no. 2 april - june 2005
Falco Thuis (1971 - 1983)
Falco Thuis, Prior General from 1971 until 1983, met Pope John Paul II shortly after his election. Fr. Falco was a member of the Council of the Union of Superiors General (USG) when the pope gave a talk to the Superiors General of the various Orders which was seen by some as rather harsh. One of the points dealt with religious making an option for the poor which often was quite radical. In some Church circles, this commitment was seen as the religious choosing to be communists.
The Council of the USG decided that some response had to be made and directed their president, Jesuit superior Fr. Arrupe, to contact the pope. Later in the fall, the USG Council was invited to a one hour meeting with the pope, followed by dinner in his residence.
The seven USG members who were in Rome at the time divided up the various points they wished to address with the pope. "I was given the task of pointing out that the superiors receive bad news from below and no encouragement from above. The pope was sitting at the head of the table. I remember he was tapping his pencil on the desk and had said little or nothing up to this point. But at my comment he laughed and said ‘So you are in the same situation as the pope. Who will encourage the pope?’"
"At that same meeting the Salesian Superior complained that often the religious in Latin America were being accused by their bishops of being communists. This was a major contention for the pope who had lived under communism in his homeland."
"Fr. Arrupe was assigned the task of raising the problem of the change in laicization policy from what the Church had experienced under Paul VI. It was rumored that John Paul as the bishop of Krakow would not even send any of those requests to Rome. The pope explained that this was a major issue for the cardinals in the pre-conclave meetings and that he was only following the wishes of the cardinals to see the practice tightened up."
"We also complained about difficulties the religious were having with the cardinal in charge of Propaganda Fide. But it was three years before the pope removed him. While Pope John Paul thanked us for our input I am not sure how much he acted upon what we told him."
"That meeting was followed by a beautiful meal which lasted until after 9 P.M. There was a lot of informal chat around the table. It was really quite enjoyable. He spoke to me about Holland and his impression that the Church there was quite liberal. When we were leaving, he gave each of us a rosary. I have a picture hanging in my room of the moment he handed me my rosary. Everyone is laughing because he has just said ‘It will not do you any harm.’"
"I would say that John Paul II was quite tough on us. But he was also very kind to receive us and listen to our concerns."
"I also visited the pope when he was bishop in Krakow. He was very gracious. He said ‘It would be good if you as the Father General announce at the Chapter that I am making the Carmelite church in Krakow a parish.’ I did announce his decision at the Chapter and I remember a couple of the Carmelites started crying. That was very important to the Polish Province. It was a support to help them live.
"At the Synod on the Family in 1980, I was one of the ten representatives of the religious. The Synod commissions, as well as the commission I was on, had developed some really beautiful ideas in a variety of areas, like how the divorced could participate in Church life. I was disappointed that the pope did not use them. In his final speech he said ‘Those will be studied further’ which I took to mean they would be buried."
During the Synod, all the participants had the opportunity to have a meal with the pope but those meals were more formal occasions than when the pope hosted the USG Council.
On February 17, 1980, Pope John Paul II came on a pastoral visit to the Carmelite parish of San Martino ai Monti in Rome. "I remember a woman came up to the pope and asked why the girls who usually assisted at the altar were not allowed to participate in the mass with him. He said ‘I had nothing to do with that.’ But I give her credit for raising the issue with him."
"I must say he made some great gestures to build the relationship between the Vatican and the communities of religious in Rome. He invited communities to come and celebrate morning Eucharist with him. He would talk to us. No pope before him has ever invited so many people outside the Curia for dinner and lunch with him."
"Some did not like that the pope shook hands with dictators. You still hear comments that he stood on Pinochet’s balcony. But what is more important was that he talked very strongly to these people about human rights and freedom. How was he going to talk to them if he did not meet with them?"
"He could also be very tough with us on Church issues. His interpretation of some of Vatican II was not necessarily how some others have interpreted it. But he could also show he had a sense of humor, like when he gave me my rosary."
"I was a member of the Justice and Peace Commission of the USG when Archbishop Romero was killed. We planned a beautiful Mass in the Gesú church. It was not very well attended by the cardinals and bishops. We believed that they were mourning his death as a sacrilege because it was a bishop who was killed. They did not mourn his death because he was killed fighting for the poor. At the Vatican, liberation theology was the grey veil over Archbishop Romero’s heroic death."
"I remember in 1995, when we celebrated the General Chapter, towards the end we had an audience with the Pope. I was speaking with the pope and the newly elected Prior General, Fr. Joseph Chalmers. I saw Fr. Lukasz Semik, the Polish Provincial speaking with the Archbishop Stanislaw, the private secretary of the pope. Both were in a very animated conversation. After the audience, Lukasz came up to me with a big smile and wanted to tell me that the pope was very happy that in the 12 years of my term as Prior General (1983-1995) he did not have any problem with the a Carmelite. No theologian was called to go before Cardinal Ratzinger on some doctrinal point, there was no problem with improper behavior, with the finances, or problems in any other area."
Especially during the visits which John Paul II made to our Carmelite parishes in Rome, I found him to be a very normal person, a simple priest, like a pastor looking after his parishioners. When he made one of his visits to our parishes, I had to be there along with the Prior Provincial and the pastor. Really I remember John Paul II as the Bishop of Rome. He would dedicate about four hours to each parish and generally follow the same manner, as the Bishop of Rome, as a priest. He was not coming as the pope, remote from the people. He would take the opportunity to meet with the various groups with the paish, with the children, and the parents, with the elderly and with the sick.
Every Sunday that John Paul was not on a trip outside Italy, he would celebrate Mass in some Roman parish and make a visit. It was never done as an obligation but he seemed to do it with great pleasure and enthusiasm in each parish and with the parishoners.
The cermonies of the Vatican are celebrated with great solemnity. But John Paul would leave that at the Vatican and just be near the people. He really was an approachable pope.
Joseph Chalmers is the current Prior General having been elected for a first term at the 1995 General Chapter and re-elected in 2001. During these two terms, the Pope has written several letters (see table page 13) to the Prior General and to the Carmelite Family about some aspect of Carmelite spirituality.
In 1997 the Carmelite Family celebrated the 750th anniversary of the approval of the Rule by Pope Innocent IV in 1247. It was not until the end of the following year that the General Council was able to have a meeting with His Holiness to celebrate this great event.
"I presented to the Pope a copy of the Rule in a general audience and the following morning the members of the General Council concelebrated Mass with him," said Fr. Joseph. "That was a beautiful occasion. After the Mass we had the chance to speak with him about the events of the previous year."
"I had the privilege of being in Rome in October 1978 when Pope John Paul II was elected. At the time I was a student at the Gregorian University and living in the Carmelite international house, St. Albert’s, very close to the Vatican. That event has stayed with me as an abiding memory."
"The extent of the world’s media coverage during the Pope’s last illness and his death has shown the level of interest in this great man and in his spiritual legacy. He understood his ministry as that of preaching the Gospel without compromise. Much of the world may not have agreed with some of what Pope John Paul II said but they certainly respected him as a man of principle," said Fr. Joseph.
"The day after I was elected Prior General in September 1995, the members of the General Chapter were called to an audience with the Pope at his summer residence in Castelgandolfo. I had only discovered a few hours before the papal audience that, as the new Prior General, I was to give a short speech greeting the Pope on behalf of the Chapter delegates and informing him briefly of the theme of the Chapter. To say that I was nervous is an understatement."
"The Pope reminded us that Carmel is "called to be an oasis of contemplation and spirituality, where people of the 21st century can receive authentic spiritual values."
In September 2001, the Order again celebrated a General Chapter. It had been planned to hold a major Carmelite Day during the Chapter, which would culminate in an audience with the Pope. "Unfortunately, the day before, the infamous attack on the Twin Towers in New York took place. As a result our plans were severely modified. Normally there is loud cheering when the Pope arrives but, at his specific request, there was complete silence to honour those who had died in the attack. Naturally the Pope spoke of the terrible events in New York but at the end of the audience, he crowned the statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel which had been carried from our church in nearby Traspontina."
"Looking back over the past 26 years of Pope John Paul’s papacy, I would say that the whole Church gives thanks to God for his life and his ministry," said Fr. Joseph. "The Carmelite Family too gives thanks for the particular ways in which this Pope showed his love for Carmel."
1) Pope John Paul II greets the awaiting parishoners from the main door of the Carmelite monastery of San Martino ai Monti, following his pastoral visit on February 17, 1980. (Photo courtesy of the Centro Stampa of the Italian Province)
2) Falco Thuis, then Prior General, welcomes the Pope on a pastoral visit to the Carmelite parish San Martino ai Monti on February 17, 1980 (Photo courtesy of Centro Stampa of the Italian Province)
3) Recently re-elected Prior General John Malley leads the members of the General Chapter for a visit to Pope John Paul II on September 29, 1989.
4) Current Prior General, Joseph Chalmers, greets Pope John Paul II following the mass to beatify Polish Carmelite martyr Hilarius Januszewski on June 13, 1999.
Participating in the funeral of John Paul II on April 8, 2005 were two of the Travailleuses Missionnaires de I’Immaculée, Donum Dei. Gladys Karicha from Kenya and Florence Simpore from Burkina Faso were selected to present to of the gifts at the offertory to the main celebrant, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger.
Two weeks later, two other members of Donum Dei, Jacqueline Kahoun of Burkina Faso and Concepta Nyanchongi of Kenya, were selected to present gifts at the offertory to the new pope, Benedict XVI, during the mass of inauguration on April 24, 2005.