Good and Faithful Servant Has to Pack His Bags

AP Photo
AP Photo

VATICAN CITY (AP) — The pope's faithful Polish servant is packing his bags. Before Friday's funeral, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz will place a silk veil over the late pontiff's face and recite a prayer before the coffin is closed. It will be the last public act for the man he served as private secretary for more than 40 years.

Then he will gather up his belongings and move out of the papal apartments, along with the five Polish nuns who attended the pontiff. New rules, drawn up by John Paul II in 1996, require the quarters to be emptied of all personnel and sealed until the new pope moves in.

Dziwisz is known at the Vatican simply as Don Stanislaw.

Bishop Szczepan Wesoly, a longtime Polish friend, said Dziwisz was sorting through his books and personal possessions Wednesday. After the funeral, he will be living in a residence for Polish pilgrims on the outskirts of Rome, Wesoly said.

"He's very, very sad and feels a little lost. Forty years together is a long time," Wesoly, rector of the Polish church in Rome, told The Associated Press. "But he knew the end was nearing, so he was prepared for the day."

By tradition, papal secretaries fade from the scene when a papacy ends. But it had been rumored that John Paul was considering Dziwisz to be the next archbishop of Krakow, the post Karol Wojtyla held when he was elected pope in 1978. The vacancy hadn't arisen, however, and the decision will be up to the new pope.

The Polish nuns who attended to John Paul's personal needs during his papacy also have to move out by Saturday.

They and Dziwisz they were looked on as the family of John Paul, who had lost all his immediate family members and other close relatives by the time he became pope.

The nuns helped the pope with his private correspondence, cooked his favorite Polish dishes and cared for him in his illnesses.

The superior of the group, Sister Tobiana, is a certified nurse and traveled with John Paul on his trips around the world, carrying his medicines and making sure he took them. The nuns were at his bedside when John Paul died.

"We will go back to Poland, but we will carry him in our hearts," one of the sisters was quoted as saying by the Florence newspaper La Nazione.

For John Paul, Dziwisz was confidant and gatekeeper.

Dziwisz, born in a small town near Krakow in 1939, was a young priest working as secretary to John Paul when he was cardinal in that southern Polish city.

During those days in Poland, archbishop and secretary used to hike and ski together in the Tatra mountains. Later, in defiance of Vatican protocol that preferred a pope ensconced in the Apostolic Palace, Dziwisz arranged unannounced escapes to the countryside and ski slopes near Rome in the early years of John Paul's papacy, when he was robust and healthy.

Dziwisz was riding with the pope in an open Jeep during a public audience in St. Peter's Square when John Paul was shot by a Turkish gunman in 1981. Photos of the wounded pope falling into his arms became an enduring image.

Dziwisz stayed by the papal bedside at Gemelli Polyclinic during John Paul's long hospital stay to recover from the wounds, just as he did this year when the pontiff was hospitalized twice for breathing problems. He was at the pope's side when death came Saturday night.

While the body of the pope was laid out for viewing, first by VIPS in the Apostolic Palace and later in St. Peter's Basilica, Dziwisz, often with tears in his eyes, frequently knelt in prayer near the body.

During the long years of illness, Dziwisz tenaciously guarded the pope's privacy as well as the image of a pope able to continue in his mission despite Parkinson's disease and hip and knee ailments.

"Many journalists who in the past have written about the pope's health are already in heaven," Dziwisz said pointedly two years ago amid rumors about John Paul's weakened condition.