A recent posting told of a Polish priest that lives at the residence where Cardinal Bergoglio had been staying in Rome before the Conclave began. The priest was quoted in a Fox News Report in which he said that Pope Francis returned to the residence to thank the staff individually who worked there. This Polish priest's name is Father Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, and about four years ago he visited our parish church in Wiggins, CO, and gave the sermon. I had posted the story that his sermon contained shortly after I had heard it, and said that I would try to re-post it if I could find it. Well, I found it. But something has happened in the meantime that I want to tell you before you can read/re-read the story. Through Christmas of 2012, Father and I had occasionally e-mailed each other. Usually I was asking for prayers for Mom and he would respond. We exchanged Christmas cards that year, and then Father sent me a Linkedin e-mail, and I have never done the social networking thing, so I didn't respond and our exchanges ended. But after I saw that Father had been quoted in the news report, I e-mailed him to tell him that I thought that his quotes were very good and that it was great that he knew the Holy Father. I didn't hear back from him. That was, until yesterday when a letter from Rome arrived. It was from Father Pawel and inside was an Easter letter-card. He wrote a short message, most of which I can read — Father's handwriting is doctorish. He wished Mom and me Easter blessings from the Risen Lord, and ended with "Keep in touch." What a kind priest to take the time to send an actual letter, So here is the reprint of the remarkable story that Father told in his sermon.
A TRUE FATHER
On Trinity Sunday our parish was visted by a priest from Poland. A story from his homily is retold here as we approach the day when we honor our fathers.
The priest in a small town in Poland was informed that the Nazis had come to the municipality and taken his personal file. He was urged to flee, since this action by the Nazis signaled that he would soon be taken away and killed. The priest responded to the idea of fleeing by saying that he was the father of the parish; his parishoners were his family. Then he asked, "What kind of a father would flee from his family when danger was near?" He pointed out that if he left someone else would be taken in his place. His place was with his family. "How can I leave my people without the sacraments, without the Eucharist, without Confession, without Baptism and Marriage celebrations? If I ran away from my parish I would betray God's will."
A few days later, the Nazis did come for the priest. He was put in a car and as he drove away he passed by the members of his newphew's family who were standing outside their home. The last act of the priest before the car drove into the forest was a blessing for the family. Once in the forest, the priest was handed a shovel with which he began to dig his grave. Two other priests had also been brought to the forest along with several laymen. The priests heard the laymen's confessions and then each other's confession. When the mass grave was sufficiently dug, they were shot and buried.
Back in the town, a young grandnephew of the family that had been blessed by the priest as his was being driven to his martyrdom saw that the Nazis were going into the rectory. Curious, he went to the fence that surrounded the rectory and looked through a hole to watch. A Nazi officer noticed him, came over to the fence and said, "I am going to teach you a lesson." He went into the rectory and came out with the stole of the priest. He cut the stole into pieces, threw them on the ground and began to stomp on them. Then he screamed, "There will never be another priest in this town."
Twenty years later, the first Mass of a young priest was celebrated in that town. The priest was the same little boy who had looked through the hole in the rectory fence. At the end of the Mass, a woman from the back of the church began walking toward the altar. She was carrying a package. She walked up to the priest and handed it to him. He opened it up and took out a long piece of cloth. The woman gift-giver had also seen what the Nazi officer had done the day of the priest's martyrdom. Bravely, she later retrieved the pieces of the stole. The pieces were carefully washed and given to the nuns of a monastery who stitched the pieces back together. She had just presented the stole, the symbol of a priest's sacramental power, to the newly ordained who would proudly wear the relic of the town's martyred priest.
These events took place in the 1943. Less than 70 years later, there have been 50 young men and women from that little Polish village who have become priests or nuns. The priest who told this story, Father Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, is a priest from the same diocese as this little town.
[The town is Bielsk Podlaski. The martyred priest is Father Antoni Beszta-Borowski. He was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1999.]
Jezu, ufam Tobie.