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Heroic Virtues

On Jan. 20, Pope Francis authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to publish decrees acknowledging the “heroic virtues” of six men and one woman: two diocesan priests, three priests in religious orders, the foundress of an Italian religious community and a Polish layman. It does no disservice to the memory of the other six men and women who now bear the title “Venerable” to suggest that the Polish layman, Jan Tyranowski, had the greatest impact on the Catholic Church throughout the world – and by orders of magnitude.
 
By the end of May 1941, the Gestapo had systematically stripped the Parish of St. Stanislaus Kostka in Cracow’s Dębniki neighborhood of its clergy; 11 of the priests who once served there were eventually martyred.  One of the remaining Salesian fathers asked a layman in the parish, a tailor who spent hours in contemplative prayer and meditation, to take responsibility for what we would call
“youth ministry” with the parish’s young men. Since organized Catholic youth work was banned by the Nazi Occupation, the request was an invitation to risk deportation to Auschwitz – or worse. Jan Tyranowski, the tailor with an eighth-grade education, said “yes,” and began to organize the young men of the parish into what he called “Living Rosary” groups: 15 teenagers or young adults (for the 15 mysteries of the rosary as then constituted), each group led by a more mature young man to whom Tyranowski gave spiritual direction. 
 
One of those first group leaders – “animators,” as Tyranowski called them – was a manual laborer with intense literary interests named Karol Wojtyła. In a memorial essay written after Tyranowski’s death in 1947, Wojtyła remembered his spiritual mentor’s greatest lesson: that “religious truths” were not “interdictions [or] limitations,” but the guideposts by which to form “a life which through mercy becomes [a] participation in the life of God.” How did Tyranowski do this? By demonstrating with his own life that, through contemplative prayer, “one could not only inquire about God…one could live with God.” 
 
To do this with edgy adolescents was no small achievement. To do it under the pressures of a homicidal Nazi Occupation was remarkable. To do it with a future pope meant that Tyranowski’s lessons extended far beyond Dębniki and touched the entire world.
 
It was Tyranowski who introduced the future Pope John Paul II to the spiritual theology of the great Carmelite reformers, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross (on whom Wojtyła would write his first doctoral dissertation). And it was Tyranowski who showed Wojtyła a path beyond the simple Marian piety with which he had grown up, introducing him to the Marian theology of St. Louis Grignon de Montfort – and to Montfort’s idea that all true devotion to Our Lady is Christ-centered and Trinitarian, for Mary points us to her son, who leads us into the life of the thrice-holy God. 
 
It’s not difficult to trace the influence of Tyranowski on the papal teaching of the young man he helped discern a vocation to the priesthood. But when the news came that the mystically-gifted Dębniki tailor at whose tomb I’ve frequently prayed was now “Venerable Jan Tyranowski,” it struck me that his tutelage and the Tyranowski-Wojtyła relationship remind us of something important about the papacy.
 
John Paul II, who had a tender pastor’s heart, was also tough-minded and strong-willed. That could have led to trouble if he were not also a man of deep humility, who knew what he didn’t know and was prepared, as pope, to learn from those who had something to teach him – like Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger. That pattern of humility and receptivity in his papal life finds one of its roots in Wojtyła’s providential relationship to Tyranowski, to whom John Paul remained profoundly grateful 60 years after they first met. 
 
The willingness to learn from others is an essential quality in any great leader; it is certainly an essential quality in a pope. For the charism of papal infallibility, which only touches fundamental matters of faith and morals under clearly specified circumstances, is not a charism of omniscience. Anyone tempted to imagine otherwise might ponder the friendship of the Venerable Jan Tyranowski and Pope St. John Paul II.
 
 

3 popes’ close bond to Fatima

Recent popes have had a special affection for Our Lady of Fatima, but no pope’s connection can match that of St. John Paul II.
 
“We cannot forget that he was saved by Our Lady of Fatima from the assassination attempt here in St. Peter’s. This is fundamental and central. It is never forgotten,” Portuguese Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martins, former prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes, told Catholic News Service.
 
Mehmet Ali Agca, a Turk, shot Pope John Paul at close range as the pope was greeting a crowd in St. Peter’s Square on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima, May 13, 1981.
 
Two bullets pierced the pope’s abdomen, but no major organs were struck; a bullet had missed his heart and aorta by a few inches.
 
St. John Paul would later say, “It was a mother’s hand that guided the bullet’s path.”
 
That miracle, the cardinal said, is key in “understanding well Pope John Paul’s devotion to Our Lady of Fatima.”
 
Given the date of the assassination attempt, the pope specifically credited Our Lady of Fatima with his miraculous survival and recovery. Several months later, he visited the site of the apparitions, the first of three visits he would make as pope to Fatima.
 
For St. John Paul, Cardinal Saraiva Martins said, “Our Lady of Fatima was everything,” and his three visits to the Portuguese town were those of a grateful son to the mother who saved his life.
 
“I still remember — I’ll never forget it — when he arrived at the little chapel of the apparitions where (the statue of) Our Lady of Fatima was,” Cardinal Saraiva Martins recalled.
 
St. John Paul was holding one of the bullets that had struck him and slowly approached the statue, finally placing the bullet in her crown, he said. “It is still in the crown today. I witnessed these gestures, how he expressed his devotion to Our Lady. He would just walk closer and closer to Our Lady and would repeat: ‘You saved me, you saved me.'”
 
As the prefect of the Congregation for Saints’ Causes from 1998 to 2008, Cardinal Saraiva Martins also oversaw the process leading to the beatification by St. John Paul of Jacinta and Francisco Marto, two of the three young shepherd children, who saw Mary at Fatima.
 
The cardinal also shared a personal friendship with the third seer, Carmelite Sister Lucia dos Santos, who died in 2005.
 
It was Cardinal Saraiva Martins who, two years after Sister Lucia’s death, urged Pope Benedict XVI to waive the five-year waiting period before her sainthood cause could be opened.
 
“The pope was very kind. He said, ‘Yes, you know more about this than I do. We will do as you say,'” the cardinal recalled.
 
Pope Benedict, the cardinal added, was a “great devotee” of Our Lady of Fatima, even before his election to the papacy.
 
Interviewed in his apartment near St. Peter’s Square, Cardinal Saraiva Martins grabbed a copy of part of the interview then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger did in 1985 with Vittorio Messori, an Italian journalist.
 
“Before becoming pope, he said: ‘A stern warning has been launched from that place … a summons to the seriousness of life, of history, to the perils that threaten humanity,'” the cardinal read.
 
The special papal bond with Our Lady of Fatima continues today with Pope Francis, who as archbishop of Buenos Aires, was a frequent visitor to a shrine devoted to her, Cardinal Saraiva Martins said. Pope Francis will visit Fatima May 12-13 to mark the 100th anniversary of the apparitions.
 
The cardinal recalled Pope Francis’ “beautiful” words to Portuguese-speaking pilgrims on May 13, 2015, the 98th anniversary of the apparition: “Entrust to her all that you are, all that you have, and in that way you will be able to become an instrument of the mercy and tenderness of God to your family, neighbors and friends.”
 
“This an example of the words of Pope Francis, so he is a great devotee of Fatima,” the cardinal said. “And for this reason, he will go to Fatima. For him, it will be an extraordinary day in which he will fulfill this great desire that has been expressed in so many ways.”
 
Devotion to Our Lady of Fatima is emblematic of the popes of the last century who have “always recognized” the relevance of Mary’s message, particularly its emphasis on faith, conversion, hope and peace, the cardinal said.
 
“Today we need faith, to be closer to God and our brothers and sisters — not hate each other — we need hope and we need peace,” Cardinal Saraiva Martins said. “In short, the message of Fatima given 100 years ago is of extreme relevance.”
 
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