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.
They continued to work together for years. They founded research groups. They wrote books and organized conferences, always on the problems of the family.
Then Father Wojtyła became a university professor; later, he was nominated Bishop. The family of his friends increased. Wanda and Andrei had four children. Father Wojtyła went to visit them, playing with them and their children, who called him "Uncle." There was a marvelous and profound friendship--that which existed between Father Karol and the young family of Andrei Poltawska--a friendship that enriched the heart.
And now, here was the awful news: Wanda was dying.
With this letter in front of him, Father Wojtyła showed the pain that he experienced when he lost his loved ones.
He began to pray for his friend. He asked the Lord to remove from that family an enormous tragedy. Wanda was only forty years old. Her children needed their Mommy.
Bishop Wojtyła prayed fervently, but the news that came from Poland was increasingly worse. The illness progressed rapidly. Dr. Poltawska had to be operated on but, given the gravity of the illness, the hopes that she could be saved were few.
Bishop Wojtyła intensified his prayers. He asked his friends and brother-priests to pray, as well as the Sisters he knew.
Then, unexpectedly, he recalled Padre Pio, whom he met immediately after the War. He went to find him in 1947. Father Wojtyła confessed to him and had carried away a great impression. It was said that on that occasion Padre Pio predicted that the young priest would become the Pope and that as the Pope he would undergo an attack on his life, but this has never been officially confirmed.
But it is a fact that Bishop Wojtyła had never forgotten Padre Pio. He believed in the holiness of that Friar and decided to turn to him.
"Father, I ask you"
Taking paper and pen with a sheet whose letterhead said "Curia metropolitana cracoviensis", the Archdiocese of Kraków, he wrote in a hurried Latin a brief letter that was dated 17 November 1962.
The letter said: "Venerabilis Pater, rogo te orationem fundere pro quadam mater quattuor puellarum, Cracoviae in Polonia (durante ultimo bello per quinque annos in campo concentrationis in Germania, nunc in periculo gravissimo sanitatis et etiam vitae ratione canceris: ut Deus ei eiusque familiae misericordiam suam instante Beatissima Virgine ostendat. In Christo obligatissimus +Carolus Wojtyła."
Here is the English translation. "Venerable Father, I ask you to pray for a certain mother of four girls, who lives in Kraków, Poland (during the last War she spent five years in a concentration camp in Germany) and now she finds herself in a very grave danger of health, even of life because of cancer. Pray so that the Lord, with the intervention of the Most Blessed Virgin, may show mercy to her and to her family. Most obligated in Christ, +Karol Wojtyła."
The letter of Bishop Wojtyła to Padre Pio was clear and grave. The woman of whom he spoke was in grave danger of her life. The illness was that which in the 1960s was called "the disease of the century" and frightened everyone, insofar as there was no cure to overcome it. The family situation of the sick woman was dramatic: it was a question of a mother of four children. A woman who had already suffered much in her life because during the War, when she was only twenty years old, she was interned in a Nazi concentration camp and had passed five years in that place of death.
Bishop Wojtyła asked Padre Pio to pray intensely to God and the Virgin so that they would have pity on that woman and her family.
"To this one, one cannot say no"
The letter was given to Angelo Battisti who was well known in the Vatican because he worked in the Secretariat of State. Being the Administrator of the House for the Relief of Suffering in San Giovanni Rotondo, he was a friend of Padre Pio and was therefore one of the few persons who could always approach him, who could go at any hour during the day to his room.
"The letter was given to me by an Italian Cardinal," Battisti reported. "This Cardinal told me it treated of an event of maximum importance and that, therefore, I had to leave immediately to put the letter directly into the hands of Padre Pio.
"I had never received assignments so urgent. I would go immediately to my house, get my car and depart immediately.
"Having arrived at San Giovanni Rotondo, I would go to the cell of Padre Pio. I gave the letter to him, saying that it treated of an urgent matter.
"'Open and read it', Padre said.
"He had the text folded on his heart and was praying--as always.
"I opened the envelope and read the letter to him. Father listened in silence without saying anything. When I had finished reading those few lines, he still remained in silence.
"I marveled: that letter did not contain anything extraordinary. It was one of the very numerous letters that Padre Pio received daily from those who asked for prayers.
"At a certain moment, Padre Pio, raising his head to look at me with his profound eyes, said to me: 'Little Angelo, to 'this one' one cannot say no'. He rested anew his head on his breast and started again to pray.
"I got in the car to return to Rome. During the trip I continued to reflect on that phrase. I knew Padre Pio for years. I was used to seeing the most incredible things around him. I knew that his every word always had a profound significance. I continued to ask myself: 'But why did he say: 'To this one, one cannot say no'?' Who was that Polish Bishop? I worked in the Secretariat of State but I had never heard him mentioned.
"Why did Padre Pio have such esteem for him even to the point of pronouncing that phrase that demonstrated that Bishop Wojtyła was a very important person for him? Having arrived in Rome, I asked my colleagues if they knew Bishop Wojtyła, but no one had ever heard his name."
After eleven day, precisely on November 28, Bishop Wojtyła wrote a new letter to Padre Pio. "Venerabills Pater, muller habitans Cracovie in Polonia, mater quattuor puellarum, die 21 XI, ante operationem chirurgicam repente sanitatem recuperavit. Deo gratias. Tique pater venerabills, item maximas gratias ago nomine ipsius eiusque mariti et cunctae familiae. In Christo, +Carolus Wojtyła vicarius capitularis cracoviensis."
Here is the translation. "Venerable Father, the woman living in Kraków, Poland, the mother of four girls, on November 21 before the surgery was healed unexpectedly. Let us thank God. And also to you Venerable Father I offer you the greatest thanks in the name of the same woman, her husband and here entire family. In Christ, +Karol Wojtyła, Capitular Bishop of Kraków."
"Save these letters"
This second letter from Bishop Wojtyła was full of joy. He announced the incredible fact in summary form, but furnishing the precise elements so that it was understand that an extraordinary prodigy was involved. The healing of his friend happened unexpectedly, while the sick woman found herself in the hospital and was to undergo surgery. Therefore, the question was of a healing that happened under the eyes of the doctors, hence under the control of science. A true and proper miracle, which Bishop Wojtyła attributed, without a shadow of doubt, to the intervention of God obtained thanks to the prayers of Padre Pio.
This letter was also immediately given to Angelo Battisti with the assignment to carry it quickly to San Giovanni Rotondo.
"I left immediately because, also that time in the Vatican, they made me hurry," Battisti later recounted. Having arrived at San Giovanni Rotondo, I entered the cell of Padre Pio. I showed the letter to him and as always he said: 'Open and read it.'
"This time I read with much curiosity, because I wanted to know what was still of such importance, and hearing that the news was truly extraordinary and incredible, I looked towards Father to congratulate him. But Padre Pio was immersed in prayer.
It seemed as if he did not hear my voice as I read the letter. I waited in silence for him to say something to me or to order me to return to Rome. After some minutes, Father said: 'Little Angelo, save these letters, because one day they will become important'.
"I returned to Rome, taking with me those letters as Padre Pio ordered me.
"Sixteen years passed by and I had almost forgotten that I had them. But the evening of Monday, October 16, 1978, when I heard Cardinal Felici, from the central balcony of Saint Peter's Basilica, announce to the world the name of the new Pope who was elected to the place of Pope John Paul I, I was struck. The name was that of Karol Wojtyła. That Polish Bishop who had given to me the letter to carry to Padre Pio to ask for the healing of the woman from Krakow. I thought immediately of that phrase of Padre Pio. 'To this one, one cannot say no', and tears came to my eyes."
[Karol Wojtyła (1920-2005), better known to the world as Pope John Paul II, beatified Padre Pio of Pietrelcina on May 2, 1999 and canonized him on June 16, 2002. The liturgical Memorial of Padre Pio is September 23.]
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Monsignor Charles M. Mangan - Official, 390 66616-1125
Saint Pio of Pietrelcina; Padre Pio: The Servant of God Pope John Paul II
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