- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 27, 2007

WARSAW — Pope John Paul II slipped away from his Swiss Guards to go skiing more than 100 times in the early years of his 26-year papacy, the now-deceased pontiff’s longtime personal secretary says in a book released yesterday.

It was hard at first for John Paul, an avid sportsman, to adjust to the confinement of the papacy, so he made informal “escapes” with his closest friends, three other Polish prelates, says Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz in his book, “Swiadectwo” or “The Testimony.”

John Paul made his first such outing two years into his papacy, on Jan. 2, 1981, setting out from the papal vacation residence at Castel Gandolfo, Italy, in the car of the Rev. Jozef Kowalczyk.

Father Kowalczyk, now papal nuncio to Poland, was driving. Next to him was the Rev. Tadeusz Rakoczy, “with a newspaper spread out pretending he was reading in order to ‘hide’ the Holy Father, who was sitting in the back seat,” Cardinal Dziwisz wrote.

After the trip, the beaming pope exclaimed: “We did it.”

On many other skiing trips, the pope “behaved like an ordinary skier,” said Cardinal Dziwisz, his closest aide and now the archbishop of Krakow. “He would stand in line with the others, but for security reasons, one of us would be in front, another one behind him. He used a ski pass.”

In the book, released in Poland yesterday, Cardinal Dziwisz describes his 40 years as personal secretary to the pope, born Karol Wojtyla. John Paul, who did much to change the routine of the papacy, died at age 84 in 2005.

Cardinal Dziwisz’s book, which came out in Italy on Wednesday under the title “A Life With Karol,” is based on conversations with Italian journalist Gian Franco Svidercoschi.

Neither Vatican authorities nor journalists knew of the more than 100 skiing escapes, Cardinal Dziwisz said.

“It seems hard to imagine, but no one recognized him,” Cardinal Dziwisz said. “Who could suspect that the pope went skiing?”

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