Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Vatican City

In Spiritual Testament, Pope Reflects On Life, Aging

By CINDY WOODEN, CNS | Published April 14, 2005

In his spiritual testament, Pope John Paul II reflected on the communist persecution of the church, the attempt to assassinate him, the fall of the Iron Curtain and his own aging. The College of Cardinals released an Italian translation of the Polish text April 7.

As his 80th birthday approached in 2000, he said he considered resigning and hoped God would show him when it was time for his ministry as head of the Catholic Church to end.

The pope’s final spiritual message to the church was written during his annual Lenten retreats in seven different years, beginning in 1979 and ending in 2000. In almost every entry, including the first when he was 58 years old, Pope John Paul said he was prepared to die.

“‘Watch, because you know not the day your Lord will come’—these words remind me that the final call will come when the Lord wants,” he wrote in the first entry, dated March 6, 1979.

In an undated entry before March 1980, the pope wrote, “I express my profound trust that, despite all my weaknesses, the Lord will give me every grace to face any task, trial and suffering that he asks of his servant in the course of his life.”

The last and the longest entry by far was written during the Holy Year 2000, when he said that he had been prepared to lead the church into the new millennium. “According to the designs of providence, I have lived in the difficult century that is ending and now, in the year that I will turn 80 years old, one must ask if it is not the time to repeat with the biblical Simeon: ‘Nunc dimittis,’” the Latin phrase beginning his prayer to the Lord, “May you let your servant go in peace.”

In the document, Pope John Paul said he had no property to be willed to others and that his personal belongings should be “distributed as seems appropriate.”

The pope said God “saved me in a miraculous way from death” after the 1981 assassination attempt, and from that moment his life belonged even more clearly to God.

“I hope he will help me recognize up to what point I should continue this service, to which he called me on Oct. 16, 1978,” the pope wrote in 2000. But he also said, “I ask that he would call me back to him when he wants.”

Pope John Paul asked that Masses and prayers be said for him after his death, and he asked that his personal notes be burned.

In a 1992 marginal note, he wrote that he wanted to be “buried in the ground, not in a sarcophagus.”

He told the College of Cardinals that they could, if they wanted, consult with Polish bishops about holding his funeral in Poland, but he did not mention the possibility of being buried anywhere but at the Vatican.

The only person still alive mentioned by name in the document was Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz, who served as his personal secretary, first in Krakow, Poland, then at the Vatican.

He thanked “Father Stanislaw” for his long and understanding “collaboration and assistance.”

When remembering the leaders of other Christian communities and other religions he had met, the pope mentioned specifically “the rabbi of Rome,” referring to retired Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff, who welcomed Pope John Paul to Rome’s synagogue in 1986.

Pope John Paul said the 2000 ceremonial opening of the Holy Door at Rome’s Basilica of St. Paul Outside the Walls with Anglican Archbishop George Carey of Canterbury, England, and with a bishop representing the Ecumenical Orthodox Patriarchate of Constantinople “remains impressed in my mind in a special way.”

In the last entry, he wrote, “How can I not embrace with grateful memory all of the bishops throughout the world whom I met in the series of ‘ad limina’ visits,” which heads of dioceses make every five years.

He also remembered representatives of the world of culture, science, politics and the media he had encountered in the more than 26 years of his pontificate. “As I reach the limits of my earthly life, my mind returns to my beginnings: to my parents, brother and sister (whom I never met because she died before I was born),” to his parish in Wadowice, to his schoolmates, to his co-workers at the Solvay quarry during World War II, to his parishioners and to “the persons who were entrusted to me in a special way by the Lord,” in Krakow and in Rome.

In 1980, 14 months before a Turkish gunman shot and seriously wounded him, the pope wrote, “Today I want to add only one thing: Everyone must keep in mind the possibility of death and must be ready to present himself to the Lord and to the judge.”

“The times in which we are living are indescribably difficult and troubled,” he wrote, nine years before the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of communism in Eastern Europe.

“The path of the church has become difficult and tense,” he said, citing a “period of persecution” of Catholics that might even have surpassed that of the first centuries of Christianity.

Ten months after being shot, he wrote, “the attempt on my life May 13, 1981, in a way confirmed the accuracy of the words I wrote during my spiritual exercises in 1980.”

“Even more profoundly, I feel that I am totally in the hands of God, and I remain constantly at the disposition of my Lord, entrusting myself to him through his Immaculate Mother, ‘Totus tuus,’ (All yours),” he wrote.