June 3, 2008
Laying it on the Line: Marians Embrace the Challenge of New Life in New Mission
By Dan Valenti
On June 3, three Marians of the Immaculate Conception leave Eden Hill in Stockbridge, Mass., to embark on the trip of a lifetime half a world way, all half measures left behind. They depart ready to give everything they have for people who have little or nothing.
They are Marians. They are missionaries.
They will spend 22 hours on planes on their circuitous way to the Philippines to establish the first Marian mission there. For this privilege, the trio will endure 22 hours in airplanes, munch on fast food of the skies, and take the “scenic route” — a marathon odyssey from Eden Hill east to Boston by van, west to Detroit by plane, then on to Japan before landing in Manila about a day later. Their internal clocks will just have been cleaned, clear across the globe.
That will be the easy part.
Stiff challenges demand strong people to meet them, and the Marians have just that: Father Walerian Pozniaik, MIC; Fr. Jan Migacz, MIC; and Fr. Mariusz Jarzabek, MIC. They know what they’ve taken on, if not what they’re getting into (something that will come only after they arrive and learn the specific local needs). Each man spent much time in prayer and discernment to fathom God’s will in this opportunity, to which they all could have said “no.”
Living up to their reputations as Marians by going where the need is greatest, they responded with “yes.” They gave an affirmation the Blessed Mother herself would easily recognize and no doubt blesses with a maternal kiss.
“I wanted to experience something new,” says Fr. Walerian. We caught up with the three priests, plus a fourth (Fr. Klaudiusz Rokicki, MIC) and fifth (Br. Leonard Kunda, MIC) who will be joining the mission later this year, in the welcoming pastels of the community room at the monastery. Father Walerian looks like a folksinger, a cross between Paul Stookey of “Peter, Paul, and Mary,” and James Taylor, fittingly, since Taylor lives near Stockbridge.
“I had extensive experience in my home country of Poland and felt the need for change,” Fr. Walerian says. “I knew the Polish language and culture. I was 45 going on 46. A man needs new challenges in order to grow and not stagnate. I knew that if I didn’t decide in the moment I could lose the moment, so I said yes when Father General [Fr. Jan Rozosz, MIC] gave me the opportunity to serve as a missionary. I needed a more difficult situation in order to give more of myself.”
‘Peace in My Heart’
Father Jan Migacz, whose voice has the softness of eiderdown, says responding to the call of the Congregation meant much time in prayer. “Every one of us tried to discern the will of God in this situation. I asked, ‘What is God doing with me in a spiritual sense?’ The answer to that question would provide me with the answer of accepting [or not] the opportunity to go to the Philippines. It had to be God’s decision, not mine. I spent time in prayer, reflection, and discernment. The answer came. I feel peace in my heart because I believe God is behind this.”
For the Marians, June 3 marks the actual start of a great adventure into Asia and the Pacific Rim that’s been in the planning stages for more than a year. The Marians have a missionary presence in both Kazakhstan and Australia, but the Philippines marks a full-blown, multi-location missionary thrust that, if it goes according to plans, will serve as the base for an even more ambitious effort down the road in India and perhaps China.
In the Philippines, the Marians are focusing on two particular missions.
First, Marians will be assigned as chaplains and faculty of the Divine Mercy Center of Formation and Spirituality for Asia and Oceania currently under development on the Island of Guimaras, under the direction of Msgr. Josefino Ramirez, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Manila. Until the facilities are ready, the assigned Marians will be stationed in Manila, working under Msgr. Ramirez at the Shrine of The Divine Mercy, where Msgr. Ramirez is rector.
Second, the Marians will play a key role in the building and administration of the proposed interdiocesan Divine Mercy Shrine in El Salvador, Cagayan de Oro Province in Mindanao. There are charismatic and evangelistic prayer groups there now, along with a magnificent 50-foot statue of The Divine Mercy that is beginning to draw crowds who want to know what it is and why is it there. There is no time frame for the work, because, as Fr. Mariusz puts it, “We are on God’s schedule, and only He knows when and how it will unfold.”
One Day, on a Fateful Pentecost Sunday …
Putting himself in God’s hands comes naturally to Fr. Mariusz, who has the intensity of a chess grandmaster and the approachability of a favorite uncle. “I see God’s hands in this new direction for my life. I wouldn’t have sought this out for myself. I was serving [at the Marian mission] in England when Father General came to me on Pentecost Sunday and asked if I would be interested in this assignment. Then he did a wise thing. He said, ‘Don’t give me your answer right away. Think about it, pray about it, and then let me know.’ I did that, and discussed it with my spiritual director, trying to decide. After that process, I had no doubt that I should go.”
The challenges will be formidable. Although there is an avid devotion to Divine Mercy in the Philippines, the five men, all originally from Poland, will face challenges with the tropical climate, a foreign culture, a new language (English), and a diverse Southeast Asian nation consisting of 90 million people and 7,107 islands, with Manila as its capital city.
The island republic lies near Indonesia, Malaysia, Palau, and Taiwan, but it is the only Southeast Asian country to share no land borders with its neighbors.
Although Catholicism is the country’s predominant religion, pre-Hispanic indigenous religious practices still exist, as well as a growing Islamic presence. Challenges will abound.
Opportunity Disguised as Illness
The fourth priest who will be part of the mission is Fr. Klaudiusz. He is presently stationed in Washington, D.C., where he is studying English. In a word, he is ready. A boyish looking 37, Fr. Klaudiusz shared that he was in favor of the idea of becoming a missionary “from the very beginning,” when his superiors asked him about it. From his telling, you could see he practically jumped at the chance.
In a sense, Father Klaudiusz had a built-in time for discernment that came disguised as a serious illness. In Poland, he became severely ill with tuberculosis (incidentally, the disease St. Faustina had). He was in the hospital, pretty much bed bound, for three months. He had much time for prayer and meditation, time he otherwise would not have had. He is now fully recovered.
Asked how he will prepare for his new assignment, Fr. Klaudisz responds without hesitation: “I want to pray a lot!” The others laugh in that invisible language guys share who have close bonds and have shared innocent horseplay. More seriously, though, it is the laughter of courage, of strong men who recognize the task won’t be easy but who are determined to give their all for God and man. This is not a “laughing to keep from crying.” It is joviality that stems from the confidence and assurance that comes with investing in “Jesus, I trust in You.”
The Worst Curse, the Greatest Blessing
Father Walerian puts this mission in perspective when he notes the similarities between Poland and the Philippines, two countries that on the face of it would seem to have little in common. Both, he says, link East and West. Poland serves as that crossroads for Europe, and the Philippines similarly serving Asia. Both are also “very Catholic.” In addition, both countries have built their culture around family, relationships, and closeness.
“The message of Divine Mercy is important because the world is experiencing a difficult time today,” says Fr. Walerian. “It is like being lost. Family life is disintegrating. Young people often search aimlessly down the wrong avenues. There is so much despair and, everywhere, it seems, war, war, and more war. People need hope. Divine Mercy says to them, ‘I am with you. You are not alone.’ Through this message, people can experience reconciliation and forgiveness and begin to live better, more fulfilled lives. We are all happy to be the small instruments through which this can happen. The worst curse you can give someone in the Philippines is to say, ‘Be alone.'”
By implication, the greatest blessing one can give is to lay your life down for someone in love, care, concern, and compassion. That is what these men will share.
One June 3, the jetliner skies half a world away, carrying three Marians carrying God.