The Affinity Between Pope John Paul II and the Carmelites
Karol Wojtyla, as a young factory worker, wearing his brown scapular.
It does not appear very often in the biographies of Pope John Paul II, but when he was a young adult trying to discern his vocation, Karol Wojtyla thought seriously of becoming a Discalced Carmelite. The only reason he did not join the novitiate in Czerna, Poland was because the Carmelites were not accepting novices because of the war.
In Guam we have a very significant presence of the Carmelites. In Malojloj, a community of twelve sisters live a life of prayer and penance as Discalced Carmelites. They offer their cloistered life for the salvation of souls. Archbishop Anthony Sablan Apuron calls them ‘the powerhouse of the Archdiocese’ because through their life of prayers they are bolstering all the initiatives of our local Church.
In Saipan the Cathedral itself is dedicated to Our Lady Of Mount Carmel. The Carmelites are the only religious Order founded in the East that has settled in the West.
In 1942, when Karol Wojtyla was 22 years old, he borrowed the works of St. John of the Cross from the Provincial of the Carmelites and asked to enter the novitiate in Czerna. In 1945, while studying in the major seminary in Cracow he made a second attempt to enter. We have his own words: “For some time I thought about the possibility of becoming a Carmelite. My uncertainties were resolved by Archbishop Cardinal Sapieha, who – in his usual manner – said briefly: ‘You should first of all finish what you started’. And that is what I did” (Gift and Mystery, p. 35).
In 1948 in Rome, he wrote his doctoral thesis in divinity on Faith in Saint John of the Cross. In 1982, in a meeting at the Casa Generalizia in Rome, he told us, “And I must add that from a youngster onwards I used to go always to confession to the Carmelite Church…” In 1986, while receiving a group of Polish Carmelites in his private chapel, on the occasion of his 40th anniversary of priesthood, he shared with them: “I was so close to being one of you…”
His love for the Carmelites was obvious during his pontificate. He beatified as many as twenty Carmelites, canonized four Carmelite saints and nominated fourteen Carmelite Bishops. He visited Carmelites convents and Churches all over the world (among them Lisieux) and managed to have a Discalced Carmelite community in the Vatican grounds.
On many occasions he acknowledged his personal devotion to the Carmelite Scapular and his belonging -“since I was a child” – to the confraternity. On the 23rd November 1958, as auxiliary bishop of Cracow, he made his first public testimony: “I wear the Scapular all the time which I received on the day of my first holy communion from Fr. Silvestro…”
A Carmelite priest, Father Mariano Cera, testified that following the assassination attempt in May 1981, the Pope insisted with the doctors not to remove the brown scapular when they did surgery. In the letter he wrote commemorating the 750th anniversary of the giving of the scapular to Saint Simon Stock, he wrote, “I also carry the scapular on my heart… for the love that it nurtures toward the common Heavenly mother, whose protection is continually springing forth.”
I was present when on the 7th of 1985, he shared his thoughts with the participants of the General Chapter, “My discovery of the works of the two saints, above all St. John of the Cross, gave me a great spiritual insight, especially while I was studying theology. Thus what I have said has been influenced by what I read. Carmelite spirituality has strongly influenced me during certain experiences of my life and in the different periods of my life.”
And in 1991 in another General Chapter where again I was present, he recommended to us, “Be faithful to your Founders…Always love the Church above all else…”
In 1997 he declared St. Therese of the Child Jesus Doctor of the Church and in 1999 St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein) Co-Patroness of Europe.
This is the reason perhaps why in the “Rogito”, a summary of his life and main achievements, written on parchment and placed in a metal cylinder as a perpetual memorial to his Pontificate and placed in his wooden coffin, are mentioned the names of two Carmelite saints: John of the Cross, in remembrance of his Licentiate completed at the Angelicum (Rome) and Therese of Lisieux, whom he had proclaimed Doctor of the Church.
Pope John Paul II, we shall keep loving you.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission is hereby granted for any non-commercial use, provided that the content is unaltered from its original state, if this copyright notice is included.