For Countryman Abroad, Pope Gave Divine Inspiration

There on the wall in his temporary home hangs a tapestry depicting the likeness of the Holy Father, John Paul II. Father Zbigniew Derylo looked occasionally to the face of his countryman, his voice full of emotion as he discussed the life of John Paul II and his relationship with the man who had a profound impact on his own.

A Franciscan priest and missionary from Poland, Derylo is staying at Our Lady of Czestechowa Church on Dorchester Ave. during an Easter season tour of the United States.

Derylo met the pontiff several times and says those meetings helped guide him towards the priesthood, and later into work as a missionary.

"He had a gift to see into people's hearts," says Derylo.

He recalls serving a Mass with the pope in St. Peter's Square. The previous day, Derylo says, someone had deeply hurt him with harsh words.

After the Mass, Derylo remembers, the pope came and asked each of the young Franciscans where they were from. When he got to Derylo, the pope did not ask where he was from, but instead pulled his head close to him and said in Polish, "Courage son, be not afraid."

"He didn't know I'd been hurt the previous day," says Derylo. "For me it was an answer from Heaven. Today when I am scared or have problems, I always repeat those words."

As a Pole, Derylo says, the election of a Polish cardinal to the papacy had particular poignancy for him and his compatriots. Having endured oppression under a Communist regime, Derylo says, "His [John Paul II] election and coming to Poland was as if God himself was coming to care for his own people."

Derylo was 20 years old when he found his way to the front of the crowd at a Mass during the pope's first visit to Poland in 1979. He says that seeing John Paul II drew him to religious life. A later encounter with the pontiff steered him towards his missionary work in Africa.

As the pope fell ill in recent week, Derylo says he prayed for the will of God to be done.

"I asked God to help him, to give the pope what he desires."

Upon the pope's death this weekend, a wave of emotions overcame Derylo.

"My heart is sad, but also happy," says Derylo.

"I am convinced in my heart that he's home and I say often to God, thank you for my friend the Holy Father who is in heaven with you."

Now Derylo prays for a successor to John Paul II who will continue to demonstrate his strength and courage.

"I ask God to give us a new pope who will be strong with the Holy Spirit."

Derylo's missionary work has taken him to Africa and he hopes to return there soon.