St. John Paul II’s letters to Polish-American woman reveal intimate friendship

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Revelations-Series-Banner-770x150(RNS) A series of letters sent from St. John Paul II to a Polish-American academic shed new light on the pair’s close relationship and intimate discussions.

Details of the correspondence between the former pope and Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka, a Polish-born philosopher, were published by the BBC on Monday (Feb. 15). The duo’s friendship has been well documented, although newly released letters held at the Polish National Library show the closeness of their relationship.

During the 1970s the duo collaborated on an English translation of a book written by Karol Wojtyla, — as he was known before becoming John Paul II — prompting the correspondence that was to continue for decades. Tymieniecka was married and the letters do not suggest that the Wojtyla broke his vow of celibacy. She died in 2014.

The closeness of their relationship is demonstrated by Wojtyla’s decision to give Tymieniecka his scapular; two pieces of cloth joined by string, worn over the shoulders to signify devotion to Christian life.

“Already last year I was looking for an answer to these words, ‘I belong to you’, and finally, before leaving Poland, I found a way — a scapular. The dimension in which I accept and feel you everywhere in all kinds of situations, when you are close, and when you are far away,” he wrote in a 1976 letter published by the BBC.

After being elected pope in 1978 — he reigned until his death in 2005 — the pope wrote again to Tymieniecka and told her their correspondence should continue. Her written responses to the pontiff’s letters have not been published.

The National Library of Poland released a statement saying media have taken the correspondence out of context.

“John Paul II was surrounded by a circle of friends – including clergymen, nuns and laypeople – with whom he stayed in close contact,” the National Library of Poland statement said. “Anna Teresa Tymieniecka was within this circle of friends — John Paul II’s friendship with her was neither secret nor extraordinary.”

(Rosie Scammell writes from Rome)