It is exciting to be a small part of a big project. One of the biggest projects for the Catholic Church in this year, 2014, will be the canonisation of Popes John XXIII and John Paul II. And, together with a friend, Clare Anderson, I am playing a small part in it because together we have made a TV feature for EWTN about the great John Paul.
In order to make the feature, we made two trips to Poland – the first to do research, establish contacts, and map out places for the filming, and the second to make the programme itself. The first visit was on our own initiative. I already knew Krakow quite well – my first visit there was back in the days of Communism, when, with my husband, I was smuggling in books and materials for Solidarity. That is all a vanished era now – to look back on our adventures is to open a page of an already fading history book. It is hard to explain to younger people just what it was all like, and harder still to try to describe the mixture of excitement and fear that such things could involve…
Making the TV feature about the great John Paul, more than a quarter of a century after the adventures of the 1980s, was thrilling in a completely different way. Neither Clare nor I will ever forget our long talk with Cardinal Dizwicz, in the very same Archbishop’s Palace where the young Karol Woytyla studied as a secret seminarian in the years of World War II and later lived as Archbishop in the 1970s. Nor will we forget our visit to Wadowice, and praying in the church where the baby Karol was baptised – or visiting Kalwaria where, as a boy, as a young man, as a priest and as a bishop he went on pilgrimage.
We will also long remember the hard work and the good companionship, working with the EWTN Polish team, the talkative meals (the delicious Krakow soup that is served in a scooped-out loaf of crusty bread, a most delicious and hearty dish after a long working day), and the very special moments such as the early-morning visit to Wawel Cathedral.
I had learned, from a young relative, that the easiest and the most pleasant way to enjoy Krakow is to rent a flat for a few days – so much cheaper than an hotel, and very convenient as there are a good many such flats in the centre of the city right near the great square. Making use of this information, Clare and I found excellent accommodation. Our first visit was in the bitter cold of winter – but how glorious the city looked in snow and frost – and how special to be there while the Papal election was going on, and to learn of the white smoke in Rome while at an evening Mass in one of Krakow’s glorious churches.
The programme will be shown in EWTN to link with the canonisation, which of course is on Divine Mercy Sunday, April 27th, in Rome. I will be in Rome, along with my husband, among what promises to be a vast crowd, on that day. I will look back and remember the 1980s and our time in Warsaw and Krakow and the people we met and the discussions we had. The great John Paul – how satisfying it will be to be able to say “SAINT John Paul!” – was a hero to the Polish people in his lifetime, and now takes his place as one of the men who shaped the destiny of the Polish people in a way that will be marked and noted by all future generations. He was one of the greatest men of our era, and – and this is what Clare Anderson and I really discovered, and what meant most to us both – was a man who drew his strength from prayer and who wanted above all simply to do the will of God. His was a life of unselfish service, of generous giving and openness to goodness and truth. What a privilege to help to tell his story. What a privilege to be a Catholic at a time when he and the much-loved John XXIII – “good Pope John” – are raised to the honours of the altar.