Friday, 12 October 2012

34th Anniversary of the election of Cardinal Karol J. Wojtyla to the Petrine Service

34th Anniversary of the election of  Cardinal Karol J. Wojtyla 
to the Petrine Service

16th October 1978 - 16th October 2012


Two days in October 1978

After centuries of Italian Popes, the first non-Italian one. 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.

Pope Hadrian VI- The last non-Italian Pope who ruled the Church between 1522-1523


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.

Pope John Paul I: He served the Church as Pope for thirty three years

Once more, in mid-October, the Cardinals were summoned to Rome to ponder under the gaze of the Almighty in Michaelangelo's Last Judgment whom they would choose to step into the Shoes of the Fisherman, Prince of Apostles.

Cardinal Giuseppe Siri: The front-runner in both conclaves of 1978

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 that of the Archbishop of Cracow, Cardinal Karol Jozef Wojtyla.

Journalist Gianni Licheri ignored the embargo.

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 would have the face the consequences.

Before entering the conclave, the Archbishop of Cracow embraced his Private Secretary, Don Stanislaw in farewell.

Cardinal Giovanni Colombo: Declared that he was not a candidate!

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 cardinasl sought a compromise candidate in the Archbishop of Milan, Cardinal Giovanni Colombo.

Papal Conclave of  October 1978

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. This decision caused a lot of uncertainty.

Cardinal Ugo Poletti: One of the last Italian prelates that was considered as a compromise candidacy

For a while it seemed that Proto-Deacon, Cardinal Pericle Felici or the Vicar General of Rome, Cardinal Ugo Poletti might be chosen. 

The Archbishop of Krakow - Cardinal Karol J. Wojtyla

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.

Cardinal Franz Koening: Wojtyla's Grand Elector

It was at this point that the Primate of Austria, Cardinal Franz Koenig, the Archbishop of Philadelphia, Cardinal John Krol and the Archbishop pf 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.


The Primate of Poland Cardinal Stefan Wyscinski accompanied by Cardinal Karol Wojtyla

Until then the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyczinski had supported the candidacy of Cardinal Siri while Cardinal Wjtyla had backed Cardinal Benelli.


Cardinal John Krol

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.


Cardinal Johannes Willebrands

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.


14th October: The cardinals had to turn back to the Sistine Chapel

On the day, 111 cardinals made up the conclave. It was only at the eighth vote that 98 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. 


St Stanislaw: Patron Saint of Poland

"Yes..it 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. " Cardinal 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.


Cardinal Pericle Felici: The Proto-Deacon

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.


Cardinal Zenon Grocholewski

"When 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….” Cardinal Grocholewski


Pope John Paul II

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.

The Italians welcomed him heartily…heartily! Cardinal Grocholewski


Cardinal Stanislaw Dsiwisz

"When 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 . Cardinal 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 50 or so visits he had made to other archdioceses when he was Cardinal of Cracow. 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.


Cardinal Angelo Sodano

"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". Cardinal 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 Leo Jozef Suenens

Cardinal Josef Leo Suenens a few hours after leaving the conclave summed up the lection of John Paul II: " We endeavoured to drive the Church to the South but Providence through it to the North". 




















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