Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Our Lady and the Primate: The Soviet Onslaught Begins

After his ingress into Gniezno. the new Archbishop began his program of renewing the national spirit in preparation for the thousand-year anniversary of Polish Christianity. The focus of his plan would be complete entrustment to Mary in the struggle for to preserve an endangered national faith.

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Soviet soldiers being heckled by a crowd.

Radiating a tender love of Our Lady, the Primate set about lighting a beacon of faith in postwar Poland. Knowing that the Polish people as a whole had to oppose the the subjugation and Marxist indoctrination of their country, Archbishop Wyszynski decided to light a torch of faith, hope and love for the nation.

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St. Johns, Warsaw.

He began his mission by rebuilding fifty churches in Warsaw, including the Cathedral, all of which lay in ruins. Needing to make up for the loss of over three thousand priests in the war, he paid close attention to the seminaries, personally leading retreats as well as being present for all important feasts and holidays.

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Church of Our Lady Queen of the Polish Crown, Warsaw.

Wanting to preserve the close bonds between the church and its people, Wyszynski had a strong desire to exercise his fatherly leadership to a nation deprived of independent leadership. Being in two and three places at time, confirming, inspecting and dropping in on parish churches and monasteries, he found himself in the midst of the people, whose parishes were soon creating more opportunities to be with their Primate.

To strenghten the ties of the Polish Episcopate, the new primate sought frequent meetings of the nation's bishops. They would come to meet every two months, as the Archbishop felt that the unity and strength of the Church would be the best way to counter the coming threats of communism.

Interestingly enough, a gift from the first parish he visited prophetically symbolized the primate's future destiny, as the parishioners gave him a painting representing Christ the King. In this painting, Our Lord's hands are bound, with a soldier holding Him by the shoulders. The Primate hung it in his office in Gniezno, where it was to become a symbol of his fate.

Ominous clouds quickly gathered on the horizon, for at the same time Archbishop Wyszynski was taking over the leadership of the Polish Church, the leader of the Communist Party was demanding the separation of Church and state, as well as the laicization of education. This was clearly a portent of future events.

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As Adam Micewski puts it, "Within the country, Stalinist totalitarianism was being articulated in concrete and highly dangerous steps: the forced collectivisation of agriculture...the elimination of private property...the spreading terror of the security forces. Scholarship, culture, and the media were submitted to purely political control and the most rigid version of Marxist orthodoxy. Everything was brought into line with the economic and political dictates of the Eastern bloc..." (Micewski, p.58-59)

Additionally, in an attempt to split the Church, an organization of "patriotic priests" friendly to the government was created by the communists to try and compromise the authority of the

On January 1, 1952, the Vatican was attacked in the Polish communist press as having "a negative attitude toward the needs of contemporary Poland" and of giving in to the NATO alliance.

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On a visit to a parish.

The Archbishop's response to this New Year's Day attack were a testimony of his courage and fortitude. "Whatever God demands - I shall fulfill. It is all the same to me whether I have to sow words and examples, or my own blood, as long as Poland remains Christ's kingdom" (Micewski p.73)

While working to divide the church, and attempting to cut off the attachment of the people to her through the new program of "laicization of education", the government also tried to strike at the heart of Polish morality by the corruption of the legal system. This first attack came with a proposed change in the penal code making the penalty for abortion less than that that of destroying trees.

Next came a nefarious campaign of intensified pressure on the church through increased taxation, liquidation of Catholic kindergartens and the seizing of monastic houses.

Of particular relevance to Catholics in our time is the fact that as the crisis in his country worsened, the Archbishop's attachment to the Holy Father only deepened. As Micewski quotes the Primate, "I need Rome like the air, like drops of water on thirsty lips. All day I suffer from this insuperable longing. I pray for the Holy Father all day..." (Micewski, p.82)

The assault on the Church continued. On July 1, 1952, while the Archbishop was on retreat at Jasna Gora with priests from Warsaw, he first heard the news that the government was liquidating the minor seminaries.

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The Primate with priests.

Attacking the Church from all sides, the government attempted to destroy the Catholic press through censorship and sabotaged distribution. As Micewski tells us, "...the Sunday Guest in Katowice had been suspended by the authorities, and Sunday in Czestochowa had been trimmed from 100,000 to 10,300 copies. In Gorzow, the censors were clipping more than 60 percent of each week's text in the Catholic Weekly. By these methods the authorities hoped to drive the publications into bankruptcy, but the Primate reminded the editor's that out of apostolic considerations they should keep operating, even at a loss." (Micewski, p.96)

In the midst of this systematic campaign to destroy the Church and install a new religion of atheistic ideology on the Nation, Providence was to strenghten the hand of the Primate with a telegram from Rome announcing the elevation of Stefan Wyszynski to the College of Cardinals in the coming January, 12, 1953 consistory.

However with this joyful telegram came news that the government was going to try to attempt to take over the episcopate beginning with the forced election of a "vicar capitular" to run the Diocese of Katowice. However on November 30, 1952, the Primate informed the priest in question that his forced election was invalid. The authorities however, were now demanding the election of a "vicar capitular" in Krakow, where the staff of the curia had been arrested - as the government wanted to make Katowice a model for which to take over the Church.

On December 12, the Primate spoke:

"We may have the right to sacrifice ourselves, but we may not sacrifice the dioceses, the Church, and the faithful. Where the bishops and priests disappear, so does the Church. It is up to us to defend a clergy that has been exhausted by the war and the concentration camps and today shows itself more ready to come to an agreement (with the government) than ever...At the moment the Polish nation is leaning on the maternal shoulder of the Church. We must act, therefore, in such a way that the nation does not lose its grip on this shoulder" (Micewski, p.99)

For Archbishop Wyszynski, the government's attempt to take over the dioceses through the expulsion of its leadership on trumped- up charges was the final straw, as the government had already thrown religion out of the schools, liquidated the Catholic press and created pseudo- catholic groups. Poland's rulers had created a vision of the Church subject to them. While the pseudo-catholics would not speak the truth, the Primate would, even though he knew the price he would have to pay would be a high one:

"Similarly, if we are given the choice between personal sacrifice or turning over the church administration into a tool of the secular authorities - we shall not waver. We shall follow the apostolic voice of our calling and priestly conscience, with inner peace in the consciousness that we have not given the least reason for our persecution, that suffering shall become a part of our share in the affairs of Christ and Christ's church. We cannot place what belongs to God on the altar of Caesar. Non possumus! (We cannot!) ( emhasis added, Micewski p.116)

For the Primate, the Church would stand together with the Catholic nation during this period of sufferings and assaults. Finally, the prohetic words came, "I will choose imprisonment over privilege, because in prison I will be at the side of the most tormented ones. Privilege could be a sign of leaving the Church's proper road of truth and love" (Micewski, p.129)

The price the Primate was to pay for his fidelity to the Church and the Polish nation would be a remarkable sign to both the nation and the world of a good shepherd willing to stand fast in the defense of the sheep.

This heroic shepherd would spend the next three years in imprisoned exile.

The spiritual testament composed during this exile will be explored in the next installment.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Our Lady of Czestochowa and the Primate: Part Two

After the war, Fr. Wyszynski returned to his home diocese of Wloclawek. Whereas, before the war, he had been greatly drawn to academic work, Providence was about to mark his destiny as that of a pastor and father to the nation. As always, his heavenly Mother would accompany him on each stage of the journey.
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Our Lady of Czestochowa

On the feast of the Annunciation, March 25, 1946, Cardinal Hlond, the Primate, summoned Fr.

Wyszynski to Poznan to inform him that Pope Pius XII, had nominated him as Bishop of Lublin.
Convinced that the call of Christ and the Holy Father could not be refused, Fr. Wyszynski resigned himself to leaving Wloclawek, and with it, the joy of serving as professor, editor, and social activist.

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Augustin Cardinal Hlond

The date of his consecration was set for May 12 at his beloved Jasna Gora, where he had offered his first Mass. Bishop-elect Wyszynski decided to include the Madonna of Jasna Gora-Virgo Auxiliatrix in his coat-of-arms. Later, he would say that this was not meant merely as a decoration or symbol, but rather as a program of his work in the Church of Poland.

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Bishop Wyszynski's Coat of Arms
Before his consecration, he made an eight-day retreat in Czestochowa to prepare himself for his coming mission. Consecrated on May 12, 1946, feast of Our Lady of Grace, Stefan Wyszynski was strengthened in his sense of living under Our Lady's special care.

As Andrzej Micewski relates to us, "Later, as Primate, instead of precious stones and saints' relics, Wyszynski's ring carried a likeness of the Madonna of Czestochowa. Eventually, he would expand his personal motto from Soli Deo to Per Mariam Soli Deo. His consecration picture bore the inscription Mother of God's Grace!'

His eyes firmly fixed on his heavenly Mother, and his hand firmly holding hers, Bishop Wyszynski issued one of his first pastoral letters in August, on the day of the dedication of the Polish nation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, explaining the ways in which this dedication springs from history.

Doing everything possible to teach his people to love the Mother of God, he issued another pastoral to school-age children on the daily recitation of the Rosary, while convening a Rosary congress on July 2, l947. The following year, on Sept. 7, he convened the first Marian congress in Chelm.

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Bishop Wyszynski in 1947

With the new bishop's reputation as a good and holy shepherd spreading, the Primate, Cardinal Hlond, remarked to a visitor that Bishop Wyszynski had made a great impression on him, calling him, 'young, intelligent, and brave.' (Micewski, 40)

Three years later, a dying Cardinal Hlond would write Pope Pius XII, requesting that the Bishop of Lublin be named his successor. Unbeknownst to him, the Polish episcopate would also be making the same request.

The dying Cardinal Hlond's spiritual testament would be the program of his successor, "Keep working under the protection of our Blessed Mother. Victory, when it comes, will be the victory of the Most Blessed Virgin. Nil desperandum! (Never despair!)' (Micewski, 42)

When the funeral of Augustine Cardinal Hlond came, the Catholics who filled the capital of Warsaw to be pay tribute to their primate looked to the future with heavy hearts, as the Soviet-controlled government had just introduced the first five-year plan to Communize the country.

Many wondered whether the next man to be elevated to the highest ecclesiastical office in Poland would not also be taking on with it a condemnation to martyrdom.

On November 12, 1948, the feast day of the five martyred Polish brothers, Pope Pius XII named Stefan Wyszynski as Archbishop of Gniezno and Warsaw, Primate of Poland. The nominating letter was signed on November 16, the feast day of the Blessed Virgin of Ostra Brama, to whom the Primate's mother had such great devotion.

The future treatment the new Archbishop would receive at the hands of the Communists was made clear as the new Primate traveled along the road to Gniezno. Although everyone already knew who the traveler was, his car was repeatedly stopped and his identity checked along the way.

Continuing his life-long path of consecration to Mary, Archbishop Wyszynski's ingress to Gniezno occurred on Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, February 2, 1949.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Our Lady of Czestochowa and the Primate: Part One

On August 3rd, 1924, Stefan Wyszynski (pronounced Shteh-fahn Vih-shinski) was ordained to the holy priesthood by Auxiliary Bishop Wojciech Owczarek in the chapel of the Blessed Virgin in Wloclawek's Cathedral.

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Bishop Wyszynski

Immediately after his ordination, he travelled to Czestochowa in order to be able to offer his first Solemn Mass before the miraculous icon of Our Lady of Jasna Gora, Queen of Poland. As he was in frail health, he was barely able to stay on his feet, beseeching Our Lady to let him live to be a Priest for at least one year.

Having lost his mother at the age of nine, he came to Czestochowa in search of his heavenly Mother. "I went to Jasna Gora to say my First Mass so that I could have a Mother, a Mother who is forever and does not die." (Micewski, p.7)

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Stefan (in rear) with his family

Our Lady was to give Fr. Wyszynski many more than the one year he had asked for, as Providence intended this son, consecrated to the Mother of the Polish Nation, to be deeply bound with its destiny for more than half a century to come.

Going on to study at the Catholic University of Lublin, (commonly referred to by its Polish initials KUL), he received his doctorate in Canon Law in 1929, defending his thesis which was entitled, The Rights of The Family, The Church, and The State in Relation To Schools.

Continuing the preparation for his future mission, he served as editor-in-chief of the diocesan newspaper until the outbreak of World War Two, all the while serving as Defender of the Bond in the Wloclawek curia. He accomplished all this while lecturing on social ethics in the seminary, heading the Christian Worker's University, as well as being active in the Christian trade unions.

This close contact with workers helped form his belief that the influence of Russia, "fighting against God," was already very strong, yet he also knew that the growth in communist sympathy amont the Poles was "...not so much Bolshevik propaganda as the lack of work, of bread, and of a roof over one's head." (Micewski, p.16)

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Soviet propaganda

He stated in 1934 that the "...enormous salaries of high officials absorb institutional budgets that there is nothing left over to pay junior officials and workers...Such a state of things does not accord with Catholic ideas of just distribution...". (Ibid.)

Highly trained in Catholic social ethics, as well as being a student of the social sciences, Fr. Wyszynski knew that "...Violating the balance of incomes in society is bound to lead to a shaking of the whole social order; these are the causes of an inclination toward Bolshevism." (Ibid.)

Thus the future Primate of Poland already had embraced the conviction that a third road exists between liberal capitalism and revolutionary Marxism. As Micewski puts it, "His early conviction later blossomed into the idea that Poland, lying between East and West, has a definite, well-understood mission: based on the social strength of a Catholicism that had stood firm through the long battle with atheism - a political system that opposed not only the inherent mistakes of collectivism but also the structural weaknesses and egotistical tendencies of capitalism" (Ibid., pp. 18-19)

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Nazi rally

With the outbreak of war in September of 1939, Fr. Wyszynski was ordered by Bishop Michal Kozal of Wloklawek to flee for his safety, as the Nazis had targeted him due to his pre-war publications on Nazism.

The warning of his superiors was a prescient one, for as Fr. Wyszynski attempted to return to his apartment to locate a forgotten book, he was told at the Wloklawek train station that the Gestapo had already been to his apartment.

With that news he was destined to spend the rest of the war moving from place to place hiding from the Gestapo, knowing that if he was caught it would mean certain death.

While in hiding, Fr. Wysynski served as chaplain to a group of sisters and blind people, as well as giving lectures wherever possible on Catholic social thought, and on the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ. He even served as a midwife on one occasion, delivering the child of a poor, emaciated expectant mother he came across while hiding in the forest.

In an amusing aside, Fr. Wyszynski had to operate under a pseudonym to avoid capture, and as his biographer tells us, "Wyszynski chose for himself the underground pseudonym, Sister Cecilia, and before long people were asking, 'Is Sister Cecilia saying Mass today? When is she hearing confessions?' " (Micewski, p.26)

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Warsaw Uprising, 1944

When the Warsaw uprising started, in which 240,000 people died, Fr. Wyszynski found himself in Laski, just outside the city. Ministering to allied and enemy soldiers alike, in his free moments (and with no one watching) he would lie prostrate on the chapel floor in the form of a cross, praying both for the dying and those destined to survive.

As the uprising came to an end, he found a shred of paper on which the burning fire had left only three, "Thou shalt love." (Ibid.)

The war came to an end, with Fr. Wyszynski having been preserved by the woman he so loved, referring to her often as "Beautiful Splendid Star, Mary of Czestochowa."

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Following the Star of Christ

Caught up as we often are with our own trials it is easy to forget the heroic sacrificies those brothers and sisters who have gone before us in the Faith have made. One such story, as told by our friend, Veritas of Humanae Vitae, relates the experiences of his mother's brave family in the former communist Yugoslavia in the 1960s.

Being fishermen on a small island, they knew well how to orient themselves while navigating rough seas, sometimes in the night with nothing but the stars to guide them. Being Christians, they also knew how to keep their eyes fixed on the star of their faith in dark times. We hope you will be edified and uplifted by this beautiful Christmas story.
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Ilovic, Croatia

"On Christmas Eve 1962, in the former communist Yugoslavia, my uncle, aunt and mother told their father that the local island school they attended had declared that any child not attending school classes the next day would be failed for the year.

Although this was a devoutly Catholic island, the only Mass being offered Christmas Day would be at noon, thus conflicting with the scheduled classes. Knowing his religious obligations, grandfather told my uncle that he and his sisters would be going to Mass the next day.

After attending Christmas Mass, my uncle returned to school the following day and was told that he was going to be failed for the year. Upon hearing this my grandfather said, "That's it!" The decision had been made.

The next day he applied for a tourist visa for his family to go to Italy. In those days, the Communists didn't kill you if you tried to leave, but they would bring you back and subject you to interrogation.

Knowing that if the authorities discovered their plan they would be apprehended, that evening they said a tearful goodbye to my great-grandparents, knowing they would never see them again. Leaving with everything they owned, they were not able to tell my greatgrandparents until one hour before their departure.

Rowing my grandfather's fishing boat away from the island in the dark until they were out of earshot, they were picked up by a speedboat and taken to Trieste, Italy. After three days, with their money exhausted, they went to the Italian authorities to declare political asylum.

The Italian government put them into a refugee camp, with my grandpa leaving each day to work in nearby vineyards while my grandma cleaned people's houses. Eighteen months later, a relative living in the U.S. was able to obtain visas for my grandparents to come to America.

Once in America, my grandfather was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief that the Communist prophecy that, "you and your children will become like us," had been foiled.

There are many more true stories like this I have heard about my ancestors from Croatia. For instance, while escaping from the Nazis, one of their henchmen lifted the lid of the olive oil press my grandfather was hiding in, but was called away just before he had a chance to look inside.

My other grandfather (a harbormaster in a very important industrial shipping port) "looked the other way" at his post at the edge of the harbor as a sentry to let some people escape, only to have them return decades later to thank him amid tears.

One relative dressed up as an Italian mailman, when Italy capitulated, to avoid Nazi capture, rowing ninety miles back to Croatia at night, carrying only a loaf of bread and a bottle of wine.

There are so many more stories, but these are treasures of faith I intend to tell my children someday. It is important for them to know about the people who made such sacrifices and took such risks to be allowed to practice their faith.

These were people of modest education, but knew what was really important. They truly loved God.

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Sts. Peter and Paul Church, Ilovic, Croatia.

Interestingly, my uncle went on to become a parish priest. I asked Grandfather once how he felt on the day of my uncle's ordination. He said it was the proudest day of his life and his greatest treasure. A treasure it was, as a few years ago my grandfather died in my uncle's arms as he was giving my grandfather final absoloution.
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My uncle, Fr. Gio.
My uncle once told me that my grandfather would point the North Star out to him at night and tell him, "Keep your eyes fixed on The North Star and you will never get lost." Funny, for an uneducated man he could still bring forth a poignant analogy to our faith. Remember, "Be not afraid!" As bad as things may seem, we have more than we truly know, and we are free to worship God.

Ave Maria and Merry Christmas to all."

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Christmas Lessons From Nowa Huta

In 1949, the Soviets decided to build what they deemed a "workers’ paradise" in a town on the outskirts of Krakow. This new town was part of their campaign to break down the resistance of middle-class Krakowians to the Soviet program for Poland, a program that entailed the denial of one thousand years of Polish religious and cultural heritage.

The name of their new town was to be "Nowa Huta", and the Soviets intended it to be a model example of the communist ideal of "a city without God". This new town was to be filled with enormous blocks of workers’ apartments, some containing as many as 450 flats.

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Nowa Huta 2006.

The breakdown of community was essential to this new "city without God", as there was to be no easy way for the Polish worker to vist with his neighbors. To quote the distinguished George Weigel, in his seminal work Witness To Hope, "If you wanted to visit a neighbor outside the two or three apartment module in which you lived, you went down the stair or elevator, left the building, reentered through another door, and then climbed the stairs or took the elevator up to your neighbor’s module." (P.189)

In other words, you were to have little or no contact with your neighbor, because "Nowa Huta’s apartment blocks were aptly described as human filing cabinets, and the cabinets were deliberately designed to keep the files separated."(Ibid.)

If the average Pole were to have minimal contact with his neighbor in this new Soviet "workers’paradise", his contact with God was to be even less, for Nowa Huta was to be a town without a Church, and in Catholic Poland, this meant that Christ would not be allowed a place to dwell among his people. There lterally would "be no place for Him in the Inn".

As the Communists refused the initial permits to build a Church in Nowa Huta, it was quickly destined to become a symbol of the implacable opposition between the Communist state and the Catholic Church.

Since this town fell in the jurisdiction of the Archdiocese of Krakow, the young newly appointed auxiliary Bishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, opened the offensive by celebrating an open air Midnight Mass in Nowa Huta in 1959. To quote Witness To Hope again, "The great symbol for Nowa Hutas’ soul was the building of what became known as the ‘Ark Church’, which arose from the field in the Bienczyce neighborhood where Wojtyla had celebrated Midnight Mass since 1959."(P.190)

This struggle for the soul of Nowa Huta (and with it, the Polish Nation) was not an easy one, and it was to go on for many years. It is a testimony to the indomitable faith of Poles, as it is the exercise of the episcopacy both bold and brave, for the future Archbishop of Krakow was to celebrate Midnight Mass in the open air cold for many years to come.

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Cardinal Wojtyla 1970.

In his Christmas Day Mass in the Wawel celebrated on December 25, 1963, he spoke of the Mass he had clebrated only hours earlier in a very cold Nowa Huta, "The Midnight Mass which I just said was celebrated in a great freeze. Several thousand people participated...What a closeness between this Midnight Mass in Nowa Huta and what I had seen in Bethlehem: a humble grotto open to the elements..." (Kalendarium P.225)

This heroic example of episcopal faith and perserverance inspired a courageous laity to not lose hope, for this struggle was to continue on. Led by the outanding now Cardinal Archbishop Wojtyla of Krakow, the citizens of Krakow gathered yet again in the cold and frigid open air of Nowa Huta for Midnight Mass on December 25, 1972. This is, in part, the exhortation given them by the now battle tested and proven Archbishop, "And we stand here, at this place, where the new - born Christ does not have a roof over his head...over His head. All of us gathered here invite Him and plead that here...where God is being born, unto these people, unto these many thousands of people, new people, people of hard work, people of great accomplishment - - that God may be born here, in accordance with the traditions of our Polish culture: under a roof!!!" (Ibid.)

This moving example of patient and humble perserverance was to eventually pay off, for on May 15, 1977, the great Cardinal of Krakow was able to consecrate the new ‘Ark Church’, in which Mary, Queen of Poland was saving her people. What is especially noteworthy and instructive, is that the cornerstone for this great Church was stone taken from the tomb of St. Peter, donated by Pope Paul VI.

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Surveying the Ark Church at Nowa Huta.

So, on this Christmas Day 2006, may we on Long Island find strength and hope in this beautiful story, one intended by Providence to inspire Catholics around the world with an example of the heroism a courageous Bishop can inspire in his laity, all the while attatched in faith and spirit to the Succesor of St. Peter.

May all of us on Long Island pray this Christmas, that the sacrifices necessary to preserve our Catholic faith in the face of more subtle yet similar attempts to weaken it, be never lacking. May the example of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, give similar encouragement to our Bishops, always united in mind and heart with our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI

Nolite timere. Be not afraid! Merry Christmas!!!

Saturday, December 9, 2006

The Black Madonna and the Destiny of The Polish Nation

Who is the “Black Madonna of Czestochowa”? What is her place in the hearts of the Polish people and of the Polish nation? What part did she play in defending the faith and culture of Poland in the second half of the 20th century? These are but a few of the points we will be exploring in the early part of this series of articles.

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Our Lady of Czestochowa, 'The Black Madonna'

In the final set of installments, we will look at the attempted destruction of Polish Catholicism and culture by Soviet Communism in the 20th century. We will then compare what the Soviets attempted to accomplish in Poland with the present attempt of atheistic secularism to erase the memory of Catholic faith and culture on Long Island.

Our Lady of Czestochowa is most aptly described as the Mother of the Polish Nation. It is she who is sent by God to protect her Polish sons and daughters from every “confrontation” that “…lies within the plans of Divine Providence” (Karol Cardinal Wojyla, Farewell address 1976 Eucharistic Congress in Philadelphia)

She is the “Woman” promised in Genesis 3:15 who comes to comfort, love and guide her children, as “…in God's Plan”, they confront every trial which the Church “…must take up, and face courageously.”(ibid)
The Black Madonna of Czestochowa icon was, according to legend, painted by St. Luke on a cypress table top taken from the house of the Holy Family. In this beautiful icon, the Blessed Virgin Mary manifests both her humility and shows us our path by pointing with her right hand
to Jesus, the source of our salvation.

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Jasna Gora Monastery

In the 17th century, she saved the Jasnan Gora monastery from The Deluge, changing the course of the war in the fight against the Sweedish invasion. In thanksgiving for this great favour from Heaven, King Jan Kazimierz crowned the Black Madonna as Queen and Protector of Poland in the Cathedral of Lwow on April 1, 1656. From that moment on, she became the “Mother of the Polish Nation” serving as the icon of unity for all her Polish children.

Her maternal bond with the people of Poland reaches perhaps it’s zenith in the 20th century, beginning with the “Miracle on the Vistula”, otherwise known as “The Battle of Warsaw”, fought in August of 1920.

This is the story of the decisive confrontation against the Red Army for control of Warsaw. Most observers had given Poland up for dead against the Soviets. Interestingly enough, all of the diplomatic corps had left in anticipation of the impending defeat with one exception, Msgr. Achille Ratti, the Pope’s representative, and future Pius XI.

Another man not willing to concede Catholic Poland to the atheistic forces of Soviet communism was Marshall Jozef Pilsudski, a brave soul who dominated the life of the Second Polish Republic from its inception in 1918 until his death in 1935.

As George Weigel tells us in his seminal work, Witness To Hope, “In a daring move, Pilsudski’s intelligence operatives had detected a gap between the two corps of Trotsky’s army…On August 16, the Poles attacked, and by the night of the 17th, the Red Army, which had begun its own attack on Warsaw on the 14th, had been reduced to a rabble of fleeing refugees at a cost of fewer than 200 Polish casualities” (p.17)

Pilsudski had inflicted a “gigantic, unheard-of defeat”(p.18) on the cause of world revolution, and although Lenin opined that “we will keep shifting from a defensive to an offensive strategy over and over again until we finish them off for good”, for the moment, the expansion of Communism had been stopped. (ibid)

Because of the indomitable faith of one man, and the trust of a nation in the Mother of God, the program of Soviet atheism for Poland was put on hold.This courage and bravery would allow a young boy who had been born a few months earlier to grow up in a free Poland. This boy would be totally consecrated to the Mother of the Polish Nation, and would himself one day in union with her, reverse the expansion of the Soviets in both Poland, and much of the world. His name was Karol Jozef Wojtyla.

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Karol and his mother

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Soccer on Sunday

Shortly after Bishop Murphy came to the Diocese of Rockville Centre, he issued his first pastoral letter, "Rediscovering Sunday." In it, he kindly but firmly exhorted his people to begin attending Sunday Mass more faithfully: "I call upon everyone, and especially parents who are the primary formers of their children in the faith, to recommit themselves and their families to regular, weekly attendance at Sunday Mass."

He goes on to explain the serious obligation every Catholic who is not physically impaired has to attend Mass every Sunday. The letter ends with a clear call for everyone to re-examine their priorities so Sunday Mass will again occupy a special place of honor in our lives. Some of the obligations we should seriously try to reschedule? His answer: Work obligations, children’s involvement in sports programs, errands, chores and shopping.

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Should children be doing this on Sunday morning ?

Creating a ‘sacred space’ in our week for the worship of God, he insists, will go a long way towards restoring our life and spirit. Moreover, the regular re-connection with God at Sunday Mass will help us rebuild our relationships with each other.

It would seem, alas, that Bishop Murphy’s initial endeavors to restore Sunday to a place of honor, have had very little effect. If anything, there would seem to be more secular Sunday morning activities now, five years later, than there ever were.

Occupying first place on the list of Sunday activities are, of course, soccer and other field sports. There is actually a several decades-long tradition of ‘Soccer-on-Sunday’ on Long Island. It is only recently that Little League teams and other team sports have also begun encroaching on the Sunday morning schedule.

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Or is something like this more appropriate?

(As an interesting aside, in Amityville, thanks to a brave Protestant Little League commissioner, Sunday practices and games were banned for many years, but it is doubtful that this man’s principled stand will much longer survive the demands of his (probably Catholic) team parents and coaches. )

What is particularly disturbing is the very recent capitulation of CYO teams to this dishonorable practice. Many CYO teams, despite the Bishop’s letter, now have Sunday morning practices and games. An especially ugly example of this can be found at a certain very affluent parish where, while Sunday Mass is going on in the school chapel, the CYO basketball team is hard at work practicing a few doors down the hall in the gym.

Most ominous of all is the announcement by the Lynbrook Public School Superintendent of a parade honoring the community’s young athletes to be held this Sunday, Dec. 10, at 10:00 in the morning. This, in a district liberally populated with Catholics and a public school superintendent with an unmistakably Catholic surname!

Such inroads on the ‘sacred space’ of Sunday are strongly evocative of the Communist strategies in post World War II Eastern Europe. Parades, political events, and public demonstrations were routinely held on Sunday morning in an obvious effort to keep the largely Catholic population from attending Sunday Mass.

What can be done to keep Sunday from being completely secularized? Of course, more episcopal messages and reminders would be most beneficial. The first letter was a very auspicious beginning; more letters like it, as well as exhortations from the parish and school ought to be forthcoming.

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Traditional Palm Sunday morning procession.

Catholic parents, most emphatically, should refuse to allow their children to participate in Sunday morning sports activities. With the overwhelmingly Catholic population of Long Island, this would quickly put a stop to all attempts to usurp Sunday for mundane purposes.

Sports are a beautiful demonstration and celebration of the human spirit, particularly soccer, with its exuberant pace and thoroughly Catholic origins. Long Island, blessed with mild weather and abundant flat, green fields, is a perfect venue for such athletic development and contests, but this island will not continue to be blessed if future generations continue to ignore and dishonor God and His holy day.