- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 1, 2009

WARSAW, POLAND (AP) - Cuban leader Fidel Castro impressed Pope John Paul II by reading up on his teaching and poetry ahead of their 1996 meeting at the Vatican, according to a new book on the late pontiff’s daily life.

The book, “He Liked Tuesdays Best” is based on interviews by journalist Brygida Grysiak with Archbishop Mieczyslaw Mokrzycki, who served as a secretary to the Polish-born pope from 1996 until the pontiff’s death at 84 on April 2, 2005.

The book authorized by the Polish Roman Catholic Church was released last week and the 20,000 copies have already sold out, chief editor Piotr Slabek said Wednesday.

An Italian edition of the book is expected to be released this year and the publisher is in talks about English, German, Ukrainian and French versions.

In the 180-page work, Mokrzycki recalls details of the pope’s meetings with political leaders like Russia’s then-President Vladimir Putin, the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the communist Castro.

“Fidel Castro was extremely well prepared for the meeting,” Mokrzycki said. “He had read many of (the pope’s) works, also his poetry. He was very well oriented in the encyclicals, had studied them in detail.”

“The Holy Father … was very impressed,” said Mokrzycki, now the Archbishop of Lviv in Ukraine.

Dozens of books concerning the much-beloved pope _ born Karol Wojtyla in Wadowice _ have appeared in Poland since his death, including 16 volumes of his works.

Mokrzycki said one of the pope’s unfulfilled dreams was to visit the Roman Catholic community in predominantly orthodox Russia.

During visits to the Vatican in 2000 and in 2003 then-President Putin said in the pope’s presence: “I would invite the Holy Father, but ….the Orthodox church is not mature enough for that yet,” according to Mokrzycki.

In 2003, Putin made the sign of the cross and kissed an icon that was in the room where they were meeting, which the pontiff later offered to Russia’s Orthodox church, according to Mokrzycki.

Mokrzycki said John Paul II “had a special liking” for Arafat and held a number of meetings with him, granting an audience each time the Palestinian leader requested one, even if the pontiff was on vacation.

The meetings gave the pope “a lot of joy because he was meeting with a man despised by many, to whom he was giving strength and courage,” Mokrzycki said.

“The Holy Father was not concerned” about criticism these meetings drew from the world.

“He believed he should not abandon the poor and the suffering in need,” Mokrzycki said.

Mokrzycki recalled the Pope’s meeting with the Turkish Mehmet Ali Agca, who shot and seriously wounded him in 1981.

“There was no repentance in him (Agca), no grief, there was no ‘I am sorry,’” Mokrzycki said. The pope forgave him anyway.

Mokrzycki also recalled how the pope liked Tuesdays _ which inspired the book’s title _ because once or twice a month those were his days off. He would travel with close aides to the Dolomites or Tuscany. He walked, read books and had lunch offered by the wives of the police officers accompanying them. In the evening the group would sing around bonfires.

John Paul II also liked sweets, but was mindful of his weight, which led to the Polish nuns who cooked for him not offering up desserts. Sometimes, Mokrzcki said, he would smile and draw circles on the tablecloth with his finger.

“The nuns had to bring a cookie,” Mokrzycki said.

___

On the Net:

http://www.wtorki.pl (in Polish)

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