Zammit on Wojtyla’s election to the Throne of Peter

Zammit on Wojtyla's election to the Throne of Peter

Mr Frank of Malta
Draft of Stanislaw
From today until the canonization on April 27, we are privileged to host Frank Zammit, of Malta, who is a producer of documentaries about Blessed . He will share his account of the pontificate with quotes from key figures, and documented with pictures.  He has interviewed many of those close to Blessed John Paul II and who were connected with the election and pontificate of the soon to be saint. To the left he is shown near the desk where Cardinal Wojtyla wrote the poem “Stanislaw.” I am grateful to Mr. Zammit for sharing his work with us.

his election: after centuries of Italian Popes, the first non-Italian. And to
the enthusiastic acclaim of the faithful in Rome and around the world. A new
Pope from Poland, a young Pope full of life, enormously capable and very well
prepared. This certainly was an extraordinary event.’
– H.E. Cardinal Stanislaw Dsiwisz

It all took place in the
year of the three popes. At dawn on the 29th of September 1978 the
Roman Catholic Apostolic Church was in deep mourning for the loss of its second
spiritual leader in just 45 days. The Feast of the Transfiguration had seen the
passing of Paul VI, now the Feast of the Angels announced the end of John Paul
I short reign. Once more, in
mid-October, the Cardinals were summoned to Rome to ponder under the gaze of
the Almighty in front of Michaelangelo’s Last Judgment whom they would choose
to step into the Shoes of the Fisherman, Prince of Apostles.

The favourite of the
conservatives at this second conclave was Cardinal Giuseppe Siri, Archbishop of
Genoa while Cardinal Giovanni Benelli, Archbishop of Florence was favoured by
the more liberal Cardinals. However a number of other profiles of possible
candidates had been prepared, among them was that of the Archbishop of Cracow,
Cardinal Karol Jozef Wojtyla.

the matter had been raised in Rome, the possibility of his candidacy was under
consideration. At one point a Monsignor preparing dossiers on certain Cardinals
had telephoned me and let me know that the Cardinal of Cracow was among them.– H.E. Cardinal Stanislaw Dsiwisz

Cardinal Siri’s
candidacy had been marred ahead of the conclave by the untimely publication of
an interview he had given to Gazzetta del Popolo journalist , Giovanni Licheri.
The ‘Me Pope?’ (Io Papa?) interview had been embargoed for publication only
after the Cardinals were in conclave. However Licheri ignored the embargo and
thus allowed the Cardinals several hours to learn of Cardinal Siri’s criticism
of Pope John Paul I’s pontificate as well as of Siri’s attack on the
collegiality of Bishops. Every Cardinal had received and read a copy of the
interview before entering the conclave on October 14th, 1978.
Cardinal Siri had to face the consequences.

Throughout the
pre-conclave days, the Archbishop of Krakow, Cardinal Wojtyla was hosted  at the Pontifical Polish College at Piazza
Remuria in Rome. Before entering the
conclave, the Archbishop of Krakow embraced his Private Secretary, Don
Stanislaw in farewell.

Although Cardinal Siri
at one point came within five votes of being elected, in the first day of
voting it became clear that the two factions would block one another. To break
the stalemate, the cardinals sought a compromise candidate in the Archbishop of
Milan, Cardinal Giovanni Colombo. However at the start of
the next morning’s session, the 76-year-old Cardinal Colombo announced that
after a night of prayer, he was sure that he should not be chosen and that even
if the conclave elected him, he would not accept the papal tiara. The conclave
was in disarray. For a while it seemed
that Proto-Deacon, Cardinal Pericle Felici or the Vicar General of Rome,
Cardinal Ugo Poletti might be chosen.

Meanwhile Cardinal
Wojtyla was not yet aware of what lay in wait for him. At the August conclave
that had elevated Cardinal Luciani to the See of Peter, Wojtyla had seen just
five preferences expressed in his favour. It was at this point
that the Primate of Austria, Cardinal Franz Koenig, the Archbishop of
Philadelphia, Cardinal John Krol and the Archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal
Hoeffner took the initiative to draw together a coalition among European,
African, Latin American and United States cardinals including some Italians who
had previously backed Cardinal Benelli’s candidacy.

Until then the Primate
of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyczinski had supported the candidacy of Cardinal
Siri while Cardinal Wojtyla had backed Cardinal Benelli. The cardinals who assisted
Cardinal Koenig and Cardinal Krol in building support for Wojtyla’s candidacy
were Dutch Cardinal Willebrands, Brazilian Cardinals Arns and Lorscheider as
well as the Spanish Cardinals Enrique Y Tarancon and Leo Suenens and a number
of German Cardinals including the young Archbishop of Munich Joseph Ratzinger.

As the Italian
candidacies waned, the conclave considered the choice of Cardinal Willebrands
of the Netherlands however he was 10 years Wojtyla’s senior and the Pole
emerged as the favourite compromise candidate. On the day, 111
cardinals made up the conclave. It was only at the eighth vote that 99 of them
ended the conclave in the Sistine Chapel by electing Karol Wojtyla to be the
next Pope.

Although he eventually
took the name of John Paul II, there appear to be good grounds to support the
theory that during that fateful 16th of October he had considered taking on the
name of Stanislaw in the event of his election.  Hours before entering
the conclave as he was still  in his cell
at the Pontifical Polish College where he was inspired to write a brilliant
poem entitled ‘Stanislaw’. It is a five-pager poem and it is still exhibited on
a wall in this historical building. Was he feeling that his election to Supreme
Pontiff was near? Was he preparing to take on this Slavic name in case of
may have been so. He was inspired by this saint. St Stanislaw was Bishop of
Cracow and killed by the king… killed while saying mass, a truly inspiring
figure. – H.E. Card. Zenon Grocholewski

Cardinal Woytyla was
elected Pope on the 16th of October 1978 at precisely 17.17 on the feast of St
Edwiga, a Queen of Cracow in the early middleages who had died in labour. Once again Proto-Deacon
Cardinal Pericle Felici announced the election of a pope……. His hesitation over
the name perplexed the crowd gathered in St Peter’s Square. It was clearly a
foreigner who had been elected, perhaps from Africa.

his name was announced I was at the Polish College. I was with a number of
students watching television when all at once Cardinal Felici came on screen to
announce that a pope had been elected. I noticed immediately that something
unusual had happened…… I had known Cardinal Felici for several years He was the
Prefect of the Aposolic Segnatura where I used to work. He was usually
goodhumoured and smiling but (on television) he appeared to be very serious
indeed. He seemed to be concerned about this extraordinary election. He was a
Roman, he wrote poems in Latin….His second appearance on the balcony in two
months! Yes, the first time he had been all smiles…but the second time he was
serious and when he spoke (the words) ‘Annuntio Vobis Gaudium Magnum Habemus
Papaem ‘Carolum’ we exploded in joy and cried ‘Wojtyla’ as he continued Sanctae
Romana Ecclesiae Cardinalem Wojtyla..It was an immense joy… all the students.
– H.E. Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski

However even as he
emerged onto the central loggia of St Peter’s Basilica, Karol Wojtyla
immediately eluded the strict Vatican protocol by going beyond the customary
“Urbi et Orbi” blessing and addressing the crowd gathered in the square in
Italian. He won over the Italians immediately when he encouraged them to
correct his Italian if he made any mistakes.

Italians welcomed him heartily…heartily! – H.E. Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski
the new pope was announced, I was in St Peter’s Square close to the fountain on
the left. Afterwards I went to the conclave hall to greet the new pope.
“Look what they’ve done!” he told me as he returned my greeting. H.E.
Cardinal Stanislaw Dsiwisz

Although he was not the
cardinals’ first choice at the conclave, several princes of the Church knew him
well from his writings or from the fifty or so visits he had made to other
archdioceses when he was Cardinal of KraKow. He had been to the United States,
to Canada, Latin America and France visiting countries with numerous Polish
migrants. At that time the crowd
gathered in St Peter’s Square had no inkling of the changes this servant of God
would bring to his homeland, Poland, and to the rest of the world.

When  he was elected to the throne of St Peter, he
was well aware of the drama unfolding in the countries of the East (Eastern
Europe), of the massive Iron Curtain raised after the Second World War and
therefore felt a personal commitment to strive for freedom of worship. ‘States
do not own their citizens…but exist to serve their citizens’ Freedom of worship
is as essential as all other freedoms”. H.E. Cardinal Angelo Sodano

Through this decision
the College of Cardinals had shown its intention to change the Church’s
course…. It was a brave decision and intended to bear much fruit. Cardinal Josef Leo
Suenens a few hours after leaving the conclave summed up the election of John
Paul II: “We endeavoured to drive
the Church to the South but Providence through it to the North”

Interview with Cardinal Siri



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