Ciarán Ó Coigligh
I began teaching Irish in Saint Patrick’s College, Drumcondra, Dublin, on 1 September 1979. By the end of my first week, John Paul II had arrived in the country. He spoke more Irish during the course of his three-day visit than did any other dignitary who ever visited Ireland.
I was not in the Phoenix Park to greet him, but I was in Parliament Street as he passed later that evening, and I recall the tremor of excitement that I felt as he passed by and looked in my direction. There was a palpable sense of peace in Dublin that evening that I have never since experienced.
I was immediately taken with John Paul II’s indefatigability in promoting ‘the culture of life’ – a phrase of immense resonance which has enriched humanity’s lexicon. He was equally indefatigable in opposing what he so starkly described as ‘the culture of death’. I was also greatly taken by the fact that John Paul II was a poet and a sportsman.
I set myself the task of translating his complete poems into Irish as a gesture of acknowledgement and gratitude for his obvious appreciation of the significance of the Irish language, which he spoke so often and so fluently while visiting Ireland in 1979. This manifested itself in the recent publication of Dánta Eoin Pól II. With 2009 being the thirtieth anniversary of the historic papal visit, I then decided to organise a conference to commemorate it, as well as to celebrate the ninetieth anniversary of the birth of John Paul II. This Conference on the Heritage of John Paul II was held in Saint Patrick’s College in November 2010.
There were many aspects to the life and papacy of John Paul II. The Conference on the Heritage of John Paul II provided an opportunity to consider some of these. These considerations now find more durable form in this publication. It is a matter of enormous satisfaction that The Heritage of John Paul II now appears in 2011, the year of the beatification of the late pontiff.
We live in a time of worry and uncertainty in Ireland. We do well to remember that John Paul II constantly asked that we be not afraid. Let us heed his words. It was a happy coincidence that the conference was opened on the feast day of Saint Josaphat Kuntsevych, a mart yr whose example of faith inspired much East–West reconciliation.
Dr Pauric Travers, President of Saint Patrick’s College, in introducing His Excellency the Most Reverend Giuseppe Leanza, the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, at the conference, said:
[Archbishop Leanza] has come to Ireland at a difficult time for both Church and State. In these times of prevailing gloom and doom, it is worth recalling the words of John Paul II himself: ‘Do not abandon yourselves to despair; we are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.’
In introducting the Polish Ambassador, Marcin Nawrot, Dr Travers had this to say:
The cultural and historical ties between Ireland and Poland have been strong over the centuries. Ireland and Poland are, in many ways, very similar countries – we have shared similar histories. And of course we share, above all, a deep and rich religious tradition. Those traditions merge in the person of John Paul II.
It is my hope that this book may introduce or re-introduce readers to aspects of the life of John Paul II that they may have forgotten or of which they may have been unaware. May John Paul II bless our modest initiative.
Thosaigh mise ag múineadh Gaeilge i gColáiste Phádraig, Droim Conrach ar an gcéad lá de Mheán Fómhair 1979 agus faoi dheireadh na seachtaine bhí Eoin Pól II tagtha ar cuairt chugainn. Labhair sé níos mó Gaeilge le linn a chuarta trí lá ná a labhair cuairteoir mór le rá ar bith eile a thug cuairt riamh ar an tír.
Ní raibh mise i bPáirc an Fhionnuisce le fáilte a chur roimhe ach bhí mé i Sráid na Parlaiminte níos deireanaí tráthnóna an lae sin nuair a chuaigh sé thar bráid agus d’airigh mé driogaí aitis nuair a bhreathnaigh sé i mo threo-sa. Airíodh síocháin I mBaile Átha Cliath an oíche sin nár airíodh ó shin.
Chuaigh spreac gan teorainn Eoin Pól II i gcion go mór orm agus é ag cothú ‘chultúr na beatha’ – abairtín fíorchumhachtach a shaibhrigh foclóir an domhain. Bhí an spreac céanna ann agus é ag cur in éadan an ruda scanrúil ar thug sé ‘cultúr an bháis’ air. Chuaigh sé i gcion go mór orm go mba fhile agus go mb’fhear spóirt Eoin Pól II.
Chuir mé romham a chuid dánta uile a thiontú go Gaeilge mar chomhartha ómóis agus buíochais as ucht a thuisceanaí a bhí sé féin i dtaobh thábhacht na Gaeilge a labhair sé chomh minic agus chomh líofa sin le linn a chuarta ar Éirinn i 1979. Foilsíodh an tiontú, Dánta Eoin Pól II sa mbliain 2010. Spreagadh mé le comhdháil a chur ina suí i gColáiste Phádraig, Droim Conrach, Baile Átha Cliath ar an 12-13 Samhain, 2010 leis an gcuairt phápúil stairiúil a chomóradh agus freisin le breith Eoin Pól II deich mbliana agus ceithre fichid roimhe sin a chomóradh.
Is iomaí gné a bhain le saol agus le pápacht Eoin Pól II. Le linn na Comhdhála ar Oidhreacht Eoin Pól II bhí deis again cuid acu a phlé. Tá cruth níos buaine curtha ar an bplé sin sa bhfoilseachán seo.
Ta faitíos agus éiginnteacht go fairsing in Éirinn. Is maith is fiú dúinn cuimhneamh air go ndeireadh Eoin Pól II de shíor linn gan aon fhaitíos a bheith orainn. Tugadh muid aird ar a achainí. Ba thráthúil gur ar Lá Féile Josaphat Kintsevych martíreach ar spreag a chreideamh athmhuintearas go leor idir an tOirthear agus an tIarthar, ba thráthúil gur ar a lá féile seisean a thosaigh an Chomhdháil.
Bhí an méid seo le rá ag an Dr Pauric Travers, Uachtarán Choláiste Phádraig le linn dó A Shoilse Giuseppe Leanza, Nuintseas an Phápa a chur i láthair na Comhdhála:
Tá [an tArdeaspag Leanza] tar éis a theacht go hÉirinn ag am dona don Eaglais agus don Stát. Ní miste, le linn na huaire gruama seo, smaoineamh ar fhocail Eoin Pól II féin: ‘Ná géilligí don éadóchas. Is muidne pobal na Cásca agus is é an tAililiú an t-amhrán seo againne.’
Agus Ambasadóir na Polainne Marcin Nawrot á chur i láthair na Comhdhála, bhí an méid seo le rá ag an Dr Travers:
Bhí ceangail láidre chultúrtha agus staire idir Éire agus an Pholainn i gcaitheamh na gcéadta. Tá Éire agus an Pholainn fíorchosúil le chéile ar bhealaí go leor – is mar a chéile cuid de stair an dá thír. Agus ar ndóigh seachas aon cheo eile tá dúchas domhain saibhir reiligiúnach againn. Tagann na traidisiúin sin le chéile i bpearsa Eoin Pól II.
Is é mo ghuí go gcuire an leabhar seo léitheoirí ar an eolas I dtaobh gnéithe de shaol Eoin Pól II a bhfuil dearmad déanta acu orthu nó nach raibh eolas acu orthu riamh agus ar mhian leo tuilleadh staidéir a dhéanamh orthu. Go mbeannaí Eoin Pól II ár n-iarracht bheag.
Ciarán Ó Coigligh
1. JOHN PAUL II: SERVANT OF GOD
The Most Reverend Giuseppe Leanza Papal Nuncio to Ireland Pope John Paul II remains both in the history of the Church and of humanit y as one of the greatest popes. I was privileged to meet him on several occasions. The first occasion was during his first pastoral visit to the United States of America, where I was, at the time, Secretary of the Apostolic Nunciature in Washington, and then on several subsequent occasions as Apostolic Nuncio.
My memories of him are that first and foremost he was a man with a profound spirit of faith and prayer. When with him, I always had the awareness of being in front of a fascinating and intriguing man. He was indeed captivating, with an immeasurable openness to everyone he met, displaying at all times an extraordinary humanity. These virtues were so evident from his words, gestures; in essence his very way of being. The features of his pontificate are certainly numerous but I will refer to only a few of them.
He was intrinsically dedicated to the human being. In his first encyclical, Redemptor hominis, he wrote that ‘man is the way for the Church’ (14), and in perfect coherence with this idea he showed himself spiritually and humanly near every person and their problems: he defended, with strength and courage, the dignity of the human being and their fundamental rights, proclaiming without hesitation that offence to a human being is an offence to God, his Creator.
Through his numerous pastoral visits abroad, he demonstrated great pastoral concern for the Church and for the world, trying to reach everyone and to enter into contact with everyone in order to announce to them the message of Jesus Christ. John Paul II gave a strong impulse to ecumenism and to interreligious dialogue. His commitment was accompanied by significant words and gestures, like the visits to mosques and synagogues and the public act of asking forgiveness for the errors committed by faithful of the Catholic Church down through the centuries. He was also a tenacious defender of peace in the world and supporter of European unification and the process of enlargement of the European Union.
John Paul II was the Pope of young people, to whom he showed great affection, the Pope of the suffering, whom he accepted and supported with great dignit y, the Pope who was profoundly devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary, having the words Totus tuus on his pontifical crest. He has already passed into history with the title ‘Great’, and I believe that for many people, he and his teachings have left an indelible mark.
2. A PERSONAL PERSPECTIVE ON JOHN PAUL II
Marcin Nawrot Polish Ambassador to Ireland
The first time I heard of Karol Wojty?a was the day when he was elected as a successor of Saint Peter. I remember hearing on the radio that the Polish Cardinal had been chosen, and at the time I did not realise the significance of it. This came to me gradually.
In 1979 I attended a Mass he held at Victory Square in Warsaw. Originally, this square had been named after the Sasaki Dynast y that ruled Poland in the eighteenth century; later it was called Pi?sudski Square, after the head of the state and the commander of the Polish army during the victorious war with Soviet Russia in 1920. The name was changed to Victory Square after World War II, and following that 1979 Mass, its name gained even greater significance. The Pope conveyed a very important message to us that day: ‘Let thy Spirit descend! Let thy Spirit descend and renew the face of the land! This land!’ This message led to the beginning of our spiritual revival. We were all faced with a question: what sort of revival should take place in our personal life, and subsequently in our social life? Spiritual values are influenced by social conditions, and that is the reason why we had to fight the political oppression at the time. What Il Papa wanted us to remember was our reasons for fighting – not for political purposes but for our personal freedom and justice.
It is commonly believed that this Mass at Victory Square in 1979 was the starting point of the Solidarity Movement, though this is, of course, a very simplified understanding. We have to remember that the young Polish generation at this time – my generation – lived post-World War II. All of us had fundamental questions: what is life about and what is our goal? Without the guidance from the Pope during his speech, we wouldn’t even have asked those questions.
Of course, not only the words of Il Papa have influenced us. It was also the continuity of work by the Polish Church in the 1960s and the efforts of Cardinal Wyszynski, who was a great friend of Karol Wojty?a. It is important to remember that nothing happens deus ex machina. My second meeting with John Paul II took place in 1983 in Warsaw, shortly after General Wojciech Jaruzelski proclaimed martial law. We were all waiting for his visit with hope – as expectant as awaiting a messenger of good news. I
recall being at the stadium and listening to the Mass, but I know that I listened without really hearing his words. As a student at the University of Warsaw at the time, my mind was focused on the political rather than the spiritual value of his words. What we had in mind was more political than evangelical.
The next encounter with John Paul II was during his visit in Gdansk in 1987, shortly before our Independence Day. Our hopes were suppressed even more than at the beginning of the 1980s and we did not expect that our freedom was so close. That time I was finally more open to Il Papa’s spiritual
guidance. It was the moral aid rather than the political support that gave us the strength to gain independence.
Ten years later, I got to see the Pope again. It was in 2002, when I served as an ambassador for Poland to Azerbaijan. In this predominantly Muslim country, our Catholic community was very small – mainly foreigners who worked for oil companies around the world, a few dozen of Polish descent, along with members of the diplomatic group. I was asked by Priest Daniel, a Salesian from Slovakia who was the head of our community, to participate as an altar server during Il Papa’s Mass. Despite a lack of experience, obviously I could not refuse this offer. The German Ambassador, the French Consul and I became the servants during the Mass.
What struck me most was the painting I had noticed at the entrance of the port in Baku. Commissioned especially for the visit, it depicted a young and beautiful John Paul II standing by the side of the President of Azerbaijan, who also appeared young and beautiful. When the Pope stepped out of the plane, I could see a sick old man, not the person depicted in the portrait. But after he started to speak, with great difficult y, I no longer saw an old man. He spoke with great wisdom and gave expression to thoughts of great beauty. I realised that the dignity of a human being lies not in his physical appearance or age, but much deeper inside us. I learnt an important lesson that day.
I expected that during the service at the Pope’s Mass I would feel spiritually connected with him in my heart, but I have to admit that I could not find that feeling. I did not understand the reason for it. Now, I realise that deep in my heart I wasn’t ready to accept his words.
My very last encounter with the Pope was only spiritual. It was the day of his death. I was in his beloved Kraków at the time, in a small restaurant with my wife. There were many people praying for him in the church and in the square. I am not sure whether we were praying for his life or for his peaceful death, but as I looked at all the people I wondered how long they would remember his words and lessons? It is my belief that Pope John Paul II is an historical personality who has changed the cycle of history. We will remember all he taught us as the Vicar of Jesus, indicating moral and spiritual values that are important to every one of us.