Longtime Vatican official and secretary to St. John Paul II to be among dignitaries at special Mass
By Jim Wogan
A participant and witness to some of the most dramatic moments in the history of the Catholic Church in the 20th century is coming to the Diocese of Knoxville, both as a celebrant and a speaker.
Bishop Richard F. Stika has announced that Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, a longtime Vatican official and the loyal secretary and dear friend to Pope St. John Paul II from 1966 until his death in 2005, has accepted an invitation to concelebrate the Dedication Mass for the Diocese of Knoxville’s new Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on March 3, 2018.
Cardinal Dziwisz (pronounced GEE-vish) will also be a guest at the second “Conversation with the Cardinals” to be held the following night in the new cathedral.
The first “Conversation with the Cardinals” took place April 18, 2015, in conjunction with the official groundbreaking for the new cathedral. Joining Bishop Stika and Cardinal Rigali for that event were Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Cardinal William Levada.
“We welcome Cardinal Dziwisz to the Diocese of Knoxville with open arms and great love,” Bishop Stika said. “We are honored that he will participate in the Dedication Mass for our new cathedral, and we are excited that His Eminence will witness, in a very personal way, the vibrant faith and commitment to Jesus that our diocese lives each and every day.”
The visit by the Polish prelate to the Diocese of Knoxville can’t be overstated.
“Cardinal Dziwisz is an international figure in the life of the Catholic Church,” Bishop Stika added. “He is a man of history. He was there when John Paul was shot in 1981. In fact, he fell into the lap of Cardinal Dziwisz, and Cardinal Dziwisz anointed the pope after the assassination attempt. When John Paul died (in 2005), Cardinal Dziwisz was at his side, and at the end when they closed the casket on John Paul, the Church has a tradition, a white veil is placed over the face of a pope before the casket lid is closed, and it was Cardinal Dziwisz who placed that veil on the pope’s face at his funeral Mass.”
Cardinal Dziwisz is a close friend of Cardinal Justin Rigali, who served three different popes while working in Rome for more than 30 years, including a long service to St. John Paul II. Cardinal Rigali now resides in the Diocese of Knoxville.
“It is always good to see my friend and colleague in Christ, but it will be especially fulfilling to host Cardinal Dziwisz the weekend we dedicate our new cathedral,”
Cardinal Rigali said. “I have known Cardinal Dziwisz since he arrived at the Vatican from Poland many years ago. We traveled and worked together, serving the Church for many years. I look forward to sharing the sacred occasion of the Dedication Mass with him and in the activities that follow.”
Cardinal Dziwisz was ordained a priest of the Archdiocese of Kraków in 1963 by Bishop Karol Józef Wojtyla, who became Pope St. John Paul II.
Cardinal Dziwisz was appointed the secretary to Pope St. John Paul II, serving in that position for nearly 40 years. He was ordained a bishop in 1998 and was elevated to cardinal by Pope Benedict XVI in 2006.
Bishop Stika first met Cardinal Dziwisz in Rome. Without prompting or a need to check, Bishop Stika remembers the exact date.
“June 14, 1988, was the first time I met Pope St. John Paul II, and as always, Cardinal Dziwisz was with him. The cardinal was very gracious. I would see him a number of times in Rome whenever we would attend private papal Masses. I visited with him when he was the Archbishop of Kraków along with Deacon Sean Smith, our diocesan chancellor. We stopped at his residence in Kraków, and he remembered me.”
Those warm and frequent encounters led Bishop Stika to believe Cardinal Dziwisz would be open to participating in the Diocese of Knoxville cathedral Dedication Mass in March.
“He is very warm and engaging, and when you are one-on-one with him he will, when you are speaking with him, he will hold your hand. He always makes direct eye contact. His English is good. He is very warm and engaging.”
Bishop Stika extended an invitation to Cardinal Dziwisz a number of months ago and he provisionally accepted. During further conversations with the cardinal at the national Knights of Columbus convention in St. Louis earlier this month, the cardinal officially accepted.
During the Knights of Columbus convention, Cardinal Dziwisz concelebrated the Aug. 3 memorial Mass and he blessed the congregation with a relic consisting of a vial of St. John Paul II’s blood.
The elaborate reliquary that holds the relic is normally housed at the St. John Paul II National Shrine in Washington, D.C., founded by the Knights of Columbus in 2011.
Bishop Stika said Cardinal Dziwisz will be one of at least five cardinals who will concelebrate the new cathedral Dedication Mass on March 3. Following the Mass, Bishop Stika said he will invite Cardinal Dziwisz to bless and dedicate the new Pope St. John Paul II Shrine inside the new cathedral. Pope St. John Paul II established the Diocese of Knoxville on Sept. 8, 1988.
“That’s why we have to make sure the statue looks like his friend,” Bishop Stika said.
“Cardinal Dziwisz was a good friend of Pope St. John Paul II, but he was also his closest collaborator, closer than anyone in history. Just to have him here, especially because Pope St. John Paul II created the Diocese of Knoxville, is a very special and physical symbol of that connection,” Bishop Stika added.
Bishop Stika hopes the long list of Cardinal Dziwisz’s life experiences will grow even more when he arrives in Knoxville.
“I am hoping that the cardinal will spend a few days in the diocese and, if possible, celebrate Mass with the Polish community in Tennessee.”
While Cardinal Dziwisz is expected to participate fully in the liturgical components of the Dedication Mass, he also will be a very special guest when Bishop Stika hosts a “Conversation with the Cardinals” inside the new cathedral on March 4, the night after the Dedication Mass.
The conversation will likely hit on some unexpected topics.
“Pope St. John Paul II loved to snow ski. There are stories floating around that the pope snuck out of the Vatican around 100 times to go skiing, and Cardinal Dziwisz would go with him,” Bishop Stika said.
Bishop Stika may dig for more clues on those surreptitious ski trips, but the subjects are bound to be serious, too.
“Cardinal Dziwisz can speak in terms of the Church and its connection with a great saint and a great pope of the 20th century. Historians will say it was John Paul along with Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher that brought down communism in Poland. Cardinal Dziwisz was a part of all that. He lived with the pope, he worked with the pope, and he was with the pope all of the time.
“These are moments in history that Pope St. John Paul II was involved in, and Cardinal Dziwisz was there,” Bishop Stika said.