DOES NOT SURPRISE ME
His Holiness John Paul II was a man of God so great that those who had the grace to be near him could see only some sides of his rich personality. Here briefly are four I’d like to mention.
He believed and trusted in Divine Providence. I have seen him leave things in the hands of God and not try to force the issue.
He prayed. He was a man of prayer. Even in the large celebrations in Saint Peter’s Square, or on the apostolic pilgrimages, he knew how to collect himself in holy mass as if he were alone.
I was struck by his faith in seeing him celebrate holy mass. His ars celebrandi was more eloquent than the encyclicals, even if those were also very nourishing.
Pope John Paul II had a place in his great heart for all: Catholics, other Christians, other believers, mankind.
I am not surprised that the queue of pilgrims waiting to say farewell stretches kilometers. Great man of God!
by Cardinal László Paskai
Archbishop Emeritus of Esztergom-Budapest
The person of John Paul II has left a distinctive imprint on my soul. What struck me most were the coherence and the fidelity with which he performed the Petrine office.
In his pastoral activity was manifest the mandate to comfort the brethren whom Jesus has entrusted to Peter. The Pope put it into practice when he preached the Word of God in the city of Rome and throughout the world. He did the same thing in his writings. Through the encyclicals and apostolic letters he strengthened the faith of believers in current circumstances, in the spiritual and moral questions of today.
He performed the Petrine office by stirring and strengthening Christian hope. The fact that his words, even when they concerned difficult questions, ended with a thought of hope remains particularly in my mind. He nourished hope especially during his meetings with young people.
His Christian spiritual life was an integral part of his Petrine office. He followed Christ in a heroic way. He was a Pope. One could feel he had intimate contact with Jesus Christ. Each day in prayer he spoke about his ministry with Jesus and received from him indications and the strength to find solutions and be able to guide the universal Church.
by Cardinal Fiorenzo Angelini
During these days I have heard and read, through the media, this Vicar of Christ exalted for many historic enterprises: the bringing down of regimes, contacts with the most diverse peoples, with the most various religions, with all, even with those that seemed most distant. Now this would not have been possible without the supernatural strength of this man, a strength that came from love of contemplation, of the union with God. In more elementary words, it came from his prayers, from his ability, from his intelligence in prayer. When this Pope prayed, and he prayed hours and hours each day, we saw him deep in prayer, absorbed as if he were in even visual contact with the Lord.
Hence it is right to remember that he was the Pope of peace, of ecumenism, of youth, of sportsmen, of scientists; that he was a father, with that spiritual paternity that embraces all and everyone, not only the Christians in the world; but this was a man that could accomplish what he did accomplish because he made it come from the strength he obtained in this union with God, in this ability to raise his mind to God. His adherence to the supernatural was the basis of every initiative he undertook. Even those that did not seem essential, such as his support for rock music , the dances and the songs of young people, up to his admiration for sporting competition, understood as elevation of the spirit as well as body.
Nobody could remotely imagine what was to happen in the crowning arc of his illness and immediately after his death. I am here in Via della Conciliazione and under my windows tens and tens of thousand of people are waiting with heroic patience. Many are not even healthy enough to bear so many hours of queuing. There are people of all the ages, because he was the Pope of all the stages of life, of every person. And today they are hailing him as a saint. Here in Via della Conciliazione they have set up quite a number of little altars with photos, with candles and bits of paper asking for favours.
Saint. It’s not just now that I’ve taken to using the word. I’ve written it various times and said it publicly for some years: this is a saintly Pope. And if the proclamation of sanctity could happen, as happened in the past, also by public acclamation, today this Vicar of Christ would be proclaimed saint, because no pontiff has ever been hailed in this way. This Pope made an almost inverse journey, in his passage of this earthly Jerusalem, to that of Jesus. He experienced first the suffering of the passion and then the hails. In fact the Pope reached the peak of this glory, human also, through uncommon personal suffering. And he was a Pope attuned to the Christian value of suffering, to the fact that Christ Jesus is suffering vanquished by love. He was the first Pope in the history of the Church to give an apostolic letter on the Christian sense of human suffering, the Salvifici doloris of February 1984. He himself lived and practiced the marvellous parable of the Good Samaritan: the memory of when, accompanied Mother Teresa, he stooped over dying Indians will always be remembered; but it was not an isolated fact. How many times, accompanying him to Rome hospitals, I have seen him visiting patient by sick patient, staying with each of them without calculating the time, as if that patient were the only one. One could see it was not a formal gesture, but the gesture of a saint and of an apostle. I learned greatly from those visits.
Even the way he knew how to suffer in the last period of his life was a great testimony. His humility didn’t only arise from being good, it was heroic. Because no sovereign and no one of us would have had the courage to present himself to the crowds in that condition, sicker than the sick, at times without being able to speak, helpless as a beggar. We have seen him make what might have appeared gestures of impatience, but were instead ones of deliberate subjection to the will of Christ, that prevented him in that moment from greeting a crowd and even saying a simple “farewell”.
But perhaps the moments of greatest suffering for the Pope were two others. The first was the assassination attempt in 1981, that left him shocked. Apart from the physical pain, the Pope there suffered in soul, in spirit and in mind, together with the fear of dying. More than justified fear, because I who was present at the operation in the Gemelli hospital can testify that he was saved only by a miracle. The conditions in which the operation was performed could not but reveal a divine hand, that of Our Lady of Fatima.
But the spiritual suffering was even stronger: no one before had thought that an attempt could be made to shoot a pope dead in the streets. For what was at the time the world order it was an unheard-of thing. And the Pope suffered a violent trauma of the spirit, especially him, who, being Slav, tended to asceticism: he was a philosopher, a poet, an artist, with the psychological nuances of the actor.
The second thing that made him suffer, but for which, almost with Christian fatalism, he gave himself over to the will of God, were the limits set on his apostolic visits, the fact that he could not go to Russia and China. He spoke to me much of it. They didn’t understand that the Pope was not a colonizer, a conqueror. They never understood who this Pope really was, his immense charity. Those were very deep sufferings. But I want to underline his humility in living them, because if he had wanted to force the issue and act on impulse, as so many times he did, he would also have crossed those frontiers, but his great humility enabled him to understand that he must not go beyond the limits advised by the people who knew most about those problems.
Certainly this Pope leaves a void. He had the ability of attracting all that is possible to attract and that needs to be attracted. And the lords of the earth who will come to the funeral together with the million of ordinary people demonstrate it. Many of them cannot forget the rebuffs given to this Pope: the differences on peace, on Christian references in the European Constitution, on crucifixes in schools, on homosexual marriage, etc. But God writes straight even on the crooked lines of the world and of mankind. Let us leave it to Him.
by Cardinal Dionigi Tettamanzi
Archbishop of Milan
Many are the memories that crowd into my mind in this moment of the painful earthly passage of the Pope. They are memories of so many personal meetings and of collaboration with the Holy Father in the exercise of his ministry, that I keep with discretion in my heart. And, nevertheless, in these days of universal mourning, I cannot but recall the affectionate caress that John Paul II gave me in the early days of July three years ago, encouraging me forcefully to agree to become, as he wanted, your archbishop. I have chosen to mention this highly personal fact because, in that gesture of great delicacy, I recognize the caress of the Pope not only for my person, but also and above all for the diocese of Milan. John Paul II, in fact, always looked on our Milanese Church – whose Cathedral holds the earthly remains of Saint Charles Borromeo, whom he filially venerated as patron saint - with cordial concern and with a real fatherly affection. They were feelings and attitudes that we had the opportunity to know and appreciate and that were manifested in particular on the two visits to our diocese – in 1983 for the 20th national Eucharistic Congress and in the following year for the fourth hundred anniversary of the death of Saint Charles – and in the diocesan pilgrimages we made to Rome, the most recent for the 2000 Great Jubilee, when, with his singular benevolence, the Pope invited our dear Cardinal Martini to celebrate the holy mass in Ambrosian rite in Saint Peter’s Square on the feast of Saint Charles.
Then still again resounded, for us and for our world, the urgent appeal that, with firm and impassioned voice, John Paul II addressed to all at the beginning of his pontificate: «Do not be afraid! Open, indeed throw wide the doors to Christ!».Let us also be shaken by the words and witness of John Paul II himself and «let us go forward with hope», continuing to move ahead in the third millennium, that has opened «before the Church like a vast ocean in which to venture, counting on the help of Christ». With penetrating gaze, able to see the work that today also the Lord is accomplishing with his Spirit in the history of the world, and with a large heart so that we ourselves become the instruments of that work, let us contemplate and love the face of the Lord and let us step out, faithful to the missionary mandate of the Risen One, animated by the «same enthusiasm that was proper to the early Christians».
(From the letter to the diocese of Milan
on the death of His Holiness John Paul II)
Paul Shan Kuo-hsi
OF WORLD POLITICS
by Cardinal Paul Shan Kuo-hsi
Bishop of Kaohsiung
I consider my relations with John Paul II to have been close and personal. A year after becoming Pope he appointed me bishop to Taiwan and twenty years later created me cardinal. When I reached seventy-five, I sent in my resignation, three times, but he wouldn’t accept it. So in Taiwan I am still an “active” bishop, albeit I am eighty-two by now.
I had a strong impression of this Pope, he was indeed a great man. Great in the faith, a real and intense faith in God, with great trust in Divine Providence.He was a man of prayer and deep spirituality. All that was the basis and source of his actions.It is because he was so near to God that his heart was so near to people, especially to the children, to the poor, to the sick.His heart belonged to the whole of mankind. He promoted social justice, rapprochement, dialogue, peace in the world, that is why so many people have come to Rome to pay him their last respects.He was close to young people, at eighty-four years old he attracted them. He knew their aspirations, gave them hope, a future, direction. Today many people are fearful, without objectives or principles, spiritual or even moral values. The Pope gave them clearly indications. More than the politicians do. The Pope told young people the truth and therefore they respected and adored him. And there were those who queued in Rome for twenty-four hours to see him for the last time: a fact that moved my heart.At the same time I believe that the Holy Father played a truly important role in the theater of world politics, though not being a politician but a spiritual and moral authority. He told all mankind what was right, what is real. Today many people seem lost in secularism, materialism, atheism, but the Pope dared tell them where the right direction lies. He was a great religious leader, not only for Catholics but for all Christians, for the Eastern Churches and Protestants, and even for those who don’t believe: I have received calls of condolence from Taiwan and from other parts of the world, from Buddhists, Taoists, Moslems who confirm it to me. So therefore I would say that he was a saintly man. I hope and pray that one day, sooner or later, he is beatified and canonized.We should perhaps already be calling him John Paul the Great.What is his legacy for the Church in the Orient?In the 1995 World Youth Day there were five million young people in Manila. In that same period the Federation of Asian Episcopal Conferences held its plenary assembly and the Pope came to speak to the bishops. It was the first time he stated that «the third millennium belongs to Asia». In the first millennium in fact the Mediterranean was evangelized, in the second America and Africa. I hope that this is not only a desire or a prayer, but the prediction of a prophetic Pope. Even if the Church in Asia is everywhere very small, except in the Philippines, it is however alive, not frightened by the fact of being surrounded by other religions, by secularism and materialism, and full of faith in Divine Providence. The Chinese were loved by John Paul II. Meeting him, in my private audiences or in the meetings with the other Asian bishops, he always told us that his first prayer when he got out of the bed each day was for the Chinese people. He many times expressed, in public and private, the desire to visit China, but for many reason he was prevented. Now that he is in Heaven he is freer, and can go there at any time. Before God he can now pray for the Chinese, intercede for the Church in those parts. My last private audience with John Paul II was in May last year.For almost all the time we spoke about the Church in China and in Taiwan. He was a universal Pastor, who watched over each individual local Church, a father of the great family of the Church, a father who loves all his children. And every time that one was with him, one didn’t seem to be in the presence of a Pope, so great was his gentleness and his openness. He watched over us faithful.
Geraldo Majella Agnelo
by Cardinal Geraldo Majella Agnelo
Archbishop of São Salvador da Bahia
I met the Holy Father John Paul II personally at the beginning of 1991 in Natal, in Brazil, during the national Eucharistic Congress when, introduced to him by the nuncio, I was called to collaborate in his Petrine ministry as secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship. The memory from my relations with the Holy Father that I keep alive in my heart concerns particularly the years I lived in Rome. I have a feeling of gratitude, manifested in all the contacts I then had with him, for the witness of lived faith. I never left an audience or a liturgical celebration without becoming richer in the faith, and, especially in the exercise of my priestly mission; those meetings were for me an example of the total following to Jesus Christ. I admired his peculiar human experience, marked from childhood by difficult circumstances that taught him to help mankind in the search of happiness by looking for the satisfaction that remains, that lasts in the transitoriness of the circumstances of existence. An interest in concrete men and women who struggle and who hope, who suffer and love, who work, characterized his speeches, documents, meetings, journeys. We in Brazil knew him as the pilgrim Pope. In our country also he travelled hundreds, thousands of kilometers, establishing immediately with our people a fellow-feeling and a mutual liking. I remember the demonstrations of affection from the people in all the cities where he passed. The people acclaimed him shouting «João de Deus, João de Deus», in recognition of an extraordinary person through whom Christ made himself present. Now a particular memory comes to mind. I remember I was once having lunch with him, together with other cardinals, and the discussion at that moment concerned female altar servers. Some were against them serving at the altar and appealed to canon 230 of the Code of Canon Law. The Pope then stood up and answered in a firm tone: « No. No. We must allow women to serve at the altar». And he recounted how, during the years of persecution in Russia, the faith had been preserved and handed on by grandmothers, by mothers who brought together their children and grandchildren on Sundays and gave them some notion of the catechism and even mimed the gesture of the mass to impress on them the importance of the eucharistic celebration, to leave alive in them the desire of one day being able to participate. Preserving, handing on the faith. Testifying the faith. Always trusting in God. And the Pope gave us examples of that even in these last times as a sick man, in a hospital bed, up to his last breath. That was his greatness.
Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga
OF A SPIRITUAL FATHER
Oscar Andrés Rodríguez Maradiaga
Archbishop of Tegucigalpa
The first time I met John Paul II was in Rio de Janeiro in the July of 1980 during the commemoration of the 25th anniversary of the CELAM. I had been bishop only for a year and half and so when I was able to greet him, he said: «You are a young bishop»; I answered: «The fault’s yours who appointed me», and we laughed. At a certain moment, after dining with us bishops, he asked: « But don’t the bishops know how to sing?». «Yes, of course», we answered. «Do you know the song El pescador?» he asked us. And so we began to sing the song with great enthusiasm. And he sang with us.
I well remember then when I met him in Rome in 1983. I came that year to make my first ad limina visit. I was apostolic administrator in Santa Rosa de Copán. When I entered his office, he said: «Comes a young bishop, but who has much work». He had a map of Honduras on his desk, he had no other notes and began by saying: «Come, come, tell me: Santa Rosa de Copán is here; how are the refugees from Salvador doing?». I was really struck because he was thinking of those who were effectively suffering more, the refugees. After, he began to tell me things that were certainly in the information that I had sent before the ad limina visit: but he didn’t have even a scrap of paper, he knew it all by heart. All that has always impressed me, a great memory up to the last moment.
I met him for the last time in January of this year, when at the closure of the Plenary Assembly of the Commission for Latin America. Going to greet him he recognized me immediately. He always joked with my first name, Oscar, and he said to me: «You’re a movie prize…».
As I already said on Vatican Radio, for me John Paul II was a real spiritual father, and so for me Saturday 2 April was like when my father died. My father died when I was 19 years old and now I felt the same sense of loss as I did then.
by Cardinal Cláudio Hummes
Archbishop of São Paulo
John Paul II will always be remembered with deep love and gratitude, above all by the generations that, in his long pontificate, had him as Pope. He will be remembered for his apostolic journeys, more than one hundred, over the whole planet. The crowds received him starving for words of the Gospel and were confirmed in their faith. He confirmed in the faith. In the first place bishops and priests themselves.
On those journeys he visited everybody and gave himself wholly to all: to the bishops and to the priests, to the poor and excluded, to the sick, to the imprisoned, to the starving, to the homeless and the landless. He went into the favelas, into lake dwellings, into huts, he met the small farmers, the workers, the shopkeepers, the businessmen, the free-lance professional, the heads of all the religions and the men of good will, in particular the Jewish communities, the male and female missionaries, religious and consecrated, the seminarians, the lay associations and the Church movements, young people, families, children, artists, men of the culture and academics, builders of society, politicians, men in government and presidents. He was everybody’s Pope.
Jorge Mario Bergoglio
IN THE LIFE OF THE POPE
by Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio
Archbishop of Buenos Aires
If I remember well it was 1985. One evening I went to recite the Holy Rosary that was being led by the Holy Father. He was in front of everybody, on his knees. The group was numerous; I saw the Holy Father from the back and, little by little, I got lost in prayer. I was not alone: I was praying in the middle of the people of God to which I and all those there belonged, led by our Pastor.
In the middle of the prayer I became distracted, looking at the figure of the Pope: his pity, his devotion was a witness. And the time drifted away, and I began to imagine the young priest, the seminarian, the poet, the worker, the child from Wadowice… in the same position in which knelt at that moment, reciting Ave Maria after Ave Maria. His witness struck me. I felt that this man, chosen to lead the Church, was following a path up to his Mother in the sky, a path set out on from his childhood. And I became aware of the density of the words of the Mother of Guadalupe to Saint Juan Diego: «Don’t be afraid, am I not perhaps your mother?». I understood the presence of Mary in the life of the Pope.
That testimony did not get forgotten in an instant. From that time on I recite the fifteen mysteries of the Rosary every day.