Servants of God Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and Mother Elisabeth Czacka
Photo - Polish Bishops' Conference
May the servants of God Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and Mother Elisabeth Czacka help us to read their prophetic intuitions when addressing the current pastoral challenges of Christ’s Church in Poland – wrote the Polish Bishops in a Letter on the occasion of the beatification of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski and Mother Elisabeth Rosa Czacka, which will be read in the churches on Sunday, September 5th.
The Bishops wrote in the Letter that both Cardinal Wyszyński and Mother Czacka entrusted their way to holiness to the Blessed Mother and wanted to serve God and man as Mary did. They emphasized that God united these two people, who were so different, and through them, He did great things. “The words of the Primate: Soli Deo – To God Himself and those of Mother Elżbieta: Through the Cross to Heaven, which they left us, are still very relevant today. They showed us the way. There is no other way to look for,” emphasized the Bishops.
Press Office of the Polish Bishops’ Conference
Translation: P. Nau / Office for Foreign Communication of the Polish Bishops’ Conference.
We are publishing the full text of the Letter:
THEY WERE UNITED BY HOLINESS
Letter of the Polish Bishops on the occasion of the Beatification of
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and Mother Elżbieta Róża Czacka
Effatha – Open Yourself
We have just heard important words: Effatha – open yourself and: Courage! Do not be afraid, It’s me. To witness to God and to help others, we need to be open to God’s grace, which, regardless of our physical condition, life’s adversities, suffering, and unpleasant experiences, can bear abundant fruit in and through us. We also need courage to overcome our weaknesses and fears in everyday life.
In one week, we will live the joyful celebration of the Beatification of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, Primate of the Millennium, and of Mother Elizabeth Czacka, the blind foundress of the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross and of the Society for Care of the Blind in Laski. God was able to do great things through them because they opened themselves to His grace and courageously undertook their vocation to serve others.
God Leads By Different Paths
Róża Czacka, later Mother Elżbieta, was born in Biała Cerkiew – today in Ukraine – on 22 October 1876, into a well-known aristocratic family. Her uncle, Vladimir, was a Cardinal and a close associate of the Popes. Róża was carefully raised and educated. At the age of 22, she lost her sight. Her blindness became a great trauma for her family; they could not accept her disability. How could she herself accept what even those closest to her could not? After three days of prayer and pondering, Róża understood that she could only count on God, whom she trusted, and on herself. Fortunately, she listened to the advice of Dr. Gepner, who told her the truth: Your sight is lost forever; but at the same time, he showed her the way, saying that so far nobody in Poland had cared for the blind. She understood that she had received an indication for the future. She decided to create an institution where the blind would be educated and prepared for an independent life. Years later she wrote: Just as Dr. Gepner was my great benefactor, my greatest happiness is that I became blind. What would I have been without this disability? What would my life have been without it? Her blindness became the rock on which God could build a beautiful house. The name given to it was the Work of Laski, or Triuno, in honor of the Holy Trinity. Now, the motto of this Work was: a blind person is a useful person. For the first time in Poland work with the blind was undertaken, and not only for the blind. Mother Czacka wanted the blind preparing themselves for an independent life to understand that they could be happy despite their blindness.
This new and revolutionary discovery, which Mother Elizabeth owed to her own disability, was basically simple because it referred to the teaching of the Cross. Struggling with her disability and asking how to transform her own poverty into a source of help for others living in a more difficult situation, she understood that suffering can become a privileged place to meet God and to reach the truth which is difficult to see for people who are physically fit and preoccupied with the problems of everyday life. She saw with full clarity that we come closest to God when we are close to a person who is suffering and in need. The basic task is to listen to the voice of people who are drowned out by suffering and the hustle and bustle of the world, and to create a space where people can find peace and a place for reflection, and with time, also a path that leads to God. Now, Laski became such a place, where in addition to preparing children and young people for independence, they found a place for those seeking God and the meaning of life. These were people from different social and political backgrounds. Thanks to Mother Elżbieta and Father Korniłowicz, the spiritual father of the Work, they could feel at home in Laski. There, they could see how the Gospel incarnated in life bears fruit and how blind people, sisters, laity, and priests cooperate. The incarnated Gospel prepares a place where it is possible to undertake common tasks, to overcome unhealthy ambitions and misunderstandings.
At Laski, Stefan Wyszyński found this gospel-inspired Church, and he wrote about it to Mother Czacka with great emotion: It struck me that your people have a special gaze. They look with cheerful heroism. Father Wyszynski inscribed his priesthood in such Christianity.
The future Primate was born on 3 August 1901 in Zuzela on the Bug, at the border of Podlasie and Mazovia. In a country that was enslaved and persecuted, because Poland was still under the partitions, little Stefan – just like young Rose – was taught by his family to love God, the Church, the homeland, and the Holy Mother. After entering the seminary in Wloclawek, he became ill with severe pneumonia. The disease progressed so rapidly that both he and his superiors feared that he would not live to be ordained to the priesthood. Stefan prayed to the Blessed Virgin Mary that she would obtain him the grace of the holy orders and that he would be able to say at least a few Masses. The suffering he experienced during his seminary years taught him, as he later said, to look at others with humility.
During his seminary studies, he met Father Wladyslaw Kornilowicz, who—as he himself said—had a deep influence on his entire spiritual and priestly life. This acquaintance, which turned into a profound friendship during his studies at the Catholic University of Lublin, lasted until Father Kornilowicz’s death. Wyszynski’s personality and social formation were also greatly influenced by outstanding social priests: Father Antoni Szymanski – the rector of the Catholic University of Lublin; Father Jacek Woroniecki – an outstanding Thomist and educator; and Father Antoni Bogdanski – the chief chaplain of the scouting movement. Therefore, he treated the Church’s social doctrine as an important part of the evangelizing mission.
Wyszyński was ordained a priest on 3 August 1924, in the cathedral of Wloclawek. During his studies in Lublin, he was active in the Catholic Academic Youth Association “Revival.” In March 1946, Pope Pius XII appointed Father Wyszyński Bishop of Lublin, and on 12 November 1948, Archbishop of Gniezno and Warsaw, Primate of Poland. On 27 November 1952, he was created Cardinal. Unfortunately, the communist authorities of that time did not allow him to go to Rome for the consistory where he was to receive the cardinal’s hat. He was able to do so only on 6 May 1957.
The first meeting between Father Wyszyński and Mother Czacka took place in July 1926 in Laski, where he came at the invitation of Father Kornilowicz. The friendship with the Society of the Blind and its founders, which started then, lasted until the final days of the great Primate. His relationship with Mother Czacka became particularly close during the occupation. After the outbreak of the war, Father Wyszynski had to leave Wloclawek because the Gestapo wanted to arrest him. First, he hid with his family in Wrociszewo, then in Zullowo and Kozlowo in the region of Lublin. In June 1942, he came to Laski to replace Father Jan Zieja as the Sisters’ chaplain, guardian of the blind, and also as chaplain to the Home Army and to the local people.
The great influence that Mother Czacka had on his life is best shown by the sermon he preached at her funeral on 19 May 1961 in Laski: At this moment it is my duty to stand by this abundant spring of living water and, with the help of inadequate words, to grasp at least a little of the invigorating memories of the rich life of our Mother, the Mother of our hearts (…) we have drawn from the rich spirit of our Mother and the spirituality of this place blessed by God.
After Mother Czacka’s death, the Primate often returned to the graves of the founders of the Work. Before his departure for Rome for the sessions of the Council, before the difficult talks with the communist authorities of those days, he would come to Laski without giving notice or announcing himself, to pray there for at least a while. Every year, with the exception of the period of his imprisonment or illness, after the Holy Thursday Mandate in the Archcathedral, he would go to Laski for adoration with the blind, the sisters, and the lay employees of the Center, and to be filled with the power that flows from the light of the Paschal Cross and the victory of Christ’s love, so that he could then have it for everyone.
We know that much has been written recently about the Primate. His speeches and sermons have been published, new films and books have been produced. Most often these texts speak about him as a pastor, a great statesman, a patriot, a social activist, and even a politician. Often the Primate is shown as a man who fought against communism. However, his priority, just like that of Mother Czacka, was to care for man and to fight for him and his freedom, so that man, created in God’s image and likeness, could shine with the full light of freedom, truth, love, and forgiveness. That is why he was so concerned both about the freedom and the sanctity of the Church as well as about the common good of the Homeland, understood as respecting the rights of every Pole and making it easier for them to perform their duties.
A particularly important stage in his life’s mission began with his appointment as Metropolitan Archbishop of Gniezno and Warsaw and Primate of Poland when he took on the responsibility for two archdioceses and the whole Church in Poland. When confronted with the totalitarian communist system, he called on the one hand, the Poles to get involved in rebuilding the country ruined by the war and, on the other, warned those in power to respect human rights. He was distinguished by the virtue of bravery, which was particularly evident when, in the face of increasing persecution of the Church, he declared to the communist authorities: “Non possumus.” On 25 September 1953, after preaching at St. Anne’s Church, he was arrested. He did not break. Two of his greatest works were created in prison: The Jasna Góra Vows of the Nation and the Great Novena before the Millennium of the Baptism of Poland.
As we prepare for this beatification, we should ask ourselves a question: “Where did he get his strength?” The answer is given most fully in his prison notes. Totally united with God, he constantly drew from Him to give to others. This ordinary man, open to the needs of others, was extraordinary in his faith, his trust in God, and the Blessed Mother. He was extraordinary in his love that forgave everyone, even those who imprisoned him. Despite the wrongs he suffered – as he himself said – he had no enemies. On the one hand, the Primate was pained that he could not fulfill his episcopal ministry nor take an active part in the life of the Church, and he demanded his rights, while, on the other hand, experiencing—as he said—those three years as a special gift from God, which prepared him for his later difficult service to the Church and Poland. This deep faith in Providence was the source of his trust in man. He was aware of God’s power within himself. He said: You give it continually when we walk with the cross, though at times we feel so alone. But when I close my eyes, when I listen to the stirrings of my soul, I feel You (…). It is enough to turn towards You even for a moment to find You in oneself.
Holiness Is Not a Luxury
When we look through the catalog of saints of the Catholic Church, we notice that there are people of different states, vocations, and professions: laypeople, consecrated persons, and priests. If we were to look for a common denominator, we could say that they were able to recognize God’s will and fulfill it in the situations and times in which they lived. This was also the case in the life of Mother Elżbieta Czacka and Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński. They both knew well that God close in a suffering man and the sacraments of the Church are two pillars of faith, which helps to recognize the challenges of a vocation in concrete times and events. A blind young girl and a young, sick seminarian. On top of that, the difficult times in which they had to live—the reconstruction of their independent homeland, then the years of occupation, and increasingly aggressive communism. This could lead to depression and doubts, but thanks to the fact that they could trust the Gospel, each of them was able to undertake their tasks, pave new roads, and open new perspectives for the activity of the Church in Poland. They did so much good because they gave their whole lives to God and took seriously the words of St. Paul: I can do everything in Him who strengthens me (Phil 4:13).
Each of them entrusted their way to holiness to the Blessed Mother and wanted to serve God and man as Mary did. Mother Elżbieta made her act of consecration to the Mother of God on 8 December 1921, saying: I choose you today as my Mother, Protector… And the Primate, imprisoned in Stoczek Warmiński, on 8 December 1953, said: I consecrate my body and my soul to you (…) everything that I am and everything that I possess.
God united these two people, so different after all, and through them, He did great things. The words of the Primate: Soli Deo – To God Himself and those of Mother Elżbieta: Through the Cross to Heaven, which they left us, are still very relevant today. They showed us the way. There is no other way to look for.
Through the elevation of these two Servants of God to the glory of the altars, we get to know them anew in the mystery of the communion of the Saints. May they help us to read their prophetic intuitions when addressing the current pastoral challenges of Christ’s Church in Poland.
Follow the signatures of the Cardinals, Archbishops, and Bishops
present at the Session of the Diocesan Bishops’ Council,
Jasna Góra-Częstochowa, 25 August 2021.