We could not believe our own ears when on the 16th of October, 1978, after 6 PM we heard through the radio the following words, spoken from the balcony of St. Peter's Basilica in Rome: 'Habemus Papam'! 'I announce to you a great joy. We have a Pope, the Most Eminent and Reverend Lord, Lord Karol, Cardinal of the Holy Roman Church Wojtyla, who takes to himself the name John Paul'. Cardinal Pericle Felici, who had made the announcement to the world, probably did not realize where the news would cause the greatest joy.
It was an autumn afternoon, it was raining mildly, it was almost dark, at least here in Cracow, but that did not hamper the immense enthusiasm that this city had not seen for years. People came out on the streets, shouted, cried, but above all they felt that something incredible had happened, that a spark of hope had appeared, that this could transform the sad and enslaved country where they lived, that it could even bring freedom.
The people, as a conscious community, have intuition. Objectively speaking, one could not expect much from this turn of events. And yet this feeling of certainty was widespread. State authorities, or rather party authorities, found themselves in a difficult situation - they were even more convinced than the society that the world was entering into a new era.
The Polish television announced that Cardinal Wojtyla, Metropolitan of Cracow, was elected Pope. It was the very first bit of information in the evening news, though conveyed in the briefest possible form, without any comment.
What happened next surpassed all expectations. The authorities had no choice but to agree to broadcast the inauguration ceremony of Pope John Paul II's pontificate. The presence of a certain number of Poles during the ceremony was in itself sensational, considering the rigorous passport policy that was the norm back in those days. The Polish presence grew year by year as Poles came in droves to Rome to meet with their Compatriot who had become Pope.
The way to the West was opened to Poles, with the road growing ever wider. The Holy Father's visit in 1979 was a milestone on the way to restoring man's dignity in Poland and making him aware of the strength he represents in the fight for freedom. The rest was done by the 'Solidarity' movement and Lech Walesa, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
The second element of the triptych that I want to describe here was the funeral of Pope John Paul II. The funeral saw the rise of spontaneous requests, or suggestions, inscribed in the call 'Santo subito' - it appeared first on St. Peter's Square, but it quickly spread throughout the whole Church. This desire and call corresponded with the popular opinion of the faithful regarding the sanctity of John Paul II's life.
The Holy See found itself in a situation similar to those that had taken place during the first few centuries of Christianity. In those times, the decision regarding the canonization was made by the bishop, but always with the support of the community of the faithful who usually initiated the process of bestowing upon exceptional figures the glory of the blessed and saint. It is to this tradition, forgotten for many centuries, the Church refers today.
The third element of this historical event, not only from the Polish perspective that is the canonization of great religious figures, is the decision of the Holy See (which oversees the correctness and authenticity of opinions expressed about the life and activity of those people who the Church presents as an example worth following). Just as we were filled with joy when we heard: 'Habemus Papam', today we hear an even more joyous cry: 'Habemus Sanctum' - we have a Saint and it is John Paul II, the man who has made Poland known in the world and showed how one can live with dignity and become a saint in difficult times - full of unrighteousness, fratricidal world wars, mad and inhumane ideologies, human hubris and contempt for man.
The 27th of April, 2014 will be a day of happiness and gratitude to the Merciful God, in Poland and around the globe, for the wonderful blessing that God has bestowed upon the world in the form of two great popes: John XXIII and John Paul II, the holy popes who have changed the world. Those pilgrims that will head to Rome for the canonization of the two great popes will most likely be welcomed by a wonderful spring weather - as it is probably the most beautiful period in the year. But even if a storm were to come, it would still be unable to wash away the smile from our faces or extinguish the warm feelings in our hearts…
Author Bp. Tadeusz Pieronek / pr-controlled.com ©
Photos: Judyta Papp