By Angela Ambrogetti
VATICAN, October 22, 2015 (CNA/EWTN News) -- Though it has been more than 10 years since the death of Pope John Paul II, the saint’s impact can still be seen in those working to uphold Church teaching at the Synod on the Family, said his former secretary.
“The teaching of the magisterium of the Church and of John Paul II is always current,” said Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of Lviv.
He told CNA that the words and writings of St. John Paul II are being frequently invoked by bishops at the synod who are defending the Church’s teachings on marriage.
Responding to calls for the Church to permit the divorced-and-remarried to receive Communion, he said, “many bishops have recalled the great teaching of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI which they expressed clearly, that it would be against the doctrine of the Church, against the sacrament of the Eucharist, the sacrament of Penance, against grace.”
Archbishop Mokrzycki, who is the president of the Ukrainian Bishops Conference, is among the synod fathers gathered in Rome for the Oct. 4-25 Synod on the Family, which gathers bishops from around the world to discuss issues relating to families in the Church today.
But many remember Archbishop Mokrzycki for another role – one of John Paul II’s two personal secretaries during the last nine years of his life.
Archbishop Mokrzycki spoke to CNA’s sister agency, ACI Stampa Oct. 22, the feast day of St. John Paul II. He discussed the Pope’s legacy, relevance to the synod, and what it was like to live beside a saint. The full transcript of the interview is below:
Q: Your Excellency, today – Oct. 22, the feast of St. John Paul II – is a special day for you personally and for the universal Church. It might be difficult for you to explain how you feel, but maybe we can try?
It is a great joy for us, and I don't only mean the Polish people, but for the entire Church, to think about the day of the election of John Paul II, who after his election won over the whole world, particularly the Italians, because he said those beautiful and famous words: “I don't know if I can explain myself well in your – in our – Italian language. If I make a mistake, correct me.” And from then on, all the children of Italy when they met him said: you asked us to correct you, so say it right!
It was a special day for the entire Church, and we saw it for the entirety of his long pontificate, he was an extraordinary man.
Q: What was it like to live with a saint? Was it more joy, or work?
Both – joy and fatigue, because John Paul II was a very strong man with himself and with others. We worked a lot and made others work a lot. And this is also why we saw that his pontificate was very interesting and very rich.
Q: What has he taught you as a bishop and as a pastor that is useful for your mission today?
The Holy Father was not only the head of the universal Church, not only the head of the Vatican State, but was above all a pastor, the bishop of the diocese of Rome, and he underlined this a lot during his pontificate. He wanted to visit all the parishes of the diocese. And at the end when we saw that he had so much fatigue and couldn’t visit the parishes anymore, about 20 parishes remained and he wanted to meet them just them same, and so he invited all the parishes that he still hadn’t visited to the Paul VI Hall. And we saw that the Romans were very grateful for this great gesture of love, because they saw that the Pope didn’t neglect them, he didn’t forget them, and even if he couldn’t go, he invited them to his house. And so also for me.
He was a great pastor. I was able to learn from him a vision of pastoral life, of concern for all levels, of love for one’s neighbor, of charity and of bringing people to salvation. The great ones, the poor, the little ones; I saw how with great love he embraced each and every one.
Q: Of the magisterium of John Paul II, a large part was dedicated to the family. Right now you are busy with the synod on the family. How does this magisterium enter into the synodal debate?
During the pontificate of John Paul II, above all in the years in which I was with him, the Pope didn’t speak a lot about his family. He sometimes spoke about his father, sometimes about his sister that he lost as a child and his brother who was a doctor that died young. But he made it visible that around him was a great family of friends, a great family of the Church. And then I saw that in the years I was with him many families came to find him from different parts of the world: from Poland, from Italy, from the United States. He had the capacity of maintaining contact with many people, with many families and not only Christians. Also and above all with many Jewish families. And in this I saw the importance of contact with the family, and as the Pope he underlined the role of the family in the life of the Church and in the life of society.
From the beginning of his pontificate, he placed a lot of focus on the great role of the family. He dedicated a cycle of catechesis in the Wednesday audiences to the passage in Genesis which says: male and female I created them. And then there is the apostolic letter to the family, Familiaris Consortio. He was very committed in the development of this theme and was close to the family, to emphasize the great importance of the family in daily life, and the necessity of being close to the family in order to live better the vocation of each one. Because every person has a vocation, to be a religious sister, a priest, a doctor. But to be a family is a great beauty, but also a committed vocation that requires responsibility, and is also difficult to live. Because of this, John Paul II wanted to help this vocation to grow.
Q: Now 10 years after John Paul II’s death, what is his legacy today?
The teaching of the magisterium of the Church and of John Paul II is always current. Of course society has changed a bit, because culture changes, circumstances change. Also during this synod the bishops have brought different problems and family difficulties. Some wanted to be a little bit “progressive” and offer Communion to the divorced-and-remarried, but many bishops have recalled the great teaching of Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI which they expressed clearly, that it would be against the doctrine of the Church, against the sacrament of the Eucharist, the sacrament of Penance, against grace. Certainly the teaching of John Paul II was perhaps very demanding, but real. If we want our faith to have value, we must bear some sort of difficulty, because only then are we faithful to the teaching of Jesus Christ.
Q: What does your diocese bring to the synod?
For me, it was a great experience, because I was able to hear testimonies and the vision of life and of the Church throughout the world on the different continents. But I want to say above all that we bishops are very close to families, we want to help people grow in the vocation of being in a marriage, a family. And we know that this vocation is very beautiful, very important, but we also want to help families realize their vocation and their commitment.