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A pope's pen pal

Exchanging letters with Pope John Paul II

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Danuta Michalowska and Pope John Paul II shared more than 100 letters.

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KRAKOW, Poland (CNN) -- Danuta Michalowska and Pope John Paul II shared a unique relationship that spanned a lifetime: They exchanged more than 100 letters -- including a final note from the pope just two weeks before he died.

That letter never was intended to be shared with the public, but now, one year later, Michalowska felt compelled to do just that in an interview with CNN's Delia Gallagher.

On the note, an Easter card, the pope's signature is noticeably unsteady, but his handwritten words still legible. "With heartfelt wishes," he signed.

Michalowska first met the pope when he was known as Karol Josef Wojtyla, a young man whose passions in those early days were poetry, religion and theater. The two were young adults working in the same theater group in Krakow. It was his voice that first caught her attention.

"To me, his voice was a priceless gift," she said. "He stood out then in the same way he stood out for the rest of his life: He was such an extraordinary personality."

She added, "There was something so radiant about him, and you couldn't not notice him."

Wojtyla and his father had moved to Krakow after he graduated from secondary school in 1938.

He enrolled at Jagiellonian University to study literature and philosophy. He became a founding member of an underground drama group, The Rhapsodic Theater, writing and acting in plays that frequently dealt with oppression. He also participated in poetry readings and literary discussion groups.

His acting talents were obvious. "He could have been a great theater person --- one of the greatest in the world because he was such a talent," Michalowska said.

And while it was his voice that first captured her attention, it is his written words --- the personal letters --- that kept their friendship alive over the years.

The letters, more than 100 in 27 years, began after Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II. The pope typically ended each with, "I wish you God's blessings."

In one note, the pope responded to her after she sent him an audiotape of her reading his poetry.

"The fact that you recited/performed these creations is significant for me. Not only because of our common past, but most of all because you are a truly great artist of the spoken word. I thank God for this wonderfully fulfilled talent," he wrote.

For Michalowska, the letters are a treasure -- comforting reminders of her close relationship with a man who helped change the world. The final letter conjures memories of a dying friend whose suffering would soon end.

"The body is our dress and when it starts tearing, when it doesn't give us warmth anymore, shedding it is a wonderful moment," she said.

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