In southern Poland, as World War II was beginning in early September 1939, a man named Franciszek brought his wife and two little daughters to the town of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska near Krakow where the Franciscans ran a Marian shrine. While there, he disappeared briefly behind the shrine walls. Only after the war in 1945 did he reveal what he did at the shrine: he had begged the Blessed Virgin Mary for protection during the war, promising in return to bring a group of parishioners there for the Solemnity of the Assumption each year. He kept this promise, and even after Franciszek’s death in 1992 his family and co-parishioners maintain that pledge every August.
His oldest daughter, Weronika, learned from her father’s example. When the youngest of her three children was almost 12, Weronika, then nearly 39, learned she was pregnant again. Her “best” friends urged her to abort, which she thought about – “You don’t need another problem,” they said – but she wanted the baby. She went to her parish priest for counsel, and decided to keep the child. After nine months, on May 28, 1975, Weronika delivered a beautiful boy named Rafal. Weronika and her husband, Edward, would later have a fifth child, a daughter named Monica.
During the pregnancy with Rafal, Weronika did like her father Franciszek: she asked Our Lady for help and protection. In return, she offered the child to the service of the Blessed Virgin Mary and her son Jesus. Rafal, the same Father Rafal who writes these words, is now 45.
To not have been aborted is a wonderful gift from my mom in cooperation with God. Every gift is a sign of love and proof that someone thinks about us. It is the same in my life.
I have lived my life in a close relationship with God and His mother Mary. Growing up, the parish church was my second home. In Poland, August, like May, is dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. During that month you see many groups of people walking to the Shrine of Black Madonna in Czestochowa, the fourth-largest Marian shrine in the world. It is a “Walking Pilgrimage,” and it takes some people 21 days. It is a very old way of penance and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pilgrims carry on their shoulders not only backpacks with food and water, but also many prayer intentions.
Walking Pilgrimage was part of my annual summer vacation. In 1996, after reaching the shrine, my group of 5,000 pilgrims from the Diocese of Bielsko-Zywiec celebrated the Eucharist. We then watched as pilgrims from Krakow arrived. A thought came to my mind, like an offer to God and to Mary: “It would be so nice to serve all those pilgrims here at the shrine.” Two years later, I entered religious life in the Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit.
Back to the gifts. The second most precious and important gift I have ever received was the one I received on May 28, 2005, my 30th birthday, from God Himself. At the Shrine of the Black Madonna, the same place I had offered myself to God to serve the pilgrims, I and eight other young men gathered around the altar of Our Lady and were ordained to the priesthood.
This reflection is not about gifts we receive from people, but about God, who is faithful. Saint Paul says, “But the Lord is faithful; he will strengthen you and guard you from the evil one” (2 Thess. 3:3). This is exactly what happens to my family: God guards us “from the evil one.” Therefore, I want to sing with Mary, “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord; my spirit rejoices in God my savior” (Luke 1:46-47).
FATHER RAFAL WALCZYK, O.S.P.P.E. was ordained a priest in 2005 and is a member of the Order of Saint Paul the First Hermit. A native of Poland, he currently serves at The National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, PA.