Thursday, April 30, 2009

Book says late pope kept sense of fun in his final years

Pope John Paul II sang and made jokes even at the end of his life, said a Polish archbishop who was one of the pope's personal secretaries.

"The pope loved to laugh and could play innocent pranks," said Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki of the Latin-rite Archdiocese of Lviv, Ukraine.

"He wasn't exuberant and didn't collect information, and he preferred to listen rather than talk. But he also noticed it when you'd had a hard day or were in bad mood. He would wink at you and smile."

The archbishop spoke recently to Poland's TVN 24 about his book, "He Liked Tuesdays Best," about life with Pope John Paul. He said that on Tuesdays during the papacy, Pope John Paul often would make discreet, unreported excursions outside Rome.

Archbishop Mokrzycki said the pontiff was addicted to fresh air and insisted on keeping his Vatican apartment windows open, even in cold weather.

The late pope rose regularly at 5 a.m. to watch the sunrise and "also liked sunset, during which he often cut himself off and became immersed in prayer," Archbishop Mokrzycki said.

"When he had a worry, he'd ... sit on the terrace to pray in solitude. You could always count on him to remember you in his prayers. His secretaries placed the cards left in the Vatican with prayer requests on his chapel kneeler, and he read them all," said the archbishop, who was ordained a priest in 1987 and named to his Vatican position in 1996.

In the Polish-language book published by Krakow's Wydawnictwo M publishers, Archbishop Mokrzycki said he was often asked to sing Polish folk songs by the pope, who "very much missed" his homeland, watched Polish TV news daily and supported Krakow's local soccer team.

Pope John Paul also loved cakes, although nuns in the papal household tried to control his weight.

"The sisters didn't usually serve dessert since the Holy Father was fighting (becoming) overweight, but he had such a sweet tooth he often signaled a request to them," said Archbishop Mokrzycki. "We all knew the sign -- he didn't have to say anything. Without even looking at the nuns, he'd draw a circle with his finger on the tablecloth and keep on drawing it."

Archbishop Mokrzycki said the pontiff found it "very hard" to accept his growing incapacity with Parkinson's disease, during which he had to be helped with washing, dressing and eating.

"When he tried to stop his hand shaking and found he no longer could, he'd get irritated and hit the chair hard, as if wanting to say, 'Why is this happening?'" Archbishop Mokrzycki said. "We sometimes saw him do this during general audiences. Watching him, I realized how much he must be suffering. He'd always been strong, with so much energy and such an active life. Now, he had to get used to another, weaker self."

The archbishop said Pope John Paul was "fully conscious" April 2, 2005, the last day of his life, blessing visitors and saying farewell to the dozen closest friends at his bedside.

He added that the pontiff's face changed in his final moments and was "beautiful, smooth and without creases" at his death.

Among other details, Archbishop Mokrzycki said Pope John Paul always kept his parents' photo by his bed, as well as images of "Christ the Merciful" and the painting "Ecce Homo" by St. Albert Chmielowski.

Among the pope's key dislikes, the archbishop listed new shoes and having to wear ceremonial dress at official audiences.
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