Madonna statue cried tears in Nizankowice
We are travelling through the Ukrainian green fields, which are thick and blooming in June. We are passing dozens of identical forest turnings, wide silky areas, mild hills and poor villages perched on the edges of our road. We have got lost after crossing the Polish border. Now we can see fewer and fewer asphalt roads, the villages are poorer and poorer, the forests are thicker, the bird cherry branches are crawling into our wheels and hitting the roof. And we are hurrying up to Nizankowice – a tiny place, with bungalows, a sleepy and borderline town – one could say nobody’s…
The news about Nizankowice spread some two and a half years ago. On a January morning in 2005, Wlodzimierz, 19, a carpenter and at the same time a sexton, saw that the small clay figurine, a very ordinary one, which stood on the side altar in the poor church, had her cheek full of tears. Newspapers blew up the case in half Ukraine and Poland. Pilgrims began coming to the little town being drawn by the miracle of tears on the Madonna statue. They were hungry for metaphysics and …left being partly transformed. The Madonna statue cried tears every 13th day of the month; when John Paul II was dying, tears were seen for two days. Soon the fragrance of roses was smelt. Dozens of people smelt this fragrance. The number of pilgrims increased. From Ukraine, Poland, Sweden, Germany, and even from America. They asked, ‘Where did you get this figurine from?’ The parish priest in Nizankowice Fr Jacek Waligora spread his arms helplessly. Some 15 years ago a group from Poland brought it here. He did not remember which group it was. They brought a statue because there were no holy statues in the humble borderline church, which was then being dug out of manure and litter. Of course, there were no holy pictures, either. The communists liked to change churches into stables, pigsties, rubbish tips and other humiliating places. They did so in Nizankowice. After the war almost all Poles were thrown from this place. Almost all. Since when Ukraine regained independence some Polish women approached the new authorities and demanded to give them the keys to the church. Their request was fulfilled and it was the beginning of the extraordinary story of the little place called Nizankowice. Who could have supposed that…?
– Cardinal Jaworski of Lviv did not issue his decree because of the tears but because of the pilgrims who find comfort and peace here; the decree changed Nizankowice into a Marian shrine, Fr Waligora explains the intention of the cardinal to us on a June Saturday morning. This is a special distinction for a small parish community of about 40 people. Furthermore, Cardinal Jaworski asked the editor-in-chief of ‘Niedziela’ Rev. Msgr Ireneusz Skubis to read the decree. Since our weekly was one of the first communications in Poland that described the event in Nizankowice and it even organised a pilgrimage to this borderline place.
On a solemn day coaches from Przemysl, Hermanowice and as many as three coaches from Przeworsk, which is 200 km away, arrived in Nizankowice. There was also a bus with the people who were born here but who had been expelled by the communist regime. Zofia was then 9 years old. Now she is not going to find her family house in Nizankowice, she can find only crosses in the cemetery and the church, which she remembers from her First Communion.
– We can see Poland through the barbed wires, the local people say. – Can you believe it that the distance to Przemysl is only 12 km? But there is a different world there, where you come from’, they say with longing.
From our Polish perspective Nizankowice is a curious place. 2,000 inhabitants and 3 large churches. About 40 Roman Catholics regained their church; there is also a Russian Orthodox church with domes and the Greek Catholics are building another church. And one should count those who go to one or the other church as they wish. For example, crowds of Greek Catholics participate in the Fatima processions. The local people say that God is one and they do not care which place they come to praise him.
Priests from Kalwaria Paclawska and Lviv, including seven newly ordained ones, truly handsome men, are celebrating solemn Mass.
Rev. Ireneusz Skubis awards Fr Jacek Waligora with the medal ‘Mater Verbi’, special distinction of the Editor-in-Chief of ‘Niedziela’ and gives him a Sunday stole. He reminds the gathered people of Mary who sought ways to communicate with people in the 20th century. From Fatima to Nizankowice. ‘When someone cries we ask why? We must ask this question here, ‘Mary, why are you crying? What do you want to tell us?’, says Fr Skubis.
The gathering at the churchyard draws the attention of the local people. A brass band is playing with great panache. Young people are singing loudly. These things make ‘good people’ at the wattled fence stand clutching their sides, looking curiously like children. And when the parish priest from Dobromil is preaching passionately they are listening as if more attentively.
After the Mass a solemn procession begins, in a Polish style, elegantly and majestically. And we can see some ecumenical element. And perhaps the first local miracle? A Greek Catholic priest asked the Catholic parish priest to lead the procession with Jesus Christ in a monstrance and the Madonna statue that cries tears to the Greek Orthodox church. And having heard that the Orthodox clergyman made a similar request so that he did not appear to be worse than the other priest. And so we are marching proudly along the streets in the fields of Nizankowice, between wooden cottages, small, coloured ones, passing thirty-year-old dirty cars, but how beautifully are we singing! How are we praying! In the crowd there are extraordinary pilgrims, those we were granted the grace of seeing a miracle. The daughter of Mieczyslaw and Helena Zuk from Przeworsk was dying. She was in the state of clinical death without any chances to recover. The parents were in despair and phoned the priests they knew, including the priest in Nizankowice, asking them to pray for their daughter. And the believers in Nizankowice kept praying until the girl regained consciousness and was able to leave her bed. The doctors cannot explain her recovery. They are going to write a doctoral dissertation on her case. And the proper term would be ‘a miracle’.
‘You must have much understanding for the local people. Separated from the Church they must be led to it again. This place will help them find God’, says Fr Jacek Waligora. ‘They often ask me about the effectiveness of prayers that are offered here… and I tell them they must always accept God’s will whatever it may be. They send SMSes with prayer requests…
The personality of Fr Waligora is a material for another article. This young, energetic and very kind priest performed important functions in the diocese of Lviv, including being the prefect of the major seminary. The pilgrims from Przeworsk, who this time brought a window, door and bed to Nizankowice, ask me to look at the place the parish priest lives. He smiles and warns me, ‘But you cannot stand there…’ The cubbyhole, where you need a ladder to climb, is not even 170 cm high, some 2 x 2 m. A mattress on the floor, a little table full of papers, a misshapen little armchair – these is all furniture. The cubbyhole is a part of the church; one can feel terrible cold from the old walls. One cannot survive winter here but the priest will have to do that. Renting a flat in the town is too expensive and one must paint the fence, renovate the altar… and these are the priorities for the parish administrator in Nizankowice, the custodian of the Mother of the Divine Providence shrine, which has just been created.
Before leaving we need to have a look at the classical structure of the shrine and at the squat cottages and deep green that makes our eyes feast on, and off we go to the muddy road. There is something about this land, these people, the air, which smells so much at this time of the year, that makes you long after departure, something that makes you think of returning here soon.