Page 7, 28th December 1979

28th December 1979
Page 7
Page 7, 28th December 1979 — A solemn office becomes a grassroots mission

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Locations: Rome, Vatican City


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A solemn office becomes a grassroots mission

AS 1301'H spiritual leader of the world's 700 million Catholics dust under 20 per cent of mankind) and head of Vatican City State, Pope John Paul 11 has, according to one Vatican observer, "changed the papacy

from a solemn office into a profoundly grassroots mission (hat has no precedent in modern Church history."

As spiritual leader, Pope John Paul II has made three extensive journeys abroad and numerous trips within Italy, including one to Canale d'Agordo in northern Italy, the first such visit by a reigning pontiff to the birthplace of his predecessor. He is the first Pope to have visited Ireland and the first reigning pontiff to have visited a Communist-ruled country.

Watching John Paul among the people in a weekly audience, Sunday blessing or in Mexico, Poland, Ireland and the United States might provide us with the answer to Josef Stalin's scornful question: "How many divisions does the pope have?"

Pope John Paul's first year on the throne of Peter also saw his first consistory on June 30 when he elevated 15 prelates to the rank of Cardinal, the summoning of all seven Dutch bishops to Rome for a singular meeting with the pontiff next January, and the convocation of all 131 members of the Sacred College of Cardinals for an extraordinary session in the Vatican In November (The Cardinals normally meet as a body only for the election of a pope'.

Diplomatic relations between the Vatican and other countries, on both ambassadorial and papal nuncio levels, are on the Increase and only last August Pope John Paul urged the resumption of ties between the Holy See and China's Catholics — ties broken 30 years ago with the advent of Communism on the mainland. Called a "major diplomatic initiative" by one Vatican offleial the process will be long and painstaking but, if accomplished, would add to the long and favourable list of achievements of this Polish Pope.

He is a human rights advocate par meellence and has a deply ingrained social consciousness due primarily to his working class background in Poland. [his, in addition to experiences in his native country as actor, sportsman, intellect and author, blended with an extraordinary down-toearthness, allow him to relate to the maximum number of people.

Pope John Paul's frame of reference is a Christian humanism with belief in the dignity of man. the dignity of a C'hristo-centric man. He sees no problem in reconciling his liberal humanist instincts with his conservative attitude on dogmatic matters and finds, indeed, that they need not be mutually exclusive. "H A BE M US Papam!" With these ritual words Pericle Cardinal Felici, Prefect of the Supreme Tribunal of the Holy See, announced on October 16. 1978 — for the second time in less than two months — the election of a Pope.

The wondering, momentarily dubious crowd in St Peter's Square was stunned into silence at the election of a Polish Pope. Amazement turned into murmurs of approval when it was announced that he had chosen the name of John :'aul linking him with his much beloved predecessor. Approval changed to outright applause, cheers and laughter when the new pontiff, addressed the crowd in u near flawless Italian, What had been a fever of enthusiasm. a desire to come out of an apparent state of lethargy in U tradition-laden Church and to begin an era of revitalisation. during the brief pontificate of the Smiling Pope, has become an epidemic of vast proportions with his successor.

On the eve of the anniversary of his election, having just cornpleted his third major trip abrok, Pope John Paul is enjoying almost phenomenal popularity. Attendance at weekly public audiences has broken all records and even his brief appearances on Sundays at noon for the Angelus regularly draw crowds estimated at upwards of 40,000 swelling to double that during the tourist season.

Weather permitting, public audiences are held in St Peter's Square to accomodate the visitors and pilgrims. Should weather force the pontiff indoors, the audiences are divided and held in the spacious and modern Aula Paulo VI and in St Peter's Basilica, but both are beginning to prove to small.

The happy pandemonium which have become the hallmark of these weekly encounters almost defies description. The Pope's boundless energy allows him to meet, pass among. and address 50,000 people in St Peter's Square, which he travels across slowly in his white. open jeep. or to face the rigors of two — and sometimes three — indoor audiences lasting up to six hours. Instead of sapping his strength, these audiences seem to provide a stimulant.

His steps are sure and unhurried. He almost seems reluctant to reach the papal throne, so intense is his joy at being among his flock. It takes John Paul 40 minutes to pass through the adoring throng. For those present it is magic.

They are one with him. They strain for a closer glimpse, the briefest contact, wave their homemade banners, perform folk dances, and, present him with a lamb during the Easter vigil. Frequently the Pope joins in clapping rhythmically to musical instruments or the choirs which love to attend.

Pope John Paul is a public relation man's dream-come-true and the undeniable envy of every politician. He manages massive crowds with the expertise of a skilled diplomat. His unfailing sense of drama — as he lifts a three-year-old high in the air or pauses to caress a sick person — acts as the catalyst in producing a mutual love between this shepherd and his flock.

Both the Pope and his audience, however, know that he is present primarily as their pastor and so public homage yields to papal homily. He sees every public occasion as a change to fill his primary role as priest and pastor. His messages are sincere, explicit and impressive.

While increased contact with the faithful seems to stimulate the Pope. those working around him find this pontificate a true endurance test. Papa Wojtylu. as he is called by the Italians, is not unmindful of these difficulties. Often, at the end of a public encounter or an unscheduled visit to a Vatican oMce, he will turn to the crowd and indicate that it is time for all to go and eat, that "even my staff has to eat and rest."

The staff, however, may not always get to eat and rest as they wish. The most meticulously prepared, carefully ordered daily agenda may undergo last-Minute revisions when the Pope decides to get in touch with an old friend, or overstay a visit. Grey hair grows faster these days in the Vatican.

The Pope rises at 5.30 am. The first Mass is celebrated in his private chapel with one of his two personal secretaries, Fr John Mactice of Ireland or Fr Stanishm Dziv,isz or Poland,a rid is follmsed by a substantial breakfast.

Moving to his private °time the Pope, scans the headlines of nearly two doien Italian and foreign newspapers and reads the daily report prepared by the Secretariat of State assessing what the world's press has written about the Church, and himself. World political and economic affairs are summarised in a second report.

By mid-morning the Pope receives his closest collaborators: Cardinal Agostino Casaroli, Secretary of State, followed by the Assistant Secretary of State, Mgr, Martinez Somalo. By 10 am the Pope is ready to begin the daily private audiences. Barring some unforeseen act of spontaneity. these end at 2 pm and the Pope then lunches with his two secretaries and. frequently, the last person to be received in audience.

Other guests might be members of the Roman Curia or clergy passing through Rome. Pope John Paul II is said not to have eaten a single meal alone during his pontificate.

He finds meals are a source ol pleasure. Not only does he delight In their intimacy. he simply enjoys eating and good cooking. Belore his election. he loved to dabble in the kitchen and even now he will offer Vatican cooks a favourite recipe or two. He retains a luridness for Polish foods, but greatly enjoys Italian cooking. frequently stating a four-course meal with spaghetti in tomato sauce. Meat. vegetables in abundance, lettuce topped with grated parmesan cheese (quickly adopted by the Italians who have dubbed it The Pope's Salad") fruit and a sweet, accompanied by Italian wine will conclude a meal. Afternoon tea and a snack at 8.30 pm sustain the pontiff until his early breakfast.

Only in the quiet hours after supper does he relax, reading, listening to music. (anything from Mozart and Beethoven to contemporary sounds) and watching the occasional television programme. His rich collection of Polish music and folksongs is a reminder of his beloved homeland. Greek and Latin classics, Polish literature, the French and German philosophers of the lath and 19th centuries and lyric poets constitute Pope John Paul's preferences in reading.

While "spare time" is a alien concept, the Pope insists on some form of physical exercise each day. He was an avid sportsman while in Poland. achieving high levels of physical as well as intellectual activity. He makes frequent use of the new pool at Castelgondolfo. When he requested the pool be built Vatican officials questioned the cost, only to be told: "It's cheaper than another Conclave," inferring that his good health was cheaper to maintain than to hold another election.

In Rome exercises are performed in the hanging gardens near his apartments and to brisk walks, always in company, of about an hour in the Vatican gardens.

Castelgondolfo is also caught up in the frenetic pace of Vatican activity. This tranquil hillside normally offers the Pope a brief respite during his two-month "vacation".

This year the Pope's move was a mere physical transfer from Vatican City and his pace did not slacken. He often said Mass in the company of visiting groups — sometimes twice a day and he also liked to lead the rosary or say Mass in the small parish church of Castelgondolfo. One of the most mo g encounters was with a group of youths from a drug rehabilitation centre in Rome. In the lush papal gardens the former drug addicts, re-enacted, via pantomime, the life and sufferings of a drug addict. The performance so moved Pope John Paul that he promised the centre's founder he would do his best in finding larger accommodation for his growing needs — a promise recently fulfilled.

The noon Angelus has reached an unprecedented level of popularity, though it may have been less so with the Castelgondolfo residents, Sundays saw the normal population triple and the city strains to accomodate the many isitors, The Pope, however, did not fail to notice the love, support and sacrifice they gave him and when he departed for Rome, he told the people: "I hope that from time to Lime I can return to Castelgondolfo from Rome ... It isn't that far — one can even walk! Well, I must go — at last Castelgondolfo will have some peace!"

The "Wojtyla boom", as Italian papers call it, is causing repercussions in the most unexpected quarters. Tourism to Italy has increased 10 per cent, and 70 per %cent of the visitors to Rome on Easter Sunday attended the Pope's outdoor Mass. Church donations are said to have increased substantially. Souvenir vendors will probably retire in style and Rome policemen in exasperation at the utter, unrelenting, indescribable chaos created by the Wednesday audience.

Romans, with their history of domination by the papal states, are frequently non-commital about who sits on the chair of Peter. All that has changed. Pope John Paul, has seriously assumed his responsibilities as Bishop of Rome and in a determined effort to know his diocese well — and to dissolve all fears that he would be only a figurehead — he has ,baptised six infants, married a ;young Roman couple, met with diocesan religious groups, and 'initiated the practice of visiting a 'different Roman parish each Sunday.

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