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Cardinal Josef Tomko, a life devoted to John XXIII and John Paul II

2014-04-09

If there were such a thing as "Vatican veterans” Slovak Cardinal Josef Tomko would be first among them. He came to Rome in 1945, just before the end of the World War II, and worked alongside John XXIII, the Pope who kicked off the Second Vatican Council.

CARD. JOSEF TOMKO
"My office was quite close to Saint Peter's Basilica. So, during the Council, I could just talk to bishops, take them their mail and even check if there was something amusing happening in their meetings... Back then I was a young official for the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith. I didn't have the right to be at the Council, but I had a lot of contact with the people who did.”

He saw history in the making. He saw how John XXIII not only triggered the Council, but also how the so called 'Good Pope' promoted ecumenism.

CARD. JOSEF TOMKO
"John XXIII served in Bulgaria and Turkey. He knew those countries and was in touch the Slavic and Orthodox world. So he had a deep understanding of the importance of having unity among Christians.” 

But it was John Paul II who asked Cardinal Tomko to work within the Roman Curia. Karol Wojtyla made him Archbishop in 1979 and since then, he traveled by his side as Prefect of the Congregation for the Evangelization of Peoples.

CARD. JOZEF TOMKO
"We followed the Pope in most of his travels. Cardinal Casaroli would always joke and say: Look at how our work is divided. The Pope does everything and we're the ones who feel tired.”

There are also painful memories. Cardinal Tomko was one of the few people who saw John Paul II during in his last months, and even the day he passed away on April 2, 2005.

CARD. JOZEF TOMKO
"I saw his hands, the very same hands that had consecrated me as a Bishop. I still felt those hands...on my head. I kissed them. It was an extremely moving experience that will stay with me forever.”

Fifty years ago, Cardinal Tomko witnessed thousands of pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square to celebrate the beginning of the Second Vatican Council. Now, he looks forward to seeing it crowded once again, this time for the canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II. 


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