Inspiration and Mystery: A True Story
by Monsignor Charles M. Mangan
©Catholic Online 2005
Recently I found the following story entitled “Pregň per il Papa” (“I Prayed For The Pope”), which I have translated from the original Italian and edited only slightly. From what I have been able to discover, this account first appeared on www.tiscali.it; the author is unknown.
In 1962, Karol Wojtyła was an Auxiliary Bishop in Kraków. On October 11, 1962, the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council began and Bishop Wojtyła reached the Italian Capitol together with the other twenty-four Polish Bishops and the Primate of Poland, Stefan Cardinal Wyszyński in order to participate in that extraordinary event of the Church.
In Rome, Bishop Wojtyła stayed at the Polish College, which is found on the Aventine Hill, in a very beautiful place, filled with sun and trees. From there one can enjoy a view of the entire city.
He was happy to be able to return to the “Eternal City” where many years before he had studied Theology. He had to remain in Rome until the middle of December because, besides his commitments to the Second Vatican Council, he had many projects in motion.
He participated with joy at the Holy Mass, celebrated in Saint Peter’s Basilica, that marked the opening of the Council. Every morning he attended the Assembly of Bishops at the Council with enthusiasm.
But between the many joys and satisfactions, one evening upon reentering the Polish College he found a letter that communicated sad news: Dr. Wanda Poltawska, the wife of his friend Andrei Poltawska, was sick. She was recovering in the hospital and the clinical examinations had revealed the presence of a tumor.
A Great Friend
Bishop Wojtyła knew that woman well. She was one of his best collaborators.
Wanda Poltawska came from a very observant Catholic Polish family. From the time of her youth, she took part in the Catholic movements in Kraków. She was a promotrix of the Catholic youth group for girls in Poland.
For this reason, during the War, after the Invasion of Poland by the German troops, she was arrested and interned in the Nazi concentration camp where she remained five years, amidst suffering and incredible hardships, always supported by a great faith and with resignation.
Returning to her homeland, she continued her university studies and her activities in the Catholic youth groups.
After that which she had undergone and suffered, she became an example for her contemporaries. And it was in those years that she met Father Karol Wojtyła.
Father Karol was a young priest. Shortly after his Priestly Ordination he was named Vicar of the Church of Saint Florian, in the center of the city. His principal assignment was to students and groups of Catholic youth.
Father Wojtyła had already obtained his Doctorates in Theology and Philosophy. He held conferences that were well attended by Catholic youth. Around him he gathered crowded groups of university students, thirsty for humanitarian and religious ideals. All remained spellbound by the teachings of Father Karol and by his behavior.
These youth felt the need to remain for increasingly longer periods with him to discuss, to talk. Then Father Wojtyła had thought about having getaways to the mountains. Up there, far from the noise of the city, in contact with nature, he spoke better of God and of the problems of life.
Among those who went on the trips, those who returned several times a year and remained for more than a week, there were always Wanda Poltawska and her husband Andrei.
Andrei and Wanda were medical doctors, having specialized in psychiatry. They were very interested in the themes that Father Wojtyła treated, above all those inherent problems experienced by married couples. Often Andrei and Wanda stopped by to discuss with him, bringing to the conversation their unique contribution as doctors. Father Wojtyła intuited the profound faith that animated these two young people and he became their friend.
His family of adoption
Father Karol was alone in the world. His mother Emilia died when he was only nine years old; his older brother, Edward, a medical doctor, was dead soon after he finished medical school, and his father died unexpectedly from a heart attack in 1942, when Karol was only twenty-one. A serious of terrible family tragedies had profoundly marked his sensitive soul.
Not having any of his family any more on earth, Father Wojtyła at times felt very much the weight of loneliness. But since his friendship began with Wanda and Andrei, that interior suffering almost disappeared. Andrei and Wanda had become like a brother and sister to him, and their family became his family of adoption.
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