John Paul

Poland produces a revolution every five hundred years, and it’s always the same revolution: a man comes along and challenges the way we all look at the universe, challenges us to stop thinking we’re the center of the universe and that all things circle around us.

Copernicus was the first to suggest that the Earth was not the center of the universe. He dethroned the heady notion that literally everything revolved around us, and modern science has pushed us to the point of virtual cosmic insignificance.

Karol Wojtyla, with his famous words, “Do not be afraid,” challenged us to stop thinking of ourselves as the center of our own worlds. Love is the greatest of all these, said Saint Paul, and John Paul, in his insistence on the universal recognition of human dignity and freedom, showed how to put that into practice.

“Nie lekajcie sie!”

Don’t be afraid.

Fear not.

How can we not fear? Look at the world, and the injustice that hounds it, and it seems the only thing we can do is be afraid. How can that possibly work? Perhaps when we start following John Paul’s example and love others more than ourselves, we will stop fear. After all, what is fear? It’s fear of what will happen to me. When I start loving others more, I stop thinking of my self so much, and I stop fearing.

John Paul in that sense was a Copernicus for the soul.

Smoke and Mozart

We were in Adam’s bar with Johnny, Kucek, and Marta. I was playing chess with Rafal, and I heard Mozart’s Requiem and though I didn’t consciously think it, I knew what had happened. After a few moments, [my wife] called my name (they were sitting behind me) and told me. I turned to Rafal‚ and told him, then suggested we put the chess away.

I went back to the table where everyone else was sitting, and we just sat there quietly for about ten minutes. No one was saying a word. I can’t remember who initiated it, but someone said, “Idziemy?” and we all got up and left the table covered with full beer glasses and extinguished, half-smoked cigarettes.

Without saying, we all began walking up to the church. No one said, “Let’s go to the church,” we all just headed there. As we were walking, the fire station’s siren began wailing. It was strangely and peacefully quiet other than that.

We got to the church and it was locked. It had been open all day, and the night before, for prayers, but it was closed. “They’ll come open it,” I told everyone confidently.

“There’ll be a mass going within half an hour,” I said. But we stood waiting, and nothing.

After some time a nun walked into the church, and the bells began ringing, but the front door never opened. We walked around to the door to the sacristy to ask the nun if they were going to open the church. We stood there waiting, and just as she was coming out, another group of three young people — two girls and a young man of about nineteen — came up.

“Is the church going to be opened?” he asked.

The nun’s reply was somewhat surprising, and completely disappointing: “It was open all day. It was open all night last night. It was open until nine this evening, and no one was here,” she said in the tone of voice that’s so known to me know — it was the tone of a bureaucrat annoyed that you’ve come to require services of him. It was the tone of voice I encountered every time I went to the regional court offices while getting the official permission to marry a Pole. It was the tone of voice that I’ve heard in post offices, shops, busses — everywhere.

The young man would not be put off, though. “I know, I know. But not to open the church now?! At this moment?!”

The nun again: “The proboszcz said to ring the bells. He didn’t say anything about opening the church,” she said, locking the lower of three locks on the sacristy door.

“Let’s go,” said Johnny, starting to walk away.

“No, no! Don’t go!” said the young man. And he just repeated to the nun again, and again, “Not to open the church?! At this moment? At this moment?”

Reluctantly, she opened up the sacristy and we filed into the church quietly.

We knelt in the first row, with our three companions simply falling on their knees once they were in front of the tabernacle. All heads bowed, not a sound — I even prayed. “If you’re up there, God, I sure hope you’re welcoming such a great man into your presence now, because if a man like that isn’t with you now, no one else has a chance.”

The five of us had just come from a bar, so we reeked of cigarettes, and probably the smell of alcohol was noticeable, but none of us were even buzzed (we’d drunk perhaps two beers each), but [my wife] felt very awkward about it the more she considered it. We left after only about ten minutes.

We went back home and made some tea and listened to the radio.

They’ve been playing nothing but classical music on several of the stations. Last night they played Gorecki’s “Amen,” interspersed with quotes from the pope.

A Country of Orphans

“Poor country,” [my wife] said. We sat up late talking about John Paul’s life, and his philosophy, and his love of fellow humans.

“If Poles lived by his words, I’d never want to leave this place,” I said. “It would be a paradise.”

Poor Poland — wracked now with increasing corruption in every part of the government. A country with more than 18% unemployment, a country that must be the richest country in the world, as my father-in-law says, because everyone steals and there still remains something for others to pilfer.

And now, broken-hearted Poland. [My wife’s] grandmother spent Sunday crying. Masses are pouring into churches and staying. It is a country of orphans.

Lech Walesa said that it was like losing a mother, “for the pope looked after Poland like a mother over her children.”


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