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  • Writer's pictureDr. Anthony Lilles

Encountering John Paul II on our Way to Madrid

While we were in Krakow, we went to the chapel where Karol Wojtyla was ordained a priest and then to the crypt of the Cathedral where he offered his first mass. He was ordained during the Nazi occupation, in private, after completing a course of studies carried out in secret.

There is a beautiful silver altarpiece depicting the Churches of Rome, Jerusalem and other places he to which he journeyed as a pilgrim. There is a statue of our Lady of Fatima – to whom he attributed his survival from the attempt that was made on his life at St. Peter’s Square. There is a silver book in which one finds a small reliquary for the blood of John Paul II and a copy of the picture used at his beatification earlier this year. In the midst of this, the current Archbishop of Krakow, Stanislaw Cardinal Dziwisz, met with us and told us about the Chapel which Pope John Paul II used as his personal oratory when he became Bishop of Poland.

Cardinal Dziwisz, who closely assisted John Paul II, came to Denver for WYD 18 years ago and shared his own fond memories of the occasion. He described it as a dramatic turning point, a victory for the Church. He hopes that the same will happen in Madrid. He also spoke about John Paul II’s life of prayer – how the Holy Father believed that by prayer our whole vision of life is changed, that we constantly see new possibilities for the Gospel of Christ. Such is the optimism of our faith. It was a beautiful moment of prayer in the chapel with Cardinal.

We then went to the Cathedral in the Wawel, the Castle of Krakow. At the time of Karol Wojtyla's ordination, the castle was occupied by the Nazis. Blessed John Paul II decided, despite the risks, that his first mass would be celebrated in secret on a small alter under the Cathedral in the crypt. This is where all the great kings, queens and Polish heroes are buried, the resting place of the first Bishop of Krakow. Celebrating this first mass close to these heroes was both risky and intentional – he believed that Poland had a special destiny in the world, a special role in the plan of God to which he wanted his ministry attached. And, he believed this even in the face of the brutal suppression of his people, at a moment when it appeared likely the nation would not survive at all. He had incredible confidence in God. Something of his faith echoes in that crypt and in that secret chapel of his ordination. Watching our seminarians kneel before the little altar there, I could not help but pray for their formation and preparation ordination – in many ways, their vocations are the fruit of John Paul II’s ministry and Poland's destiny. You could tell these men felt a bond with the Polish Pope, that his commitment to the Gospel of Christ resonates in their hearts too.

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