Adapted from a November 30, 2015 letter to the friars of Our Lady of the Angels Province, by our Minister Provincial, the Very Reverend Fr. James McCurry, OFM Conv.:
The Minister Provincial of Krakow and the Provincial Delegate for the Peruvian mission sent our Minister Provincial a special invitation to participate in the Beatification of our brothers Friar Michał Tomaszek, OFM Conv. and Friar Zbigniew Strzałkowski, OFM Conv. |
You may or may not know the history of Our Lady of the Angels Province. It is made up of the union of two former North American Provinces: Immaculate Conception Province and St. Anthony of Padua Province. The former St. Anthony of Padua Province began working with the Minister General of the Order in the 1980s for the establishment of a mission in Peru. When personnel circumstances necessitated that St. Anthony of Padua Province withdraw from the venture, the Minister Provincial of the time, the Very Reverend Fr. Daniel Pietrzak, OFM Conv., worked with the Minister Provincial of Krakow to assure that Polish Friars would serve there in our place, thus establishing their own mission of Peru and assuming full pastoral responsibilities.
On August 9, 1991, two of the first Krakow Friars, Michał and Zbigniew, would die in Pariacoto, Peru, as martyrs at the hands of the Marxist “Sendero Luminoso” (terrorists known as the Shining Path). The third missionary, Friar Jarek Wysoczański, OFM Conv.(their Guardian at the time and currently the Secretary General for Missionary Animation for our Order), was spared because he was on a home visit to Poland. Even before the deaths of Friars Michał and Zbigniew, our Province of St. Anthony of Padua was preparing to send one of its own American friars as a new member of the Polish Mission in the Peru. That friar, Fr. Vincent Imhof, OFM Conv. had been ordained at St. Casimir’s in Baltimore (MD), in 1990. Shortly after the deaths of Friars Michał and Zbigniew, the Minister Provincial of St. Anthony Province at the time, the Very Reverend Fr. Mark Curesky, OFM Conv., allowed Friar Vincent to go on mission to Peru, joining up with Friar Jarek and thus assuring that the Order’s Peruvian mission would be sustained without interruption. This courageous decision on behalf of Friar Mark and Friar Vincent was reached after considerable prayer and anguish. When Friar Vincent arrived, the “Sendero Luminoso” was still spreading its reign of terror. Undaunted, the friars persevered indefatigably, and the Order’s implantation continues to reap a holy harvest, even now. As Tertullian wrote in the second century: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
Eventually Friar Vincent transfiliated (cease to be a filius of the province where he had been received, professed, and educated to become a friar of another province) into the Krakow jurisdiction. He remains an active Missionary there, today. During all of these decades the former St. Anthony of Padua Province, and now as Our Lady of the Angels Province, our friars have continued to send economic support to the Order in Peru and have remained in fraternal solidarity with our confreres there. High in the Andes, our confreres have lived, worked, suffered, and died in a mission of heroic charity. In fact, when the “Sendero Luminoso” raided the village and forced the two friar-missionaries (Michał and Zbigniew) into a van, one of the local Religious, a Handmaid of the Sacred Heart, insisted on going with them until she was forced out of the van. She later testified that the guerillas excoriated our Friars for their apostolate of “caridad” (charity).
Through all of these years since 1991, I have never forgotten the words written by our Minister General, the Most Reverend Fr. Lanfranco Serrini, OFM Conv., on the day after the killing of Friars Michał and Zbigniew: “In the first moment of shock at this unimaginable news, I automatically thought of the words of Saint Francis when he received news of the death of the Protomartyrs of Morocco: ‘Now I can say with certainty that I have two friars minor’!” Truly to be a “Friar Minor” is to be a “Friary Martyr.” The martyr witnesses – testifies to the faith that underlies a life of selfless charity. One wonders what went through the minds of Friars Michał and Zbigniew when they suddenly realized that they would be killed. They stared eternity in the face. Indeed St. Francis’ optic on life was filtered through the lens of Eternity. Francis consciously adopted a “Perspective of Eternity” when before Bishop Guido in the Vescovado of Assisi he proclaimed, “From now on I will say freely, not ‘My Father Pietro di Bernadone’ but ‘Our Father Who art in heaven.’” (2 Celano 12). Now every one of his friar-sons is challenged to this same shift of optic – to see the world from the vantage point of Eternity – ultimately through the eyes of the “Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Lk. 21:27). From such an optic, the threat of violent death holds no power to shake one’s deep interior equilibrium. A Friar Minor [Friar Martyr] lives as a man whose bond to the Son of Man grounds him on earth to a Kingdom that is Eternal. As we celebrate our brothers’ beatification, may their intercession keep us grounded in the Kingdom for which they poured out their lifeblood.
For more information on Friar Michał Tomaszek, OFM Conv. and Friar Zbigniew Strzałkowski, OFM Conv., look back on our prior posts about the December 5, 2015 Beatification and the events connected to it.