The World

Stefano Wyszyński and Mother Elizabeth Rose Czacka, the eyes of faith.

In Poland, summer is usually associated with sun and rain, sea and mountains, pilgrimages and trips abroad. But this summer of 2021, the history of Poland and its Church is associated with the beatification of the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński together with the blind nun Mother Elizabeth Rose Czacka, which will take place in Warsaw on September 12.

Ignacy Soler-September 11, 2021-Reading time: 8 minutes
Stefan Wyszynski

Photo: ©2021 Catholic News Service / U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Customs vary from country to country and place to place, but they always have something in common: they express the idiosyncrasy of the people who live there. In Poland summer is usually associated with sun and rain, sea and mountains, pilgrimages and trips abroad. But the summer of 2021, in the history of Poland and its Church is associated with the beatification of the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński together with the blind nun Mother Elizabeth Rose Czacka, which will take place in the new pantheon temple of Divine Providence in Warsaw on September 12. The purpose of these lines is to explain something of these two great figures and the reasons that led to their joint beatification.

Following one of the above-mentioned summer customs, the young priest Wyszyński went on a trip to Europe in early September 1929. It was not only a vacation, but also part of his theological studies on the social doctrine of the Church and its application in different European countries. He was in Austria, Italy, France, Belgium, Holland and Germany. His main idea was to collect material for the study of Catholic Action and the different European Christian initiatives in the social field, and to unite it with the idea of the lay apostolate that would serve as a basis for explaining Catholic Action, so promoted by Pope Pius XI.

In Rome

It was in Rome where Wyszyński stayed the longest. At the Institute of Social Sciences of the Pontifical University of St. Thomas, the Angelicum, he participated as a listener in the classes of Catholic social ethics. He himself recounts in his diary: "In Rome, at the Angelicum, in the classes of Father Gillet there were six colored Africans and the rest were like in the tower of Babel: English, French, Dutch and others. I counted forty people of thirty different nationalities. The Africans sat alone at the back of the classroom. All around them there were empty seats because no one wanted to sit next to them. So I decided to sit next to them. Then the others came up to me and said: "What are you doing, how come you are sitting with them? And I answered: well, because nobody wants to sit there. It's an invented reason - a Frenchman answered me. And I answered: go on, you go and sit with them. And indeed he did not go. Father Gillet spoke in a really wise way. Once in the corridors of the University I commented to him: Father, why don't you say something that moves the students in such a way that they want to sit with the Africans? Father Gillet who knew languages answers me in Polish: Polaki zawsze walczą za naszą wolność i waszą - Poles always fight for their freedom and ours. I left Rome for Paris and the Africans were still sitting alone...¨.

This episode in the life of the future Primate, Cardinal and Blessed gives an idea of his talent: he was a man determined for freedom, a freedom that has its foundation in the dignity of the human being according to Christian doctrine. He would later write: "At present two worlds, two orders, are fighting against each other: atheistic communism and Christianity. For the Church the struggle is neither new nor extraordinary, for she has never been afraid of confrontation and has never withdrawn from the combat. The Church carries within itself the tradition of the Gospel boat, capsized by tides, from which Christ continues to teach. The Church boat is accustomed to storms and setbacks, and is calm about the outcome of the new and international war of humanity. Why? Because the outcome depends on the foundation. Two great principles are confronted: hatred and love.

Blessed Mother Czacka

Of the life of Cardinal Wyszyński we have a certain knowledge. In this magazine I have published, if memory serves me correctly, two articles on the Primate of Poland explaining his figure and importance in the Polish history of the 20th century. Perhaps it would be good to briefly present the biographical profile of the new Blessed Mother Czacka, her charisma and what unites her with Wyszyński, since she is surely a figure almost totally unknown to the Spanish-speaking reader.

Rosa Maria Czacka was born in 1876 in Biała Cerkwa, in what is now Ukraine. She belonged to a noble, wealthy and intellectual Polish family. She herself was a countess. From childhood she received a deep Christian formation and careful instruction, she spoke five languages. The copy of the Imitation of Christ that she read in French in her childhood is preserved. At the age of seven her family moved to Warsaw where she actively participated in the life of the Warsaw high society at the end of the 19th century.

As a result of a fall from her horse and a congenital disease, she became totally blind at the age of twenty-two. And here is shown one of the main facets of her character and her holiness: fortitude and a determined spirit to get out of evil goods. She learned the Braille system and adopted it to the phonetics of the Polish language, continued her education and wanted to achieve maximum independence from the very beginning. At the same time he dedicated himself to helping other blind people so that they could be useful to society, as he later wrote: "From the intellectual point of view, the blind are not inferior to the sighted. Their intelligence and clarity of judgment, their capacity for abstraction and proper reasoning are not diminished by their blindness, they are on the same level as those who have the visual capacity¨. In his efforts to help the blind, he traveled to Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and Germany to study the new teaching methods used in those countries for the blind. He also obtained information from specialized magazines and books on this subject from England and the USA.

As a result of this work, in 1911 he founded the Society for the Care of the Blind. The fundamental criterion of the new society was realized in the maxim - The blind man, a useful man. Contrary to the usage of the beginning of the 20th century, that the blind person was incapable of working and of a life full of usefulness to society, Rosa Czacka wanted this association to promote the human dignity of the blind and help them to integrate into society. A few years later she discovered her vocation as a religious in the work she was doing. She became a Franciscan changing her name from Rosa Maria to Isabel Rosa and in 1918 she founded the Congregation of the Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross whose charism was related to that association but with a vision of the Christian faith as true light. She wrote in her statutes: "The main purpose of the congregation is to make reparation to our Lord Jesus Christ for the spiritual blindness of men. We observe the third rule of our father St. Francis, obtaining graces for our blind, we serve them to help them in their own and our support.

With the passage of time, Mother Isabel Rosa was directing her formation so that the blind would want, as she herself did, to accept the weight of the cross of blindness as an offering to God to make reparation for those who see but do not have faith, and in this way be apostles of the blind in the soul, making them see the values of the spirit. We want to realize the ideal of the blind person who totally assumes his blindness and carries it as a cross of which he is neither ashamed nor rebels, but accepts it as coming from the hands of God and in this way, by his good acceptance, becomes a source of grace and strength for himself and for others. We do not want to treat the affairs of the blind only in a supernatural way or as alms. Seeing things in a modern way we want to understand the psychology of the blind person to show him all the human possibilities he has, his place in society, his work and obligations. We also treat the problem of the blind person as a social problem. In 1922 he bought a large estate on the outskirts of Warsaw, near the Kampinoska woods in Laski. And to this day they have their main center of action there, to which they gave the name Triuno in honor and glory of the Triune God. In this center, since its beginnings, three groups of people are gathered and formed: blind people, sisters of the Congregation and lay people, among the latter, Mother Isabel Rosa dedicated special attention to the intellectuals. Its three goals are: education, apostolate and charity.

What unites Blessed Mother Czacka and Wyszyński.

What unites Mother Elizabeth Czacka with Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński? The war, and in particular the Warsaw Uprising. At the beginning of the world conflict, in September 1939, Mother Elizabeth suffered severe wounds as a result of Nazi bombing. She offered all her ailments so that the evil of war would cease and love would overcome hatred. She said to her spiritual daughters: "We must not allow the least bitterness or bad feelings against anyone, not even against our enemies whom we are obliged to love and pray for. Let us ask the Heart of Jesus to fill us with his grace, a grace so great that we can love everyone and especially our enemies. Her attitude of Christian love towards the invading army did not consist in a total resignation before the unjust occupation, Mother Elizabeth always defended the right to self-defense. She encouraged to pray and offer sacrifices so that the "animosity of the enemies" would change and when a necessary encounter arose, it would always be necessary to behave before them "with the dignity proper to a man who is virtuous, well educated and knows how to treat his neighbor".

These were not empty words. In fact a few wounded soldiers or lost parachutes of the German army were cared for in Triuno. In the archives of the Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross is a letter from a German officer thanking them for the help given to wounded German soldiers in September 1939. In the first months of the beginning of the war, this German officer approached Laski to thank her for the humane care the wounded had received. The Foundress, unaware of the reasons for his presence, did not want to receive him. She agreed to attend to him when she learned the reason for his visit. From then on the German officer always addressed her as 'sehr heilege Mutter' - very holy Mother.

With the Warsaw Uprising, in the forests of Kampinoska began the battle on the part of the National Army AK (Arma Krajowa). For the reader unfamiliar with the Second World War, I would like to remind that in Warsaw there were two uprisings against the Nazi occupation. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (19.IV-16.V 1943 - 7000 Jews killed and 40.000 deported to concentration camps - German casualties: certainly less than a hundred soldiers - ghetto in a 100% destroyed) and the Warsaw Uprising (1.VIII-2.X 1944 - 70.000 Polish soldiers killed, 200.000 Polish civilians killed, 550.000 civilians deported from Warsaw - 30.000 German soldiers killed - city in a 85% destroyed). The data give an idea of the drama experienced.

Isabel Czacka gave her full consent for her employees in Laski to collaborate with the AK guerrilla soldiers. Despite the risk she ran, she allowed weapons and supplies for the guerrillas to pass through her land. To the doubts of the AK commander, if they did not risk the lives of the nuns, the children and the blind of Laski, Mother Elizabeth replied: "The decision to fight was resolved in 1939: fight for freedom, and that decision obliges us today and now". However, as the person in charge of the entire compound, she did not allow any violent action against the enemy to take place within the vast grounds of Triuno. The complex was guarded and frequently searched by the Gestapo who were looking for AK soldiers. Even in the moments of greatest danger no AK soldiers who took refuge there were ever surrendered. Mother Elizabeth with her presence and dignity gave courage and security to all, and she also made sure that everyone would be confessed in case the worst happened.Mother's availability was also manifested when the German troops sent their division consisting of Ukrainians and Mongols through that area. Many young girls and women with children came to the Laski complex seeking protection and were always welcomed there. One of them recalls that "Mother Elizabeth had a strong faith that nothing bad would happen in her compound. And so it was: the madness of the soldiers did not reach us, there was like an invisible barrier protecting Laski.

This article will be continued with a second part.

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