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Future Pope secretly ordained Slovak seminarians

January 20, 2011

In an interview with L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Jozef Tomko discussed his decades of friendship with Pope John Paul II. The two met in 1969, when the future Pontiff was Archbishop of Krakow and Cardinal Tomko was a Slovak priest.

The 86-year-old cardinal told the Vatican newspaper that Archbishop Wojtyla secretly ordained Slovak seminarians whom Czechoslovakia’s Communist regime refused to allow their ordination.

Cardinal Tomko, who went on to serve as secretary general of the Synod of Bishops (1979-85), prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples (1985-2001), and president of the Pontifical Committee for International Eucharistic Congresses (2001-07), also said that when he was ordained a bishop in Rome in 1979, the Communist regime would permit only four citizens of Czechoslovakia to travel to the ordination. (Nonetheless, 200 of his compatriots, who had told the government they were going on vacation in Italy, were able to attend the ceremony.) Pope John Paul ordered Vatican Radio to broadcast the ordination live in Slovak throughout central Europe.

Upon hearing of the Pontiff’s death on April 2, 2005, “I went immediately to visit the remains of this giant of history, still lying in his bed of pain, with majestic peace on his dead face,” Cardinal Tomko recalled. “I knelt down, prayed briefly, and took his hand. That hand was still on my head, and I kissed it devotedly. It was the hand of my father in the Spirit.”


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