LINCOLN (SNR) - In anticipation of the canonization of Popes John Paul II and John XXIII, Southern Nebraska Register editor Father Nicholas Kipper asked Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz, bishop emeritus, to share his memories of meeting the two popes.
SNR: What do you see as the greatest impact that Popes John Paul II and John XXIII made during their pontificates?
Although the length of their pontificates varied greatly, (John XXIII from October 1958 to June 1963, and John Paul II from October 1978 to April 2005), both saints made very important, lasting, and significant impressions on the Church and on the geopolitics of the entire world. It would be impossible to list, much less to discuss thoroughly, the enormous impact of their apostolic labors. Things which come quickly to mind are the Second Vatican Ecumenical Council, the liberation of Eastern Europe from the yolk of Communism after the collapse of the old Soviet Union, the many and frequent pontifical travels to all parts of the world, the numerous new institutions, such as World Youth Days, the Vatican II-inspired reforms as well as the reforms of the reforms in liturgy and general Church life, the episcopal synods both national and international, the monumental outpourings of pontifical documents, the new Code of Canon Law, the publication of the new Catechism and its Compendium, etc.
SNR: Can you speak of any visible signs of holiness that these great men made manifest?
Their lives were living homilies. Both were indefatigable workers, who nevertheless always found huge amounts of necessary time to pray, despite their countless tasks, responsibilities, and demands on their time and attention. Both had great devotion to the rosary and to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both wrote and spoke much about the Holy Eucharist and about their love for and devotion to the Catholic Church. Both were great listeners and both enjoyed a sense of humor, making them capable of laughing at innumerable incongruities as well as at themselves. Both faced life with self-sacrificing heroism and faced death with courage and hopeful fortitude. Both were very respectful and observant of valid traditions and customs, while facing with joy the challenges their times and worlds presented. Their biographical writings tell the story of their holiness quite well. The “Journal of a Soul,” compiled by Archbishop Capovilla, the Secretary of John XXIII, and “Rise, Let Us Be On Our Way” by Pope John Paul II, will give some powerful indications of the deeply holy interior lives of those two saints.
SNR: Do you have any personal stories of these men or things about them that always impressed you?
There would not be space enough for all my stories about them! Angelo Roncalli was elected Pope at the beginning of my second year at the North American College in Rome. He was the Pope when I was ordained a priest in Rome by his Vicar General, Cardinal Luigi Traglia. I had several audiences with him and participated in many papal ceremonies with him.
I remember the audience after my ordination with my parents and relatives, when he told me never to despise the older, tried and true forms of apostolic work in my priesthood, and to judge the newer forms with a critical eye. He told me in another audience, after he asked me what my Bishop was going to do with me when I left Rome and returned home, and I replied that would be a parish priest, that being a parish priest was the highest and most splendid form of priestly existence and I should always consider that kind of priestly work as the greatest of privileges a priest could have. He profoundly loved Latin and insisted on its exclusive use in the Ecumenical Council, with only an exception for the Eastern Rite Prelates. Among his writing was “Veterum Sapientia” (“The Wisdom of the Ancients”) to promote the Latin language.
Karol Woytyla was elected Pope in the second conclave of 1978. I had the privilege of previously knowing him quite well in the years he was the Archbishop of Kracow. I interacted with him in many ceremonies, meetings, lunches, dinners, audiences, etc. In fact, five weeks before he was elected Pope, we had dinner together at my house (Villa Stritch) in Rome along with other Polish prelates. I was working in the Holy See at the time of his election, and he and I had worked over the years on various issues pertaining to the Catholic seminaries and universities.
He always remembered my dear mother, because they both spoke Bohemian (Czech) when they talked together in an audience. He was the Pope who named me a Bishop in 1992, and with whom I had several “ad limina” visits, when he always wanted to see a copy of our Lincoln diocesan seminary brochures. He was a true polyglot and would speak with me in a variety of languages, with German, English, and Italian predominating.
There are too many anecdotes in my association with him to be recounted here, but I have them all locked in my heart, and I shall, to my dying day, consider it one of the highest honors of my life to have been so closely acquainted with such a grand saint.
May Pope Saint John XXIII and Pope Saint John Paul II pray for us all in the halls of eternity.