On the 22nd October 1978, at St. Peter’s in Rome, the inauguration of the pontificate of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, who took the name of John Paul II as pope. Today we are celebrating the liturgical memorial of this outstanding Pole. He began his priestly and pastoral ministry in a small province in Lesser Poland. It was in Niegowić that the curate Wojtyła first knelt and kissed the ground.
On 1st November 1946, Fr. Karol Wojtyła was ordained a priest by Cardinal Adam Stefan Sapieha. The ceremony took place in the chapel of the Archbishop’s Palace in Krakow. He also appointed Wojtyla to his first parish. A small, provincial village near Krakow, which was a great surprise for many. After all, Fr. Wojtyła had returned from Rome, he had completed his doctoral studies there, which is why his close friends were surprised by the fact that the young priest was sent to a village where poverty was screaming. There was neither water nor a sewage system, and the inhabitants of Niegowić used kerosene lamps instead of electricity. -You have to start from the bottom – stated the freshly ordained Fr. Wojtyła.
By cart to the church
A few years later, in the book „Dar i secret” (Lit. Gift & Secret) (one of the chapters of the publication is entitled „On a rural parish in Niegowic), published on the Golden Jubilee of Fr Wojtyła’s priestly ordination. He wrote that he accepted the assignment to the Lesser Poland parish with joy and gratitude.
He reached the place in his first papamobile – it was a cart filled with hay. The young priest first travelled by bus from Kraków to Gdów, then one of the farmers gave him a lift, and then showed him the way that the curate had to travel through the fields to get to the church as quickly as possible.
The first kiss of the ground
As Pope, John Paul II knelt down and kissed the land of the country he was visiting. He made this gesture for the first time in Lesser Poland.
– When I was crossing the border of the parish in Niegowić, I knelt down and kissed the ground – he recalled years later as the successor of St. Peter.
However, before introducing himself to the parish priest, Rev Fr. Kazimierz Buzała, he entered the wooden church and bowed to Jesus present in the Blessed Sacrament.
His life, united with God, shone with the splendour of virtues. He preached profound sermons – everyone listened to him with joy. The model of a holy and immaculate priest – this was the opinion given to him by Monsignor Buzal.
As curate he taught children about religion, became involved in the life of the parish community, founded a drama club for young people, led the Living Rosary meetings and organized trips. He spent a lot of time in prayer, preparing children to receive their First Holy Communion.
He taught religion, threshing grain with flails and helped in the barn
He spent a year in the parish, but then he made himself known as a holy priest who wants to be close to human affairs and bring the Good News to all those who need it. Fr. Wojtyła helped the poorer, he himself wore shoes filled with holes, and regularly gave his worn-out cassock for darning. He gave every penny to the poor so that they could buy themselves something to eat. He gave a boy, who had no outer garment for the winter, his own coat.
The prayers of the future pope saved lives
„He already had holiness in him in Niegowić,” recalled Józefa Wachel, an inhabitant of the village. In her youth, the woman belonged to the Catholic Youth Association. Her boyfriend was arrested by the communist authorities for his activities in the association. He was lost without a trace. Jadwiga was worried about his life. So she went to Fr. Wojtyła and asked for a holy mass with the intention of finding Janek. „He accepted the request, but he didn’t want any money,” Wachel explained. „He is ours and yours,” added Wojtyła. The man soon returned home. The couple got married, and years later the woman confessed that it was thanks to Fr. Wojtyłal and his prayer that her boyfriend was saved.
The path to holiness
As a priest, Fr Wojtyła did not live in the rectory, but in the vicar’s house. He gave all the gifts that he received from parishioners to the needy. Someone even brought him a simple pillow. The clergyman did not sleep on it for too long, he gave a pillow to the victims of fire. -In our barn he even tried to thresh the grain with flails to see how it is done – said one of the parishioners. While walking through the village, the priest saw two boys who were trying to repair the bridge. The vicar rolled up his cassock sleeves, grabbed a shovel and helped them prepare the foundations for a new crossing.
Residents remembered him as a man who was always ready to work, he was cordial and direct. He also had the gift of winning people over.
-In the beginning, we were a bit afraid of how we would get along with such a wise priest. He, a doctor of theology, from Rome. We, rural youth, uneducated after the war. During the occupation we didn’t learn history or geography, we didn’t read books. Already at the first meeting, it turned out that Father Wojtyła was very cordial and direct. He was able to establish rapport with everyone: with the youngest the youth and the elders, both the farmer and the teacher – emphasized Maria Trzaska, a resident of Niegowić, director of the school and teacher of physics in an interview with „Gazeta Krakowska”.
Later, as Pope John Paul II, he also talked to people and had a very personal relationship with them. The words that he addressed to another person had love, depth and above-average strength, and motivation to act.
In the church in Niegowić there is even a confessional where he confessed, and in one of the chapels there is a replica of his Vatican grave. There is also a reproduction of a photograph showing the Polish Pope during his last Stations of the Cross. The photo includes a piece of wood from the cross, which were carried by the Pope during the service.
In front of the church there is probably the only statue in Poland and in indeed in the world. A statue of Father Wojtyła when he was a curate, in an ordinary cassock. Before it was there, it was consecrated by John Paul II. His whole life was filled with love for God and man.
Family News Service