As Pope Makes Visit To Canada, Accounts Of His Mysticism Remain A Major Mystery
By Michael H. Brown
As the Pope continues his extraordinary visit to Canada -- despite his physical sufferings -- it's time to look again at his spiritual force, for we have not seen anything like this since popes such as Pius X and Leo XIII. Those who have been in his presence describe a mysterious force around him, a feeling very much like that at an apparition site.
Why is this? As we have explored previously: is the Pope a mystic?
From all indications, John Paul II is not just an extraordinary intellect. His real power, it appears, is in his mystical aspect -- a spiritual life we hardly glimpse in most secular and even Catholic accounts.
But there is evidence that the supernatural has surrounded this great man since the beginning. At the moment of his birth on May 18, 1920, in a small Polish town called Wadowice, John Paul's mother asked the midwife to open the window so that the first sounds her newborn heard would be singing in honor of Mary, the Mother of God, from a church across the street. The room flooded with light. Three months later, on August 15, Feast of Mary's Assumption, Polish forces commanded by the marshal repulsed a powerful Soviet attack at the gates of Warsaw, which became known as the "Miracle on the Vistula," a victory that stopped Communism from spreading to Germany and the rest of Western Europe.
So was started a life that one writer, Tad Szulc, describes as full of "a succession of dramatic events and astounding coincidences, bordering on the mystical." In fact John Paul's first doctorate was in mystical theology -- something that has been all but stripped from modern seminaries (which is why many priests don't know how to handle supernatural reports) -- and before he was Pope he met the great Italian mystic, St. Padre Pio.
According to Szulc (a former reporter for The New York Times who wrote an excellent book about the Pope) legend has it that St. Pio, upon hearing the future Pope's confession, knelt at his feet, predicting that the Polish cleric would be called to the Throne of Peter and would also be the target of an assassination attempt.
We don't know the veracity of this report. Some say while the Pope visited St. Pio, he has never confirmed the prophecies. In 1962 the future Pope supposedly wrote to Pio asking him to pray for a mother who had cancer -- and then wrote again a week later to say the woman had suddenly recovered.
In 1974 the Pope returned to the town of Padre Pio and spent three days in prayer there.
Since then there have been many rumors of John Paul's own mystical abilities. He has the aura of a visionary -- a brightness around him that is almost incandescent -- and he makes a point of visiting all the major supernatural shrines: Guadalupe, Lourdes, Fatima. He has visited Zaravanystya in Ukraine (where the Virgin has appeared through historical times), is deeply devoted to Czestochowa (a shrine in Poland where he once declared an oath on Luminous Mountain), and has said he would have visited Medjugorje in former Yugoslavia if he was not the Pope (because as yet it has to be formally approved, although the faithful are allowed to go).
Visionaries claim that he is one of their own -- that he too may see or hear things. There is no corroboration for many reports and we have to be cautious about such rumors but if some were true it wouldn't surprise us. Those who meet him describe a remarkable peace -- a peace like what they feel at a place like Medjugorje -- and it is said that a small group of bishops passing the Pope's private chapel once glanced in and saw the Pope partially levitating while in prayer.
Again, these are unsubstantiated reports. But there is no doubt that when it comes to prayer the Pope is a mystic. As Szulc said, "Friends who have known Wojtyla (his born name) over decades insist that prayer and meditation are the principal source of his mental and physical strength and his astonishing capability of restoring his energy notwithstanding his punishing schedule at the Vatican and exhausting globe-girding jet travel." Indeed, according to Szulc, the pontiff is said to pray as many as seven hours a day; at his private chapel at dawn, sometimes prostrate before the altar, then with invited guests before breakfast, often in his study next to his bedroom, at Masses and services, aboard planes, in the back seat of limousines. Some say that during prayer he has been known to wail out loudly for the Church and the world.
Has he seen the Virgin Mary? He certainly has been provided exceptional guidance. And he has even conducted himself publicly in a mystical way. He is very much like two of his heroes: St. Benedict and Gregory the Great, both of whom were likewise mystical. He has often thundered like an Old Testament prophet (railing against the U.N. and the world's descent into sinfulness), and on June 24, 1977 -- the same day that Mary would appear four years later at Medjugorje for the first time -- he said in an address as a cardinal, "We find ourselves in the presence of the greatest confrontation in history, the greatest mankind has ever had to confront. We are facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, between the Gospel and the anti-Gospel." During the recent consistory with cardinals he referred to "signs of the times," a catchphrase laden with mystical portent. He has shown a great warmth toward Medjugorje and lapses into semi-consciousness at times while reciting the Rosary. When he was shot in 1981 -- on the anniversary of Fatima -- the bullet took a miraculous course around vital organs and blood vessels. He sleeps in a sparse room on a single bed with a chest nearby (despite the splendor around him).
If he is a mystic, what is his prophecy?
Reject despair, he says; God always wins in the end.
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