Pope John Paul II, St. Padre Pio, and the Miracle that United them.
A two part article published in the "Catholic Digest", Dec. 2007 and Jan. 2008 issues.
The famous cure of Bishop Karol Wojtyla's good friend Dr. Wanda Poltawska through the intercession of the Saint of the Gargano
Rumors that Padre Pio had predicted that the Polish Bishop would be Pope are denied
2005, Frank M. Rega
IN the early 1960’s Angelo Battisti held two important positions in the Church. He was the administrator for Padre Pio’s hospital, the Casa Sollievo Della Sofferenza, located just across the piazza from the Capuchin friary at San Giovanni Rotondo. In addition, he worked in the offices of the Vatican Secretary of State. Shuttling back and forth between Rome and San Giovanni was a weekly occurrence for Battisti, and he was known as a close personal friend of Padre Pio’s. Thus, it was not altogether unusual when in November of 1962 he was asked by a colleague in the secretariat, Guglielmo Zannoni, to deliver an urgent letter to Padre Pio. The letter had been passed on to Zannoni by a Polish monsignor who would eventually become a Cardinal, Andrej Deskur. [notes 1,2] But this important letter was not written by Deskur himself. Instead, it was composed by another Polish prelate, a bishop from Krakow by the name of Karol Wojtyla.
Bishop Wojtyla was in Rome as a member of the Polish episcopate that was attending the opening session of the Second Vatican Council, which had convened in October. Not long after his arrival in Rome, he received disturbing news about a close friend and collaborator, Dr. Wanda Poltawska. Wojtyla had known Poltawska and her husband Andrei from his earliest days as a priest in Krakow. She had been very active in various Catholic youth movements in Poland prior to the Second World War. But when the nazis came to power, she was arrested and imprisoned for five years in a concentration camp, where she underwent intense sufferings. Along with other Catholic women, she was forced to submit to "medical experiments" performed by nazi doctors at the camp. 
After the war, she resumed her university studies and her involvement with Catholic youth. At that time, Karol Wojtyla was assigned by his superiors to Saint Florian parish, in the center of Krakow, where he was in charge of the student chaplaincy. This enabled him to personally reach out to the younger men and women. One of ways he did this was by holding conferences to discuss theology and philosophy, areas in which he was already degreed. The popularity of his conferences drew a large following, including the young couple, Wanda and Andrei, who were pursuing careers in medicine and philosophy respectively. 
The bond between the new prelate and those who attended his talks and discussions was cemented by his charisma, intelligence, and warmth. He became the spiritual leader and mentor of a close circle of friends. Soon, small groups of students, inspired to learn more about the humanitarian, social, and religious discussions that Wojtyla led, joined him on week-long mountain retreats, which included kayaking and camping. Although Poland was under soviet communist domination, they celebrated Mass together in the open, which was forbidden by the regime.  These excursions were held a few times each year.
Dr. Wanda Poltawska was a specialist in family issues, and made important contributions to Wojtyla's early thought on family matters.  Many of her ideas were incorporated in his first non-fiction book Love and Responsibility in 1960, and eventually influenced Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae.  Much later, after Wojtyla had become Bishop of Krakow, she assisted him in founding an Institute for the Family at the curia.
Though still a young man, Karol Wojtyla had lost both of his parents and his brother, and had no real family of his own. But his loneliness was assuaged by the deepening of his friendship with the Poltawskas. The couple’s own family life had been enriched with children, and eventually Wanda and Andrei were blessed with four young ones. Wojtyla was so close to them that they grew up calling him their "uncle."
As the years progressed, he earned two doctorates, became a university professor, and eventually was nominated auxiliary bishop of Krakow. Then, while participating in the Second Vatican Council in Rome, he received the tragic news from his adopted family that Wanda had been diagnosed with an intestinal tumor. The doctors had decided to operate, and if the growth were cancerous, she was given only eighteen months to live.  They also told her that there was a ninety-five percent chance that the tumor was malignant.
When the news that his close friend and collaborator had been hospitalized reached Bishop Wojtyla, he immediately began to ask for prayers from his fellow priests, friends, and religious sisters. Wojtyla prayed intensely that further tragedy would not strike this woman, who had endured five cruel years in a concentration camp. Dr. Poltawska was only forty years old, and her four children still needed her. The Polish bishop’s thoughts soon turned to a man he had not seen for fifteen years, a man whose sanctity and prayers he greatly respected.
Karol Wojtyla’s visit to Padre Pio
In the long-ago summer of 1947, Wojtyla had been a priest for less than a year. He was in Rome in the midst of a two-year study program, working on his first doctorate. Extremely interested in Carmelite spirituality and mysticism, he had chosen for his dissertation topic the mystical theology of Saint John of the Cross. It was in Rome that he first heard about another Catholic mystic, a Capuchin rather than a Carmelite, whose fame had not yet spread beyond the iron curtain into Poland. He was said to bear the wounds of Christ, the only priest ever to do so, and he lived only half-day’s journey by train and bus from Rome.
During a break in the school year, Wojtyla decided to visit this modern-day mystic, Padre Pio of Pietrelcina. He spent almost a week in San Giovanni Rotondo that summer, and was able to attend Padre Pio’s Mass and make his confession to the saint. Apparently, this was not just a casual encounter, and the two spoke together at length during Wojtyla’s stay.  Their conversations gave rise to rumors in later years, after the Polish prelate had been elevated to the Papacy, that Padre Pio had predicted he would become Pope. The story persists to the present day, even though on two occasions "Papa Wojtyla" has denied it. In 1984, the Capuchin Minister General, Bishop Flavio Carraro personally asked him about the prediction. Also Monsignor Riccardo Ruotolo, president of Pio’s hospital, The House for the Relief of Suffering, asked the same question of the Pope three years later. On both occasions the Holy Father emphatically denied that Padre Pio had made such a prophecy. 
Back in Rome, the news reaching Bishop Wojtyla about the condition of his dear friend Wanda Poltawska continued to be ominous. A major operation to stem the growth in her intestine now loomed a few days hence. With no time to lose, he took pen in hand and hastily wrote a short, urgent letter to Padre Pio in Latin. The letter, written on the official stationery of the diocese of Krakow, was dated November 17, 1962. Brief and to the point, the Bishop pleaded:
Venerable Father, I ask for your prayers for a certain mother of four young girls, who lives in Krakow, Poland (during the last war she spent five years in a German concentration camp), and now her health and even her life are in great danger due to cancer. Pray that God, through the intercession of the Most Blessed Virgin, has mercy on her and her family. Most obligated in Christ, Karol Wojtyla. 
Since it was essential that the letter arrive as soon as possible, Bishop Wojtyla, acting through intermediaries, enlisted the help of Angelo Battisti in order to have it hand-delivered to Padre Pio. Battisti’s positions at the Vatican Secretary of State and as the administrator for Pio’s hospital, guaranteed him virtually unlimited access to the saint at almost any hour. He was told that the letter was of utmost importance, and was asked to leave at once and deliver it personally to Pio. The hastily summoned messenger later remarked: "I had never received such an urgent assignment. I quickly went home to get my car, and departed immediately." 
This One Cannot be Refused!
Battisti drove to the friary at San Giovanni Rotondo and headed straight for Padre Pio’s room. There he found the priest seated with his head bowed over his chest, engrossed in prayer. The messenger held out the envelope, explaining that it dealt with a pressing matter. Without moving, Pio simply replied, "Open it and read it." He listened in silence as Angelo Battisti read the letter, and remained silent for some time afterwards. Battisti was now surprised that this missive had to be urgently delivered; it seemed to be similar to the torrent of grave requests about life and death matters that daily reached Padre Pio, imploring his prayers. Finally, the Padre raised his head, and with a serious demeanor turned towards the messenger. "Angelo, to this one [questo] it is not possible to say no!" Then he bowed his head as before and resumed praying.
Battisti understood that by using the term "questo", a masculine pronoun, Pio was referring to the person (this one) who sent the letter. On the drive back to Rome, he thought about the many years he had known Padre Pio, and how every single word he wrote or spoke was carefully chosen and had a profound significance. He did not use the feminine "questa," which would have referred to the request or to the letter itself. No, it was "questo" – he who sent it – that could not be refused. But who was this Polish Bishop? Though Battisti worked at the Secretariat of State, he never heard of him. Nor, he found out when he arrived at the Vatican, had any of his colleagues ever heard of Bishop Wojtyla. Yet, why had Padre Pio considered him so important? 
The operation to remove the tumor in Dr. Poltawska’s intestine was to take place on a Friday in late November, 1962. On Saturday, Bishop Wojtyla telephoned the sick woman’s husband Andrei to learn whether or not the tumor had been malignant. Andrei started to explain that the operation never took place because the doctors had found that there was nothing they could do. The Bishop immediately began to console his friend, believing that the cancer had been declared inoperable. Andrei interrupted: "Oh no, you do not understand...The doctors are confronted with a mystery... They could not find anything."  The growth, which had been previously confirmed as present by the doctors, had now completely disappeared! For Bishop Wojtyla, only one explanation for this cure was possible – the prayers that Padre Pio had raised to heaven.
At the time, the Poltawskas knew nothing about their friend’s letter to the holy man of the Gargano, and they did not find out until later. In fact, the couple had never heard of Padre Pio, since Poland was still a closed-off Iron Curtain country, and there was little opportunity for them to learn about events in the free world. Thus, at first Wanda attributed the results to the one-in-twenty possibility that it was an inflammation which had healed on its own, and not a tumor at all. 
Upon hearing the good news, Bishop Wojtyla composed a second letter to Padre Pio, this time thanking him for interceding before God for this mother of four children. In the letter dated November 28, again in Latin, he clearly attributes the doctors’ failure to find any diseased tissue to divine intervention.
Venerable Father, the woman living in Krakow, Poland, and mother of four children, on the twenty-first of November, prior to the surgical operation, was suddenly cured. Thanks be to God! And also to you venerable father, I offer the greatest possible gratitude in the name of the woman, of her husband, and all of her family. In Christ, Karol Wojtyla, Capitular Bishop of Krakow. 
Once again the bishop’s letter was consigned to Angelo Battisti, with instructions from Vatican officials to immediately carry it to San Giovanni Rotondo. He departed at once, and upon reaching Our Lady of Grace Friary, the messenger approached Padre Pio in his cell. As before, Pio spoke the simple command: "Open it and read." This time Battisti himself was extremely curious, and upon reading aloud "the truly extraordinary and incredible news" he turned to Padre Pio in order to congratulate him. But the friar was immersed in prayer. "It seemed that he had not even heard my voice as I was reading the letter."  The minutes passed by in silence, and finally the Padre asked Angelo to keep these letters from Bishop Wojtyla, because some day they would become very important.
Returning to Rome, Battisti secured the letters in a safe place, and as the years passed, he almost completely forgot about them. Then, after sixteen years, the evening of October 16, 1978 arrived. Gathered with the crowds in front of Saint Peter’s Basilica, he waited anxiously for the announcement of the name of the new pope. When he heard the words "Karol Wojtyla," Battisti was stunned. His first thoughts were of the words of Padre Pio from long ago, "Angelo, to this one it is not possible to say no!" – and then tears came to Battisti’s eyes. 
Confirmation of the Miracle
Five years after her sudden 1962 cure, Wanda Poltawska had a rare opportunity to travel from communist controlled Poland to Rome. By then information on Padre Pio had begun to reach her from various sources, and she had learned of the letters sent to him by Wojtyla, asking for his prayers and subsequently thanking him for her healing. But as a medical doctor herself, she was still inclined to believe that the absence of any tumor at the time of the scheduled surgery was due to a mistaken diagnosis. "It seemed too difficult to comprehend a supernatural intervention." 
Hoping to learn more about Padre Pio, attend his Mass, and perhaps meet him in person, she journeyed from Rome to San Giovanni Rotondo in May of 1967. Thanks to a friar she had spoken to the day of her arrival, on the next morning she was led through the sacristy to a seat near the altar for Padre Pio’s 5:00 am Mass. She could thus closely observe the Capuchin as he celebrated "...with incredible intensity and with an expression of suffering on his face."  To her, Padre Pio’s Mass meant much more than the experience of God’s presence during the consecration of the Holy Eucharist. She was able to perceive Christ’s Passion itself as it was reflected in the sufferings of Padre Pio as the Mass progressed. The stigmatized friar’s own agony, the bloodstains from his wounds, the perspiration running from his forehead, all invoked the sense of Christ’s own Calvary. "This sacrifice of the altar was truly the representation of the Passion of Christ." 
Afterwards, Wanda gathered with many others in the sacristy, waiting to greet the holy Padre. He passed by quite close to her, walking slowly on his pierced feet. Looking around at the people, he stopped, and then gazed directly at her. A smile then beamed on his face, as he approached nearer, patted her on the head, and said, "Adesso, va bene?" (Now are you all right?). She was speechless!  The other women around Dr. Poltawska wondered who she was, since she had been conspicuously singled out by their beloved Padre. All she could say to them was, "I am from Poland." 
The moment Padre Pio’s eyes met hers, she understood that he recognized her, and now knew for certain why she had not needed an operation several years earlier. It was not because of a wrong diagnosis, but because, "...this monk had come into my life in such an extraordinary way because the Archbishop of Krakow had asked for it."  And Padre Pio had known at the time he received the urgent request from Karol Wojtyla that "this one" could not be refused. 
1. http://www.catholic.net/RCC/Periodicals/Inside/08-96/padrepio.html. "Padre Pio, Will John Paul II Declare Him A Saint?"
2. http://www.parrocchie.it/calenzano/santamariadellegrazie/padrepio%20passatoepresente.htm. "Con il frate di Pietrelcina il Papa ritrova le energie," by Andrea Tornieli.
4. Allegri, Renzo, I Miracoli di Padre Pio (hereafter Miracoli), Milan, Oscar Mondadori, 1993, p. 189.
5. "John Paul II" Encyclopędia Britannica
from Encyclopędia Britannica Premium Service.
6. Miracoli, p. 190.
8. Ruffin, Bernard, Padre Pio: The True Story (Revised and Expanded) (hereafter Ruffin), Huntington, IN, Our Sunday Visitor, 1991, p. 360.
9. http://www.medjugorje.it/docs/2002/104/Una%20grande%20amicizia.htm, "Karol Wojtyla e Padre Pio: Una Grande Amicizia," by Renzo Allegri.
10. http://www.calabriaweb.it/Ecclesia/1021465600466.html, "Giovanni Paolo II, devoto del Frate di Pietrelcina," by Raffaele Iaria.
11. Miracoli, p. 191, (present author’s translation). See Disclaimer regarding Italian translations on my main page.
12. Ibid., p. 193, (present author’s translation).
14. Ruffin, p. 361.
15. Poltawska, Wanda, "Padre Pio the Saint of Our Time," (hereafter Poltawska), Lay Witness (Catholics United for the Faith), October 1999, www.cuf.org/oct99b.htm.
16. Miracoli, pp. 193-194, (present author’s translation).
17. Ibid., p. 195.
19. www.fides.org/eng/interviste/wanda.html (hereafter Fides), Fides Service interview with Dr. Wanda Poltawska, June 6, 2002.
26. In the Fides Service interview (note 19), Dr. Poltawska is cited as saying that Padre Pio "said nothing" when he encountered her at the Friary in San Giovanni Rotondo. In order to resolve the important discrepancy between the Fides interview and the Lay Witness article (note 15), the present author, thanks to Leon Suprenant and Madeleine Stebbins of Catholics United for the Faith, was able to contact Dr. Poltawska’s daughter Ania Dadak. She recalled that as a child she had first heard the story from her mother, who related that Pio had said "Va bene." At the author’s request, Dr. Dadak contacted her mother in Poland, who confirmed that Pio had in fact spoken to her, saying "Adesso, va bene?" She never told the Fides reporter that Padre Pio had kept silent, so evidently she was misquoted.
This page was last updated on
Copyright 2005 Frank M. Rega
Frank M. Rega is the author of Padre
Pio and America,
and of St. Francis of Assisi and the Conversion of the Muslims, both from TAN Books.
From Angelus Press: The Greatest Catholic President: Garcia Moreno of Ecuador.
Newest Book: Life of the Mystic Luisa Piccarreta Padre Pio said the world will be astounded at her greatness!