Anna Przewoźnik talks with sister Karolina Frąk from the Convent of Resurrection Sisters, a director of an orphanage in Buenos Aires, about a surprising telephone call from cardinal Jorge Bergoglio about how one can celebrate one’s birthday twice a year and customs taken from Argentine to Rome by the pope Francis

ANNA PRZEWOŹNIK: - How did it happen that Sister got to Argentina?

S. KAROLINA FRĄK: - Our convent has the headquarter in Argentina and the orphanage under the title of Our Lady the Immaculate was established there. The General Mother asked me for help, so I undertook this request, especially that I had had this desire since my childhood.

– Today Sister speaks Spanish very well, but how was it before, was Sister prepared for this journey?

– I was going there without any preparation, and I learnt the language only among children. Children were an amazing help, they are very honest, straightforward. Adults do not pay attention to mistakes in pronunciation (laugh), and children could correct me spontaneously and honestly. I learnt the language with their help.

– What kind of church did Sister see in Argentina?

– In Argentina people have a very simple faith. I often experienced being stopped by people in the street who were happy that they could meet a sister, they asked for blessing, or a good word. This is how they have a spontaneous contact with the Church which – similarly as the Holy Father Francis – gives Christ to the world with its simple, deep faith, joy, peace and smile. the Argentinians are just this kind of the nation: spontaneous, happy and open. In Argentina there are only a few priests, nuns, but we create this small group and we are trying to get stronger. Now we are trying to become stronger with the presence of the Holy Father. We see that in Argentina churches are getting full, faith is getting deeper.

– If Sister has been in Argentina for 14 years, it can be said that you have settled in this country and become rooted in this mentality.

– Yes. I feel to be a part of this country and I am grateful to it for welcoming me. In order to get settled in a far-away missionary country, it is necessary to accept those people, their culture, what they live with and share with. I was welcomed with open arms and today I welcome everybody myself, whom I meet in the streets of the province of Buenos Aires, I deeply feel this country and I think that we also enrich the local Church with our ministry.

– Coming back to the orphanage, how big is this institution?

– Our institution is ready to accept 22 little girls, although needs are higher. We cannot take more children because only two of us work here, me and sister Lucyna Okuń. We are trying to help the girls be adopted by other families to have their lives in the families. The demand for the house is enormous. We have a lot of phone calls with a request for accepting children, who are waiting for love.

– If Sister says about phone calls, I know that one of these phone calls was made to the institution also by the current Pope, and cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio at that time. He was asking you to take a little girl to the orphanage…

– Yes, it was four years ago. Cardinal Bergoglio phoned me with a request for adopting a little girl. I was very surprised, it was an amazing conversation. I answered the phone and I heard: ‘Sister Karolina? It is Father Bergoglio speaking, maybe sister knows me’. And I said: ‘Of course, father, I do!’, And he went on: ‘I am phoning you with a request for adopting a little girl who is in a psychiatric hospital, and she has been lonely for half a year’. The cardinal personally asked me for adopting the little girl. I admit that it was not easy for us to make this decision because we are not a centre prepared for adopting little girls with psychiatric impairments, but the cardinal assured that if we needed medical care, medications and transport, he would take care about this all.

– Sister was surprised by the phone call…

– What surprised me the most, was the amazing belief of cardinal Bergoglio that these were just us who would be able to help this little girl. Talking with me, he was giving me belief and was convincing me not with great words but with an amazing inner power, that this child would be able to change her life one day as well. We were a bit afraid, whether we would be able to respond to this call, we were very moved by this situation then.
When Seleste appeared in our centre, her face was stone-like, without any expression, emotion or hope. She stayed with us. At the beginning we were in touch with doctors. After a month doctors called us and asked what we had done that Seleste was in such a form. What we did during one month, they had not been able to do for half a year. But we only loved this little girl as much as the others, who were and are in the centre. The group adopted the little girl with great love. Seleste says today that she celebrated her birthday twice a year – the biological birthday day and the day when she arrived to us, to our centre.

– How old is she?

– At the moment she is 16, and she has been in our centre for two years. She attended school and she finished her Catholic school of a high level as one of the best pupils: this is great joy for us. Two years ago she was adopted by a family, she has her parents, but she is in contact with us all the time and comes to our centre every Saturday. For, this day we prepare children for catechesis. Seleste knows the daily routine of our centre, so she comes earlier before a catechesis and Eucharist, in order to help us with young little girls.

– How did cardinal Bergoglio got interested in this girl?

– Cardinal did not spend much time at home. He used to go out into streets, he knew his country, his brothers and sisters, he used to go to elderly people’s house in the suburbs of Buenos Aires where the poorest live. He paid his attention to the poorest, lonely people, he used to visit hospitals. My neighbours told me that they often travelled by tube or bus with him, they often met him at a station. Cardinal Bergoglio used to ask them whether they were employed, he was interested in their families, every man. I know and I strongly believe that he sees Christ in everybody and he wants all of us to see Christ in a person whom we meet every day.

– What did Sister feel when hearing the news that it is just cardinal Bergoglio who is elected for the Holy See?

– I was sitting in front of TV when his name and surname were given. At one moment I thought that an Italian cardinal had the same surname, I had not expected this election, I was very surprised. It was an amazing joy. At that time there were many phone calls. I am glad that I can share my joy, because the pope Francis is really a great gift for the Church. He gives Christ to the world with unusual simplicity and joy.

– Did Sister had an opportunity to meet with the cardinal?

– We, Poles in Argentina, during more important ecclesiastical or national ceremonies, meet at the Holy Masses in the cathedral in Buenos Aires which used to be celebrated by the Cardinal. After Eucharist he used to come up to us spontaneously. He used to give cuddles to choristers. There is a custom in Argentina that priests come out to people after the Holy Mass, meet with them, shake hands with them, wish them good Sunday, a good day. And the pope used to do it as cardinal and today he does it as pope Francis. All of us noticed that on the following day, after the election, he was celebrating the Holy Mass in the Basilica of Our Lady the Major, and he came out after the Eucharist, stood in front of the church, turned round and was saying goodbye to everybody – this is a custom brought from Argentina.


"Niedziela" 37/2013

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl