A PRIEST WITHOUT HOME
He spent 13 years, 5 months and 10 days in Soviet camps and prisons. He spoke about God and did good. He lived very humbly, and did not have his own home. It was Fr. Władysław Bukowiński who will be beatified on 11 September in Karaganda in Kazakhstan. Below we publish an interview with Anna Krantowska, a witness of the newly blessed.
– In 1995 you arrived in Poland from Kazakhstan forever. The first years of your stay were very difficult for you.
– There were a lot of problems, including the ones connected with health. I got sepsis illness and I was lying in hospital in Białystok. My health state was very serious. I lost weight be even 19 kilos. I was praying for health through the intercession of Fr. Władysław Bukowiński. I met this saint priest in Kraganda during the times of the Soviet Union. After 5 weeks I got recovered and I lead a normal life.
– We can call Fr. Bukowiński a patron of people who experience suffering; those who are in very difficult situations in their lives. He worked at the times when in the Soviet Union it was impossible to express one’s faith freely.
– It was forbidden to speak about God, and even think about Him! My brother experienced it. When he was 12, a teacher in class asked whether anybody believed in God. It was only him who raised his hand. The teacher called his mum and said that she would have her children taken away. Mum was crying and begging the teacher not to report on it to the headteacher. She promised to talk to her son. Finally, the teacher said that she forgave it that time but when my brother said it to somebody that he believed, he and I would be taken away from our mum to an orphanage.
– Your family had earlier experienced how expressing one’s faith in USSR was punished.
– Many years before, in 1936, my grandparents and my mum were taken onto the area of today’s Kazakhstan. My granddad, who was 40 at that time, managed to hide a prayer book. Obviously, taking this small prayer book with the most important prayers with him was severely punished. And here – as it is said- ‘on the inhuman land’ my grandparents used the prayer book. But also other Poles used to come to my grandparent’s room for prayers. After some time, somebody reported on it. Next day the authorities arrived and at once found and grabbed the hidden prayer book. They said that it proved prayers taking place there. Three days later my granddad was shot dead.
– In the following years your mum risked her life by helping Fr. Władysław Bukowiński, the legendary priest who secretly celebrated Holy Masses.
– He did it secretly at night. Fr. Bukowiński went from house to house. He used to come for 2 – 3 days. In the beginning he rested for a while, then he gave confessions, preached, and at night, when windows were closed and tightly covered, he celebrated the Holy Mass. He did the same thing next day. Then he used to leave quickly not to be arrested. People used to come separately, so that nobody would find out about it. At different time. And they also used to leave home where Fr. Bukowiński was.
My mum, Maria Rudnicka, helped Fr. Władysław. When he was going somewhere, she was transporting liturgical things there earlier. The idea was that Fr. Bukowiński could not have anything with him. He was being observed and watched. For example, if he had been stopped on his way when transporting a chalice, he would have been taken to prison or a camp.
– What punishment was your mum threatened with?
– She might have been arrested for a week or a month. She might have been punished with a fine. She might have also had her children taken away - which was the worst.
– How do you remember Fr. Bukowiński?
– He had an optimistic attitude to life. He was always smiling and joyful. When I participated in Holy Masses with other children, I saw that everybody was happy. He made you forget about your problems. Such people are remembered forever.
– What else distinguished him?
– Modesty and humility. He did not have his own Home. He lived where he celebrated Holy Masses. He visited people, going to them with two suitcases. In one of them there were robes for the Holy Mass, and in another one there were shirts, trousers, underwear. He had nothing more. I remember when after the Holy Mass he was putting money all over the table, in order to put it into envelopes next. He put bigger amounts of money to some envelopes. This money was for the poorest families. Beside that he knew his faithful and their problems very well. When somebody new was coming, he was talking with him for a long time. When a family was arriving for the first time, we knew that he would devote at least one hour to them and then he will start giving confessions.
He was a priest by vocation. We used to say that he was a man from God. When he was really ill, he did not show it but continued on meeting people. And when he was seriously ill and suffering from kidneys, he was also suffering from diabetics. He could hardly walk and breathe and despite that, he was leading people to God till the end of his life.
– Fr. Bukowiński was preparing you for the Confirmation. Was he demanding?
– He never shouted, but – I must say – he was demanding. When he arrived at our house before the Confirmation, nine children welcomed him. And every Day, for 7 days, he was preparing us for the Confirmation. He told us about the Bible, explained the faith truths. It was like at school. A lesson for an hour, then a little break and again a lesson. The whole week! Certainly those were the times when we did not have the Holy Scripture, or Polish books. Fr. Bukowiński explained us everything patiently and then we took an exam. We could not hope for a lenient treating.
– Were Polish children treated differently, for example, at school?
– Not only children. The whole familie were treated differently. Even those which were in a very difficult situation. When my dad died and then my grandma, my mum was in a dramatic situation. She had us, two little children. She could not find a place in a nursery, as everyone knew we were a Polish family; the former exiles. Therefore my mum used to take me and my brother and go to people for whom she cooked, ironed and cleaned. It was so for nearly two years until my brother started his school.
– Fr. Władysław Bukowiński died in 1974. Do you remember the funeral of Fr. Bukowiński?
– I remember the feeling of enormous emptiness when he died. People were crying. They had a feeling that they had lost a saint man. Many of them were saying that he had died too early; that he might have still been with us.
Everyone felt how important person he was for Poles. We needed prayer, faith and a priest. Certainly, people believed in God and prayed even if there was not a priest. However, Fr. Bukowiński made Poles feel not lonely or hurt. Many of them found God. He led people onto the road on which they got wings. People with their optimistic attitudes were going on further throughout their lives, maintaining their faith.
– Thank you for the interview.
The interview was conducted by Krzysztof Tadej, a journalist of TVP. The author of a documentary entitled ‘A man of God’ about life and work of Fr. Władysław Bukowiński. The film will be broadcast in Programme 1 of TVP in September 2016.