By Br. Angelo Casimiro, MIC
Author’s Note: The following interview was conducted at Divine Mercy Hills in El Salvador City, Mindanao, in the Philippines on July 2. Two Marian priests from Poland, Fr. Walerian Pozniak, MIC, and Fr. Jan Migacz, MIC, have been serving there since June 2008. This summer, Br. James Cervantes, MIC, and I came to visit the Philippine mission as our ministry. The following is a reflection from Fr. Walerian on his first year serving as the rector at Divine Mercy Hills in the Philippines.
BR. ANGELO: Where are you assigned? What are your responsibilities?
FR. WALERIAN: I am assigned in El Salvador as the custodian of The Archdiocesan Shrine of The Divine Mercy in the Archdiocese of Cagayan de Oro on Mindanao Island in the Philippines. My responsibility is to administer the shrine, and I am responsible mostly for the spiritual side. There is also a vicar, Fr. Metz Barmores, a diocesan priest assigned by the Archbishop, who is responsible for the financial side of the shrine.
BR. ANGELO: Describe what a typical day is like for you.
FR. WALERIAN: Here the days are quite different from what it was like in the United States and in Poland because of the climate here. It means that the sun is setting very early and is also rising very early. So the pace of life is very different. My work starts usually at 2:30 p.m. where we have the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament. We pray the Rosary, pray the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy, celebrate Holy Mass, and then we have vespers (evening prayer). Before the Mass, I hear confessions. That is our work in the shrine right now. That is in the afternoon. In the morning, we pray, prepare our homilies, and study a little bit. We have time also to study the dialect. Evening comes very quickly at about 6 p.m. We have prayers, and then our evening meal. Then, I usually go to sleep early so I can get up early in the morning.
BR. ANGELO: What is it like ministering to and working with the Filipino people?
FR. WALERIAN: For me, this is a very great adventure. I believe it is a very great grace from God for me because working with the Filipino people opens up different dimensions of the human heart. I’m thinking mostly of the fact that Filipinos are people of the heart who are in direct relationship with God and with other people. So when I see them here, meet with them, hear their confessions, for me it is a very moving experience. It is a simple but very deep way to receive God’s grace. So I can learn also from them. I think one part of my heart is becoming more alive in meeting, working, and being with them. The Filipinos are also a very friendly and warm people whose hearts are open to something beyond this material world, to something supernatural.
BR. ANGELO: Since you arrived a year ago, have your responsibilities and views changed? Is the mission what you expected? If so, please explain.
FR. WALERIAN: Let me start with the last question. The mission is beyond my expectations. I expected to be introduced slowly, with someone who would teach me, show me, and introduce me to things, but I had to take the responsibility of being the custodian of the shrine from the beginning. So everything for me was entirely new — the responsibility of meeting with the people and the decisions that I had to make. So I would say that it was not according to my expectations. However, sometimes it was a little bit difficult, but I believe it was beyond my expectations. I believe God does not always give what we want but much more than what we would expect. However, sometimes it is not easy to receive God’s gifts. Since we came here, my responsibilities have not changed in general. I am responsible, as I said before, as a custodian for the spiritual side of the shrine and for some time during the year, I was also responsible for our first postulant in the Philippines. So I’ve had the same responsibilities for the past year here in the shrine.
BR. ANGELO: In a brief statement, what has been accomplished so far in the Philippines?
FR. WALERIAN: As I look back, I would say that we’ve accomplished a lot. It may be better to say that we’ve received a lot. The first thing is this shrine. We were sent here to this place which was prepared by the people working here. We, as Marians, are responsible right now for the shrine — for the liturgy, for the teaching, for the spreading of the message of The Divine Mercy, for formation, and for retreats. The second thing is that we have our first postulant, Bart Lapus, who will enter as a novice in Washington, D.C., in August. He is a Filipino native, and he finished his postulancy here in El Salvador. So we are very happy to have had a vocation come quickly from this country. We see this also as God’s grace. We have here at the shrine some property that was given to us, and we will soon build our first religious house, which we hope to be our formation house. In Manila, we will start to build a Center of Spirituality for Divine Mercy for Asia and Oceania. We will be responsible not only for constructing the building but giving the teaching and preparing the program. It is a wonderful gift also but a great challenge for us. Next year we will have three seminarians from the United States possibly coming to study here. We are also expecting next year about four more priests coming here from Poland and Brazil. I would say that there are very many things we’ve received and also many things that are a great challenge at the same time. We are very grateful to our Lord and for Father Founder (Blessed Stanislaus Papczynski) who was beatified recently. This mission is a sign of our gratitude for the grace of the beatification of Fr. Papzynski in starting our congregation in this part of the world. We hope in the future to be able to go to the different parts of Asia to spread the gospel of Divine Mercy.
BR. ANGELO: And what do you hope to accomplish while in the Philippines? What is the short-term vision and the long-term vision?
FR. WALERIAN: Our short-term vision is connected with the shrine. We will build a new church in the shrine here, behind the 50-foot high statue of The Divine Mercy. Next we will also build our house for the Marians who will come to the Philippines. We also have a desire to build here a retreat house for laypeople, for priests and for religious. Our short-term plans also concern organizing here programs of teaching, formation, and liturgical programs that will answer the needs of the people living here. We also need to be aware that the culture and the religiosity of the people here is different from the U.S. or Europe. To learn how to share and how to teach the message of Divine Mercy in a way that will really touch their hearts, their minds, and their lives. The long-term vision is, of course, to make this place, this shrine, a place in which people can be taught and formed well in the message of Divine Mercy. To make this a place where the celebrations can be meaningful (the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the Anointing of the Sick) and also where people can be able to see mercy incarnated by the different initiatives that may be inspired by different people. So we would like this shrine to be the place where mercy is received and where mercy is also shared with others.
BR. ANGELO: What can people do to support you and the Marian mission in the Philippines?
FR. WALERIAN: I would like for people to share this adventure with us of spreading the Divine Mercy message in the Philippines and in Asia. As you can see, this place is not only for the Philippines but all of Asia, and so we need spiritual support and also material support. It is because we cannot do this alone. So if the hearts of people are moved by the merciful Jesus, I ask them to join us in this work so that the message of Divine Mercy and the mercy that Jesus wants to give to the people in Asia may be spread more effectively, more deeply and more widely. May God bless all of you from the Divine Mercy Shrine here in El Salvador in your lives, that He may give you the graces that you need and also that you may also share this mercy with others. May Almighty God bless you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Be at peace and go in peace. Thank you very much.