During the pontificate, his countrymen many times sang to John Paul II a traditional Sto lat! (May you live one hundred years!), wishing the Holy Father a long life. How did he react to this?
On Jasna Góra in 1979, he said: “I have one remark to what you were singing here a moment ago: Sto lat!, you were singing it so many times that I thought in my soul: “May it not come true”. In 1983, on the St. Anne Mountain, he joked: “I have been singing vespers since I was a child, but it was the first time that I was singing Sto lat! during vespers! … It is a new liturgy!” In Wrocław in 1997, when a crowd of believers, because of his birthday, sang Sto lat!, he replied briefly: “I am still alive”. During a visit to Radzymin in 1999, he replied hearing Sto lat!: “It is better to leave the centenary alone, but … I am pushing eighty, it is approaching and is easily to count: 1920-1999”. During the same pilgrimage in Wadowice, he summed up Sto lat! just sung for him: “It is easier to sing than to perform”.
The pontificate of John Paul II helped to promote Polish Sto lat! as a counterpart of English Happy Birthday to You!, Spanish Cumpleaños feliz! or Italian Tanti auguri a Te! During one of the pilgrimages to the United States, when his compatriots many times sang Sto lat!, the pope joked: “If you keep singing this, the Americans will think it is the Polish national anthem”.
Singing Sto lat!, we wished the Holy Father a long life, hoping that he would be with us as long as possible. During his last pilgrimage in 2002, in the course of one of the meetings at the Palace of the Archbishops of Krakow, John Paul II gave these wishes a theological meaning. After Sto lat! was sung, he said, referring to the tradition of meetings with young people at 3 Franciszkańska Street, initiated in 1979: “And Pete, who is standing here, also is 23 years older. We cannot help it. There is only one remedy for that. This is the Lord Jesus. ‘I am the resurrection and the life’, it means – despite old age, despite death – youth in God. And I wish all of you that. …”
We all pass just like this symbolic “Pete”. Christ is our support and guide to eternity. John Paul II left us at the age of 85, fifteen years ago. Absent from the body, he remained in the memory of the people and in the faith of the Church that raised him to the glory of the altars, to teach us and the next generations by his example to live with Christ.
A wish of “a hundred years” for the pope is fulfilled on May 18, 2020 and echoes the words of the Book of Sirach: “The number of their days seems great if it reaches a hundred years. Like a drop of water from the sea and a grain of sand, so are these few years among the days of eternity. That is why the Lord is patient with them and pours out his mercy on them. … Their compassion is for their neighbor, but the Lord’s compassion reaches all flesh”. (Sirach 18:9-13)
Rev. Andrzej Dobrzyński