Testimony of Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz
As soon as it was possible, he asked for a permission to return to his room, and there… unknown details of the memorable conclave.
How did the last moments before the conclave and after the election of Cardinal Wojtyła look like?
Some of his close friends believe that his behavior in the days preceding the conclave was unusual (especially that he was very deep into his thoughts and not talkative). He may have had a feeling of what is going to happen. When in the morning of September 29, 1978, the Archbishop of Krakow learned about the sudden death of John Paul I, very deeply moved said: “Unknown are the judgments of God, we bow down our heads in front of them.”
The last night before his departure for the funeral of Pope John Paul I and conclave, the future Pope slept at the guest house of Ursuline Nuns at the Warsaw’s Powisle. At the same house, for many years resided an outstanding historian of philosophy, Stefan Swieżawski, longstanding friend of Karol Wojtyła. “He was not talkative. We said farewells almost without a word. I knew that he does not want to talk. He already knew …”
Before the conclave which elected him as the Pope, Cardinal Wojtyła was staying at the Polish Pontifical College at Piazza Remuria. Early in the morning on October 14, 1978, he celebrated a Mass in the chapel of the College. In the afternoon, he drove off to the conclave. Brother Marian Markiewicz from the Congregation of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart of Jesus was driving. American actor, Jon Voight, who played the Pope in the American movie “John Paul II” (USA, 2005) many years later, purchased this already worn-out car.
Cardinal Wojtyła made it to the conclave which elected him as the Pope in the last minute. In the afternoon of October 14th, the Archbishop of Krakow went to Gemelli Clinic in Rome to visit his sick friend, Bishop Deskur. He entered the Sistine Chapel as the last one, and we should know that upon closing of the Chapel’s gate, nobody can enter, even Cardinals.
During the conclave, the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński whispered to Cardinal Wojtyła: “If you will be chosen, please accept it…”
Cardinal Karol Wojtyła was elected as the Pope on Monday, October 16, 1978 on the second day of the conclave. White smoke announcing that the election was made appeared above the Sistine Chapel at 6:18 p.m. The Archbishop of Krakow became the 262ndsuccessor of St. Peter. The last note of the Archbishop of Krakow in the “Episcopal Actions book” which was later sent to Krakow states: “Approximately around 5:15 p.m. – John Paul II.”
Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, longstanding Secretary and friend of John Paul II, after many years revealed what was the first thing which the newly elected Pope did. The Holy Father in peace accepted the choice and in accordance with the canonical procedures confirmed it. Immediately, as soon as it was possible, he asked for a permission to return to his room and there… he started to work on his first homily for the next day. This confirms that among so many emotions, John Paul II was, first of all, a man of service, aware that he was called and by whom he was called.
The College of Cardinals, which made the election, consisted of 111 Cardinals. Among the Cardinals electors there were only 18 youngers than Cardinal Wojtyła. He was the youngest of all Popes who were elected for one and a haft century. In accordance with the Church’s standards declared by Pope Paul VI, Cardinals over 80 years old were not participating in the conclave.
John Paul II was the first one after the 445 years long period who was not from Italy (since the pontificate of Adrian VI, who was Dutch and held the highest office in the Church in years 1522-23). John Paul II was, most likely, the first one in history Slav Pope and the first one who choose the name referring to his three direct predecessors (John XXIII, Paul VI and John Paul I).