There are no coincidences in life; there are signs
Traditionally, at the beginning of Lent, just after Ash Wednesday, the members of the Polish Lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem had their retreats at Jasna Gora.
The members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem try to be faithful witnesses of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection in our times and they undergo spiritual renewal so that their testimonies are more visible. On 11-13 March 2011, in the John Paul II Pilgrims’ House Rev. Prof. Dr. Waldemar Chrostowski from the Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw delivered Lenten teachings for this community that has been connected with the Holy Land in a special way. The retreat participants prayed the breviary. Wearing their solemn robes they participated in Masses presided over by the priests-members of the Order: Msgr. Ireneusz Skubis, editor-in-chief of ‘Niedziela,’ Msgr. Jozef Wojcik from Suchedniow and Bishop Kazimierz Ryczan of Kielce. The participants came for the Jasna Gora Appeal in the Chapel of Our Lady and listening to the teachings of the preacher, the outstanding biblical scholar Fr Chrostowski, they reflected on the Stations of the Way of the Cross, following Christ’s cross along the streets of old Jerusalem.
On the ways of the Primate of the Millennium
The theme of the teachings was the life of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, his activities and great achievements, which was connected with the important jubilees falling this year: the 110th anniversary of his birth and the 30th anniversary of his death. Another thing was the fact of the approaching beatification of John Paul II. Looking at the achievements of the Primate of the Millennium Rev. Prof. Chrostowski asked why the Polish pontificate was made possible. He reminded the participants of the words of John Paul II uttered on 23 October 1978 to the Polish pilgrims gathered in Rome the next day after the inauguration of his pontificate. Then we heard that there would not have been the Polish Pope as Peter’s Successor if we did not have the faith of the great Primate of the Millennium who did not hesitate to accept imprisonment and suffering and had heroic hope and full dedication to the Mother of the Church, if there were not Jasna Gora and that period of the Church’s history that was connected with his service as bishop and the Primate. During the Lenten retreats these three realities came together: Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, Pope John Paul II and Jasna Gora. The preacher gave many unknown facts related to Cardinal Wyszynski, facts that he witnessed himself. Who knows that it was Cardinal Wyszynski that suggested a name for the Polish Pope? And the fact took place in the Polish Pontifical Institute in Rome where the two great Polish cardinals stayed in October 1978 for the conclave summoned after the death of John Paul I. The day before the conclave Cardinal Wyszynski said during lunch that the Church was experiencing a shock after the death of Pope John XXIII who was succeeded by great Pope Paul VI and after his death by John Paul I in whose name the two great predecessors met. Then he said, ‘The new Pope should be John Paul II because what was begun should be continued. And the future Pope, sitting next to him, as if shrank, put his legs deeper under the table and remained silent. Four days later Cardinal Wyszynski came from the conclave to the Institute but he was alone since Cardinal Wojtyla stayed in the Vatican as Pope John Paul II. During the retreats Fr Prof. Chrostowski repeated that there were no coincidences in life but there were signs that we should learn to discern. And leading the participants on the way of Cardinal Wyszynski he helped them find the key to the pontificate of John Paul II. He analysed the lives of these two great Poles to discern the bonds between them and to see the meaning of their achievements in the Church in Poland and even the universal Church in the 20th century. He showed the key to the pontificate of the German Pope Benedict XVI in the bold initiative of the Polish bishops who sent a letter to the German bishops, writing the words, ‘We forgive and ask for forgiveness.’ Among the 14 names of the Polish bishops who signed the letter, a milestone to the Polish-German reconciliation and a different look at the Germans after World War II, included Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski and Archbishop Karol Wojtyla.
Two biographies, one work
The preacher divided his reflection into five parts, showing the stages of Cardinal Wyszynski’s life. He pointed to surprisingly many similarities between the lives of Cardinal Wyszynski and Cardinal Wojtyla. Key signs appeared at almost every stage of their biographies, only in different times, in accordance with the difference of age. It seemed as if the latter followed the former. Both were born to pious families who prayed together. Both became orphans because their mothers died early and they adhered spiritually to Heavenly Mother, led by their fathers whom they saw kneeling and immersed in prayer every day. Both received patriotic upbringing and witnessed important, painful events in Poland’s history. They experienced the cruelty of war. Both got to know Western Europe, each in his own time: Wyszynski during his studies after having defended his doctoral dissertation at the Catholic University of Lublin in 1929 and there he experienced the effects of World War I; he saw the beginnings of the workers’ movement, having the perspective of the birth of national socialism, whereas Wojtyla was sent to study in Rome after World War II and visited several European countries. After having returned from the West, from the rhythm of big cities, they were sent to work in small rural parishes: Fr Wyszynki went to a village in the region of Kujawy whereas Fr Wojtyla went to a poor village near Krakow. Both became bishops at early age. Then they experienced the darkness of communist atheism fighting against the Church in Poland. They took part in the sessions of Vatican Council II in the years 1962-65. Both contributed the specific Polish spirit and breath of deep Marian piety to the Council. Thanks to their efforts Mary was named the Mother of the Church that was introduced to the Litany of Loreto. And they directed the Polish Church on Mary’s paths. Fr Prof. Chrostowski gave many examples to show that one could not write Cardinal Wojtyla’s biography without writing Cardinal Wyszynski’s biography and the other way round. That’s why the retreats for the Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem had two great patrons: the Primate of the Millennium and the Polish Pope. At the same time the retreats were perfect preparations for the approaching beatification of John Paul II.
About 150 people out of 200 members of the Order in Poland, which is an impressive number, participated in the retreats. Polish Lieutenant Karol Szlenkier had the chance to plan next meetings and there are many occasions: the 15th anniversary of the Polish Lieutenancy of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in 2011 and the 830th anniversary of the Foundation of the Order in Miechow. It is worth knowing that the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem is one of two equestrian orders, besides the Knights of Malta, recognised by the Holy See. It originated in Jerusalem in the 11th century to care for the holiest places of Christianity and help pilgrims going to the Holy Land. The Knights and Ladies serve the Holy See, help Christians in the Holy Land, protect and care for the holy places. They work for the cause of peace in the world. The Order has over 20,000 members, both the religious and laity. The Order was brought to Poland in the 12th century. The history of the Polish branch was presented by Msgr. Jerzy Bielecki from Czestochowa during the Jasna Gora Appeal. He said before the picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa, ‘Once our ancestors cared for the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and helped pilgrims coming from all over Europe to the Holy Land. When it was impossible to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem the faithful from the Polish Commonwealth came to Miechow where the members of the Order, invited by Jaksa of the Gryf coat of arms, in 1163, built a chapel of the Holy Sepulchre imitating the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. The partitions brought about the end of their activities. The Order was dissolved by the Tsar’s decree in 1819. It took many years to revive the Order in Poland and then it was not a religious order (monks following the Rule of St Augustine) but an association of the religious and laity. The Order was restored in Poland in 1996. The first investiture was in Warsaw on 25 March 1996 and the Polish Lieutenancy will celebrate its 15th anniversary.
Guardians of memory of Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection
Subprior of Jasna Gora Fr Sebastian Matecki spoke to the Knights and Ladies in the chapel of Our Lady, ‘You are carrying in your hearts and message these most essential moments that decided about the salvation: Jerusalem – your care for it directs your desires to Heavenly Jerusalem, the Holy Sepulchre – symbol of co-suffering with Christ and hope of resurrection. And the cross on your coat is not an ornament but testimony of your submission to the law of the Cross. It is so good that you have chosen Jasna Gora as the place of your Lenten approaching to Christ.’ Rev. Prof. Waldemar Chrostowski, who gave retreats to the Knights and Ladies of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre for the second time, gave an important testimony on Radio Jasna Gora, stating that meeting members of the Order is a meeting with those who are guardians of memory of the great salvific events in the Church since one of the callings of the Order is care for the empty Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which is a silent witness of Jesus Christ’s Passion, Death and Resurrection. The members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre are to fulfil a very important mission in our turbulent times since the number of Christians living in the Holy Land is decreasing due to the conflict. They must leave their homes and those who stay experience the effects of the military conflict and suffer innocently. The tense situation in this region can lead to the paradoxical situation that there will be no Christians in the holiest places. Therefore, constant prayers for peace in the Holy Land and other places afflicted by wars are needed, and especially the members of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem are obliged to pray for that.