Everybody is susceptible to the force of love; the secret relationship of Pope John Paul II with Polish-born philosopher Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka has proved this. This was a relationship that the two people carried on till the pontiff passed away in 2 April 2005.
As the head of Vatican, John Paul rewrote the rules of the papacy. Unlike his predecessors, the pontiff travelled the world widely and pulled crowds like a rock star. He was different in his ways and this is why it should not come across as a shock that the man in charge of the Vatican had shared a relationship with a woman. It humanises him.
The two people corresponded with letters, and Anna Tymieniecka, who had kept all the tokens of her relationship with the pontiff, sold an archive of letters to the National Library of Poland in 2008. These were kept away from public view until they were shown to the BBC recently. Tymieniecka passed away in 2014.
Their friendship started way back in 1973, when Tymieniecka contacted Karol Wojtyła, (before he became Pope), about a book she had written on philosophy. It was the common past that held the two together initially; they were born in Poland and had survived the Nazi occupation during the World War II.
Pope John Paul II remained true to his promise of celibacy and his duties to the Church. But in matters of the heart, he went ahead by deciding to keep correspondence with Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka. Like ordinary mortals, he struggled hard to come in terms with his feelings for the woman he admired; he was torn between his duty and love.
When Cardinal Wojtyła was asked to lead a Polish delegation of bishops to a Catholic meeting in the US, Tymieniecka invited him to stay at her family’s house just outside of Pomfret, Vermont. The cache of photos taken during this stay, show the Pope in casual outdoor gear. The photos show him skiing, camping in shorts, and doing all things that we would normally do.
The first hint that the two people were emotionally involved is evident in a letter that the Pope sent to the lady from Rome in 1974 while he was still a cardinal. The emotional battle that he fought also becomes clear, as he mentions in his letter that “there are issues which are too difficult for me to write about”.
Pangs of separation also dismayed the pope. Before leaving Poland, he presented Tymieniecka a devotional scapular given to him by his father at the time of his first Holy Communion. “I found a way—a scapular,” he writes in a September 1976 letter. “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.”
It breaks my heart to read these lines. The man was experiencing such an emotional turmoil and was looking for ways to leave a fragment of him with the woman; he was trying to take along a part of Tymieniecka by bequeathing his first talisman of God.
The revelation by BBC has not taken away anything from the great man. It only shows how we can rise above our situations by resolving issues internally rather than escaping from them.