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April 01, 2005 ...

Pope is a man of conviction, a man of compassion says Bishop Grosz

Glenn Gramigna
"A man of courage and faith, someone who accepts physical suffering yet does not allow medical challenges or physical discomfort to force him to back down from preaching the truth as God has revealed it to him. A man of strong convictions whom I believe will be remembered as one of the most influential popes in the history of the Church. A person who is giving us an example of courage and fierce unbending devotion to the doctrines of the Church that we can all learn from."
When Diocese of Buffalo Auxiliary Bishop Edward Grosz is asked to talk about the timeless legacy of Pope John Paul II, he uses words like those above to paint an illustrious picture of the pope. But, when Bishop Grosz is asked to speak personally about the pope, he recalls a day ten years ago when he found himself with the pontiff at the Vatican in Rome.
"You know bishops are asked to come to visit the pope every five years," Bishop Grosz said. "And, I remember when I was at the Vatican in 1993. There were about 14 bishops there. As we were leaving, John Paul was greeting each one personally and as it happened I was the very last one to leave. Suddenly I found myself completely alone with the pope. I bent down to kiss his ring and he gave me such a strong embrace I thought my ribs were going to break. I could feel the love he had for me and the people of the Buffalo Diocese."
"The amazing thing about talking to the pope is that when you are with him he totally focuses on you as if you are the only person in the world," Bishop Grosz adds. "There's a radiance about him. There is so much compassionate love in his eyes, it's incredible. The only other person from whom I've experienced the same kind of radiance is Mother Teresa. You can see that it's because of his closeness to God. Yes, he does have physical problems but his mind is as sharp as ever and his heart is still filled with love."
Other aspects of Pope John Paul's legacy for which Bishop Grosz feels he will be remembered include his special devotion to young people and the sick, and his constant willingness to reach out to the people of the world despite his physical infirmities.
"People can see that he has medical difficulties but he still makes the effort, sometimes a very difficult effort, to visit people just about everywhere in the world," Bishop Grosz notes. "Is there anyone else in the world whom you could think of who would be welcome everywhere? I can't think of anyone myself. I think the reason for the fact that Pope John Paul is accepted so widely is because the values he exemplifies, values of honesty and integrity and devotion to helping others and compassion are values that are needed in every country, in every society in the world. What future popes will do is hard to say but I know that this pope's legacy, his example, will live on in the hearts of people everywhere for a very long time to come."

John Paul II - Poland's great gift to mankind

Robert Strybel,
Warsaw Correspondent
(Written on the 25th anniversary of John Paul II's papacy)
WARSAW - There probably aren't too many Poles or Polonians now at least in their mid-30s who do not remember where they were and what they were doing when they first heard that a Pole had been elected to the papacy. I was teaching college, high school and adult-education Polish in Bay City, Michigan and vicinity when I first heard the news. An elderly Polish-American school-crossing guard at St. Stanislaus Kostka school asked me: "Did you hear that Cardinal Wyszynski was elected pope?" Some people even thought another of those stupid jokes was coming when they first heard on the radio things like "We now have a Polish pope!"
But it soon turned out it was not Cardinal Wyszynski and it was definitely not a joke. On Oct. 16, 1978, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, the Archbishop of Krakow, had become the first non-Italian pontiff in more than four-and-a-half centuries. The announcement "Habemus papam" ("We have a pope") and the appearance of the Polish-born prelate on a balcony overlooking St. Peter's square was beamed by satellite to millions of people around the globe.
Jubilation swept Poland and Polonia - church-bells rang, Masses of thanksgiving were celebrated and trips to Rome were planned. As a founding member of the Saginaw Valley Friends of Polish Culture, I received numerous local requests for frameable pictures of John Paul II, whose appearance was not yet widely known among Polonia, and Father Wladyslaw Gowin of the Society of Christ graciously helped me out.
Celebrations are again taking place 25 years later. Anniversary Masses, commemorative exhibitions, TV specials and other events are highlighting the achievements and experiences of one of Christendom's longest-serving popes. Rather than the wonder, surprise and hope of a quarter-century ago, it is a time to look back over the major milestones of a truly unique pontificate, whose wide-ranging implications have had an impact not only for the world's more than one billion Roman Catholics.
Born in the southern town of Wadowice in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains on May 18, 1920, Karol Wojtyla lost his mother, Emilia, née Kaczorowska, when he was nine years old. The product of a devoutly Catholic home, in his youth Lolek (as he was known by family and friends) served as an altar boy and belonged to a Marian Sodality and the Association of Catholic Youth (Stowarzyszenie Mlodziezy Katolickiej). By the age of 21, he was the only living member of his immediate family. His elder brother and only sibling, a medical doctor, died of a contagious disease in 1932 and his father went on to his reward in 1940.
Among the hallmarks of his dynamic pontificate have been numerous firsts and superlatives - a tendency that revealed itself much earlier in his career. He was undoubtedly the first pope ever to have worked in a stone quarry and chemical plant, act in underground theater plays and study for the priesthood at a clandestine seminary due to the restrictions of Nazi occupation.
In 1958, Rev. Karol Wojtyla was appointed auxiliary bishop of Krakow by Pope Pius XII and became the youngest member of the Polish Episcopate. He became archbishop in 1963 and in 1967 Pope Paul VI made him the youngest member of the College of Cardinals. A sports-loving outdoorsman, the young Father Wojtyla would take his students on canoe and camping trips as well as hikes through the mountains. He enjoyed skiing and continued to pursue the sport in the Italian Alps during the early years of his pontificate. He endeared himself to the people of the Krakow area by fighting for a church in the industrial suburb of Nowa Huta, which Poland's Soviet-backed regime had wanted to be a godless "communist showcase."
John Paul II is undoubtedly the most widely traveled pope in history, having made some 100 foreign pilgrimages to all the world's inhabited continents. And no other pope in history was known to speak as many languages as the Polish-born pontiff. In addition to his native tongue and ecclesiastical Latin, he is fluent in Italian, French, Spanish, German, English and Russian, which he has occasion to use on a nearly daily basis, and has a working knowledge of a dozen other languages as well. He is able to read and pronounce many more foreign tongues from texts written in phonetic transcription. But he writes all his encyclicals in his native Polish and has them translated into Italian and other languages.
Whatever else may be said of the Holy Father, he seems likely to go down in history as the pope of ecumenism and peace. No other Roman Catholic leader has come close in bringing people of diverse religions, cultures and ethnic backgrounds together. John Paul II was the first pope to enter a Jewish synagogue, pray at Jerusalem's Wailing Wall, one of Judaism's most sacred sites, and visit a Muslim mosque. He annulled the excommunication of Martin Luther and hosted common prayer meetings with representatives of all the world's major religions, including Buddhists, Hindus, Shintoists and Animists.
In the 1980s, the pope also inspired a reconciliation process between the Roman Catholic Church and Polonia's own Polish National Catholic Church. The dialogue led to the "wiping-out" of the excommunication of PNCC organizer Bishop Franciszek Hodur and reaffirmed the validity of sacraments dispensed by the Kosciol Narodowy. As a result, the Polish National Catholic Holy Orders of several priests accepted into the RC Church were acknowledged as valid, and unlike Anglican clergy converting to Roman Catholicism, they did not have to be re-ordained.
The Holy Father's greatest unfulfilled hope is his desire to make a pilgrimage to Russia and seek reconciliation with that country's Eastern Orthodox Church. He has visited various Orthodox countries, but Russia's Eastern Orthodox leaders strongly oppose such a visit, fearful of losing some of its followers to Catholicism.
The Polish-born pontiff has always been an internationally acknowledged force for peace in all world trouble spots, but has never openly sided with any of the warring parties. All his pronouncements on the subject reflect the pain he experiences at the thought of innocent casualties, the dead, wounded, orphaned children and general destruction of people's lifelong accomplishments. Although an ardent opponent of totalitarian communism, he nevertheless refused to publicly bless capitalism and has always called on the rich and powerful to share their abundance with those less fortunate.
The pope helped to inspire Polish workers when on his first papal visit to his homeland in 1979 he invoked the Holy Spirit to "descend and renew this land." One year later, Solidarnosc, the Soviet bloc's first independent union emerged amid widespread labor unrest and ultimately led in 1989 to the collapse of the Soviet Empire. But during successive visits to his native land, the former Krakow archbishop warned his compatriots against the "civilization of death," his code-name for the empty, shallow and short-sighted, ideology of godless, pleasure-seeking materialism poisoning much of today's modern world.
John Paul'ss deteriorating health has fueled periodic speculations that he might soon step down. He is able to painfully walk only very short distances, his speech is often slurred and Parkinson's disease causes his left hand to tremble. But the Polish-born pope seems to attach little importance to his own convenience and well-being and ignores personal discomfort and pain. "I know exactly how long I will remain pope - as long as God lets me," is the way he has replied to such queries. Vatican insiders describe him as "a man of frail physical health but with a keen intellect and a heart full of ardent love for God and mankind." He can truly be referred to as Poland?s greatest gift to today's selfish, confused and troubled world.

Did You Know - Pope John Paul II

Compiled by Robert Strybel, Warsaw Correspondent
- Karol Wojtyla, one of Christendom's longest-serving popes was born in Wadowice on May 18, 1920. He was ordained on Nov. 1, 1946, appointed bishop on July 4, 1958, named archbishop of Krakow on Jan. 16, 1964, raised to the rank of cardinal on June 26, 1967 and elected pope on Oct. 16, 1978.
- John Paul II's ninth pilgrimage to Poland (Aug. 16-19, 2002) was one of his shortest, but his previous 13-day, 22-city homecoming to Poland in June 1999 was the longest papal visit in the history of his pontificate.
- To mark the silver anniversary of Karol Wojtyla's election as pope, a post-graduate research center devoted to his life and work has been set up in Krakow. It will conduct classes and seminars and include a multi-media library of JPII's writings and other works documenting his entire pontificate.
- One of John Paul's most fervent hopes was fulfilled when at the age of 80 he was able to preside over Jubilee Year 2000, ringing in the Third Millennium of Christianity.
- One "nice" Polish joke asks: "How many Poles does it take to change the world?" The answer: "Two - an archbishop from Krakow and a shipyard electrician from Gdansk (Lech Walesa)." JPII's 1979 visit to Poland was widely believed to have inspired his countrymen to challenge communist rule. The peaceful Solidarity revolution that erupted a year later eventually led to the collapse of the iron curtain and the end of the cold war.
- John Paul II began his first papal pilgrimage to Poland (1979) by falling to his knees and kissing the tarmac of Warsaw Airport, the soil of his native land. That gesture became his trademark around the world. Due to failing health, he now blesses the native soil presented to him on a tray.
- During the Nazi occupation, Karol Wojtyla worked from the time he turned 20 in 1940 to 1944 as a common laborer in a stone quarry of the Solvay Chemical Works near Krakow and later in the factory itself.
- In at least 76 Polish cities and towns there are 64 streets and 12 squares named after Jan Pawel II; at least 58 elementary schools across Poland, seven high schools and four vocational schools also bear his name.
- In 1969 and again in 1976 (two years before being elected pope), Poland's Cardinal Karol Wojtyla toured Polonian communities across the U.S. and Canada, meeting thousands of Polonians at Masses, banquets and other gatherings.
- John Paul II authored more than a dozen encyclicals on various aspects of Catholic doctrine and morals. In them he has reaffirmed his strong belief in Christian altruism, solidarity, forgiveness, peace, charity and the strong, loving, supportive Christian family as the cornerstone of any nation's well-being.
- He consistently preached against hatred, violence, egoism, run-away materialism, pornography, abortions, divorce, genetic tampering, same-sex "marriages", dangerous cults and subcultures, substance abuse and the many supposedly "cool" and "trendy" fads that only leave twisted minds, broken hearts, shattered lives and unhappy children in their wake.
- The pope not only publicly forgave Turkish gunman Ali Agca, who nearly assassinated him in May 1981 in St. Peter's Square, but later met with his would-be killer in his Italian prison cell and keeps him in his daily prayers.
- There are at least 36 statues of John Paul II across Poland, including two in Warsaw and two in the southern town of O?awa. The biggest is more than 30 feet tall and stands outside the recently constructed basilica in Lichen (Wielkopolska voivodship), Poland?s biggest church.
- An actor, poet and playwright in his youth, Karol Wojtyla produced many of his writings under the pen-name of Andrzej Jawien and Andrzej Gruda.
- John Paul II recently canonized the stigmatic, miracle-healing Italian monk, Padre Pio, but denied rumors that the mystic had predicted he would become pope the first time he met him in 1947.
- Karol Wojtyla's only brother Edmund (born in 1906), a medical doctor, died at the age of 26 in 1932 in a hospital in Bielsko (southern Poland) after contracting scarlet fever from a patient he was treating.
- Romania was the first predominantly Eastern Orthodox country visited by the Polish-born pontiff. He later made pilgrimages to other Orthodox strongholds including Greece, Ukraine and Bulgaria, but has so far been prevented from visiting Russia by that country's paranoid religious leaders.
- Following the pope's 1980 visit to Detroit's once predominantly Polish enclave-suburb of Hamtramck, a vacant corner store on the town's main street was torn down to make way for a papal mini-park. A statue of John Paul II looms above the enclosure whose wall sports traditional Polish motifs.
- Soviet boss Leonid Brezhnev was opposed to the pope's first (1979) visit to Poland and urged Polish communist leader Edward Gierek to have John Paul II cancel the trip for reasons of health. Gierek got Brezhnev to consent to this visit after arguing that a refusal would have generated much anti-communist publicity in the world media.
- John Paul opposed all forms of killing, including war, and taught that God's gift of life is only His to take. He thus differs from one-sided liberals who oppose capital punishment but support abortion and euthanasia, and equally biased conservatives, who favor the death penalty and warfare but oppose "mercy killing" and the murder of unborn babies.
- Following the pope's homecoming to Wadowice, the kremowki (cream cakes) he publicly recalled from his youth became an instant market hit. Kremowki papieskie (papal cream cakes) are now a major Wadowice tourist attraction, although many are imported by local retailers from Poznan and Krakow.
- Pope John Paul II was granted honorary citizenship of several dozen Polish cities including Bialystok, Bydgoszcz, Czestochowa, Krakow, Krosno, Legnica, Lublin, Lomza, Nowy Targ, Poznan, Rzeszow, Sandomierz, Siedlce, Torun, Warsaw, Wroclaw and Zywiec.
- As an ethics professor at the Catholic University of Lublin (KUL), Karol Wojtyla often held seminars with his students in the Tatra Mountains and took them hiking, canoeing and camping. They affectionately referred to him as wujek (uncle).
- The pope rarely had time to watch television, but he occasionally enjoyed a televised soccer match which reminded him of his own soccer-playing youth.
- Karol Wojtyla's nearly lifelong good health began to falter following a near-fatal 1981 assassination attempt. He later underwent colon surgery, had his appendix removed and suffered a hip fracture.
- The Polish-born pope beatified more "blesseds" and canonized more saints during his 24-year pontificate than all the popes of the past four centuries combined. They include Kateri Tekawitha, the first American Indian ever beatified (1980).
- Wojtyla was called Lolek (short for Karol) by family, friends and schoolmates. His mother called him Lolus (an endearing diminutive) and told her friends she had a premonition that her son would one day achieve greatness.
- Due to his frail health later in life, the Polish-born pontiff was a very light eater but still occasionally enjoyed Polish pierogi (especially the meat-filled variety), flaki (tripe soup) and sernik (cheesecake) as well as Italian pizza and pasta dishes. They were prepared by several Sercanki (Sacred Heart Sisters) from Krakow.
- Like most Poles, who celebrate namedays (imieniny) rather than birthdays (urodziny), the pope celebrated the feastday of his patron saint, St. Charles Borromeo, on Nov. 4.

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