Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Wojtyla, Incognito

Way back when, a friend told me that, as he came to grips with the Vatican fishbowl in the early days of his pontificate, John Paul the Great would slip out of the walls in a Panama hat, trousers and open-necked shirt, discreetly trailed by plainclothes security.

But as time wore on and his profile grew, people started noticing the more than curious resemblance, and the papal breakouts in the Urb had to be curtailed.

Not so for the late amato's beloved mountains, however, as Don Stasiu reveals in his new release, A Life with Karol, out this week in Italian and Polish:
Pope John Paul II made more than 100 clandestine trips to ski or hike in the Italian mountains and was rarely recognized by others on the slopes, his former secretary said....

The cardinal, who was Pope John Paul's personal secretary for 38 years, wrote that the pope, an avid skier and hiker in his youth, often felt pent up inside the Vatican.

In the winter of 1981, the pope, his secretary and two of his Polish aides decided to make a "getaway" to the mountains from the papal villa in Castel Gandolfo.

They packed into a car owned by one of the priests, in order not to raise suspicions, and when they passed the Swiss Guard post one prelate opened wide a newspaper to hide the pontiff in the back seat.

Then they drove to the central Italian ski town of Ovindoli without an escort, winding through mountain towns and carefully respecting the speed limits.

Once they arrived, they chose a deserted slope and the pope was able to ski all day long. On the way back, the pope smiled and said, "We did it!" It was the first of many such escapes, the papal secretary said....
One of the first people to recognize the pope was a young cross-country skier, a boy no more than 10 years old, who was lagging behind the rest of his family when he came upon the papal party. He asked them if they had seen his family go by, and one of the priests pointed to the trail.
At that moment, the pope arrived at the bottom of the slope.

The boy looked astonished, pointed to the pontiff and began yelling, "The pope! The pope!"

One of the pope's aides intervened quickly: "What are you saying, silly! You'd better think instead about hurrying up, you're going to lose your group."

The boy skied away, and the pope and his friends quickly returned to their car and headed for Rome before the word got out.
Another CNS report hones in on Dziwisz's look at life inside John Paul's Vatican:
Pope John Paul II consulted with top aides about possibly resigning in 2000 and set up a "specific procedure" for papal resignation....

Cardinal Dziwisz said the pope, in fact, decided at the time to consult on the question with his closest aides, including then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

The pope concluded that he would remain in office, saying that God had called him to the papacy and that "God will call me back, in the form that he wishes," Cardinal Dziwisz wrote.

"At the same time, John Paul II also established a specific procedure for giving his resignation, in case he would not have been able to carry out his ministry as pope to the very end," Cardinal Dziwisz said.

"So, as one can see, he considered this possibility," he said....
On 9/11, the pontiff got news of the attacks while at Castel Gandolfo:
"On the other end of the line was the frightened voice of Cardinal (Angelo) Sodano, the secretary of state. We turned the television on, and the pope was able to see those dramatic images, the collapse of the towers with so many poor victims imprisoned inside."

The pope passed the rest of the day going back and forth between the television and the chapel to pray, he said.

"He was worried, strongly worried that it wouldn't end there, and that the attack could set off an endless spiral of violence," Cardinal Dziwisz wrote.
And the final act:
"It was 9:37 p.m. We had noticed that the Holy Father had stopped breathing. But only in that precise moment did we see on the monitor that his great heart, after continuing to beat for a few moments, had stopped." Someone, he said, blocked the hands of the clock to mark the hour of the pope's passing. Those around the pope's bed began singing a "Te Deum" of thanksgiving, not a requiem.

"We were crying. How could one not cry! They were tears of both sadness and joy. It was then that all the lights in the house were turned on. ... And then, I can't remember. It was as if it had suddenly become dark. It was dark above me, and it was dark inside of me," he said.