I was born in the generation that did not know any other pope than John Paul II and for whom Karol Wojtyla and the pope meant simply the same person. Although I was not born yet when the first Pole in history became the head of the church, I was fed with stories from my relations. What I know is that Polish television did not make a big thing about the new pontificate and only small announcement was given – according to policy of communist regime that did not support the Catholicism within the country. My grandma, who till now keeps newspapers announcing choice of Karol Wojtyla as a pope, was very eager to share the news with somebody. After she announced it to my uncle, who came back from work, she rushed with a dog for a walk to have a wider audience to the message she wanted to pass.
Nobody in Poland hoped before for a Pope deriving from our country – nobody even expected this situation to happen. Polish nation, however, felt that with this pontificate a lot of things will change. But the visits of Pope did not bring only fierce discussions with his people, he was also ready to defend his believes – and criticise Poles for the way they followed some of the changes.
I am not sure whether Karol Wojtyla, as a person, meant so much as for the Poles. When coming for his visits to Poland, he always kept his informal approach when talking about his past or when discussing things with the crowd. He easily joked with youth – at the window of Krakow Bishop House – telling for example the story of Krakow citizen who went to Rome and did not come back and was wondering whether anybody bothered to look for him there.
During his visit in 1999, John Paul II gave one of his most beautiful speeches in history. During the meeting in Wadowice he would almost skip the official part in favour of reminding his moments in the city, when he was a young boy. His interaction with the crowd was incredible, as every sentence of his was replied by encouragement of telling more. He talked about his school, friends, theatre, favourite cake or simply described what buildings were situated around Wadowice. I was at that time in the centre of Krakow but could hear every single word – thanks to loudspeakers that were scattered around the Old Town.
For me, as for many people, it was obvious that John Paul II is there... and will always be there. When I checked some news in internet announcing his bad physical condition I did not worry much – it was sure that he would get over it. I was conscious that everybody dies when the right time comes but Karol Wojtyla seemed to be immortal. But when the bad news were all around us, it became clear that the right time for John Paul II was approaching.
I still remember those 2 days during which all the Poles felt almost the same. When going by bus through the centre you heard the updates about his condition, people talking, crying, singing nearby the Bishop’s House. It seemed that with the moment of death of the Polish pope the world will come to an end.
On the 2nd of April 2005 all the church bells in Krakow rang. Everybody realised that Poland became an orphan without the greatest Pole that one could ever imagine.
One thing that I will surely never forget is that some of my friends, who claimed to be atheists, told me how much they would miss our Pope. All the television stopped broadcasting programmes in favour of showing films and documentaries connected with life of John Paul II. Even internet portals would become black and white for the time when the national grief was announced.
During the day of the funeral, the bank holiday was scheduled – so that everybody had an opportunity to watch it on TV. I looked out from the window... although I live in a crowded neighbourhood of Krakow, there was not a single person in the street. It seemed that the world stopped for a moment, to shed a tear for the great loss that we were experiencing.
Even after the funeral of Karol Wojtyla, the streets were covered with candles. You could simply notice that something unusual happened. Although it is already years after the death of the Pope – I am sure that he is still present in our memories and everyday life. As it happens with great people, John Paul II did not leave us when dying – he is still remembered and valued for whom he was and for what he did.