Archive for the ‘Polish’ Category

John Paul II cause takes a step

July 1, 2009

Yesterday, in a meeting at the Vatican, a group of theologian consultors for the Congregation for the Causes of Saints made a positive judgment about the heroic virtues of John Paul II, based on a report submitted to them.  This clears the way for a judgment to be made by the bishop and cardinal members of the Congregation.  They’re the ones whose positive judgment really counts, whose recognition of his heroic virtues would allow John Paul II to have the title “Servant of God,” with the next step being beatification.  A miracle attributed to his intercession would be necessary for that to happen.

As of 9:00 this morning, this is not being covered in English yet.   It’s reported today by the respected Vatican journalist Andrea Tornielli at Il Giornale‘s website.

Also on the JP2 cause, be sure to check out my post “Karol and Wanda: A Primer.”

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Karol and Wanda: A Primer

June 21, 2009

There has been a lot of coverage and, seemingly, hand-wringing over the issue of Dr. Wanda Poltawska and her letters to and from Pope John Paul II, with talk of how they will slow down the progress of the Pope’s cause for beatification/canonization.  Here are the basics of the issue.

So who’s Wanda? Dr. Wanda Poltawska, now 87, is a Polish psychiatrist who was a friend of Karol Wojtyla forwanda more than half a century.  She was married and has four daughters.  

(Some articles are calling her a “sex psychiatrist.”  That’s probably a pretty anachronistic term and no doubt intentionally sensationalistic.  Probably “family therapist” or “marriage therapist” would be better.)

How did she get to know JP2?  During World War II, Poltawska was arrested by the Nazis at age 19 for her involvement in the Polish resistance movement.  She was imprisoned in the Ravensbrueck concentration camp, tortured, and used in ghastly medical experiments.  Following that terrible experience, she sought out a priest for some spiritual guidance to help her through the trauma.  She found Fr. Wojtyla.  He became friends with her, as well as with her husband and children.  (He was 2 years older than her.)

Their relationship?  Close friends, it seems.  (See Cardinal Dziwisz’s opinion below for the only reason I add “it seems.”)  Wojtyla was a frequent visitor to their home, and he went on family vacations with them.  After he was elected Pope , she and her family visited him annually at the Pope’s summer residence.  She was allowed to visit his hospital room after the 1981 assassination attempt.  She also allowed at his bedside (with a roomful of other people, of course) when he died.  He signed his letters to her “Br,” short for brat (“brother” in Polish). 

Apparently during the 1960’s, in fact, when she was diagonosed with cancer, a distressed Wojtyla wrote to Padre Pio asking for his prayers for her.  The cancer was soon cured.  (And JP2 canonized Pio in 2002.)

She speaks of him today (here) with great admiration and respect:

“He loved all people and wanted to save all,” she said. “He had nothing: no car, no TV, no phone, nothing. Just a backpack and his prayer book.”

To her, Wojtyla was a “paragon of modesty, poverty and sainthood.”

There’s a book involved?  Yes, Dr. Poltawska has recently published The Beskidy Mountains Recollections (English translation of the Polish title).  The Associated Press describes the book

The 570-page book recalls annual family vacations with Wojtyla before he became pope in the Beskidy Mountains, trips that were filled with praying and religious discussions. It includes pictures of her family with the pope at the Vatican and vacationing in Castel Gandolfo, the papal holiday residence outside Rome.

It includes her diary entries from trips she took after he was elected pope to the places where they had vacationed, where she reminisces with great longing about their times together. She writes detailed descriptions of the places for the pope, who, ensconced in the Vatican, would write to her of how much he missed the mountains and rivers.

And it contains letters back to Poltawska, including one in which John Paul said he believed God had given her to him as his project, considering her difficult personality and her haunting Ravensbrueck past.

Amazon notes another book she published, And I Am Afraid of My Dreams, over two decades ago.  It seems she has written more, too (one article refers to “several books about children”), but I suspect if it hasn’t been translated from the Polish, it won’t be on Amazon.

Something scandalous going on?  No.  There is no one who is suggesting that the relationship between Karol Wojtyla and Wanda Poltawska was inappropriate, romantic, or sexual in nature.  Her husband was also a close friend of Wojtyla.

So what’s the big deal?  Ya got me.

Why is she being criticized?  Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz has publicly criticized her for publishing the letters and for exaggerating the relationship.  (Dziwisz served John Paul II for many decades as his private secretary, long before he even become pope.)  He comments in one interview: “That was his [John Paul II’s] secret: to make all those who were dear to him feel like they had a special relationship with him.  The difference is that Ms. Poltawska exaggerates in her attitude, and the expressions and display of her behavior are inappropriate and out of place.”  

This is could be true, is certainly believable, and Dziwisz, if anyone, is in a position to say.  Then again, the woman was allowed access to the guy at his deathbed.  And several other people whose take on the issue carry great weight have contradicted Dziwisz.

Poltawska has also been criticized by Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, recently retired head of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, who says she should have turned the letters in to the Vatican as part of their JP2 sainthood investigation.

The Midwife of Auschwicz

December 7, 2008

Stanislawa Zambrzyska was a Polish woman, a midwife by trade, who was imprisoned at Auschwicz. She was ordered by the Nazi doctors there to deliver — and then kill — the babies born of pregnant inmates.  She delivered some 3000 of them in horrendous conditions, but had the stunning courage to refuse instructions directly to the face of the imfamous Dr. Megele himself to kill a single one. 

Though the task of baby-killing was performed by another woman in the camp (I think there’ s a soul we could whisper a silent prayer for right now), Stanislawa did as much as she could to save those she could.  And she did a great deal to bring as much compassion as possible to the mothers forced to deliver their children in hell.

One inmate recounts:

“For weeks she never had a chance to lie down. She sometimes sat down near a patient on the oven, dozed for a moment, but soon jumped up and ran to one of the moaning women. . . . When Mrs. Leszczynska first approached me, I knew that everything would be alright.

I do not know why, but this was so. My baby managed to last three months in the camp, but seemed doomed to die of starvation. I was completely devoid of milk. ‘Mother’ somehow found two women to wet-nurse my baby, an Estonian and a Russian. To this day I do not know at what price [she did this]. My Liz owes her life to Stanislawa Leszczynska. I cannot think of her without tears coming to my eyes.”

That clip is from a remarkable article by Matthew M. Anger, posted yesterday by Spero News.  Read the whole thing, but brace yourself; it’s not easy.

It concludes by noting the growing devotion among Catholics in Poland to this remarkable woman, and her possible future beatification:

Since she passed away in 1974, there has been growing devotion to Stanislawa Leszczynska in Poland. Pilgrimages are organized to her grave, while materials are being compiled as evidence for her process of beatification. She was commemorated in a “Chalice of Life,” offered to the famous Czestochowa shrine at Jasna Gora by Polish women in May 1982, and in 1983 the Krakow School for Obstetricians was named in her honor.

Numerous people have attested to favors obtained through her intercession, particularly in connection with child-birth problems. As Prof. Giertych concludes, “The life of Stanislawa Leszczynska is that of an exemplary mother and devoted midwife. Thus she is especially suited to be a patron of the fight for life against the child murderers who, just as in the concentration camps, continue to ply their deadly trade.”

Sounds like a beatification well worth praying for.