It is not hard to be good, you just need to want…
Father Marian Zelazek SVD – 100-th anniversary of birth
Father Marian Zelazek SVD – 100-th anniversary of birth. It is not hard to be good, you just need to want… Used to say the man who survived 5 years in Nazi’s Death Camp, witnessing his friends death, suffering from hanger, horrible hard physical work and no dignity. Man, who worked as missionary in country of terrible contrast – in society very hierarchical, where the most poor people stays next to the richest and many people live outside the society. How can you keep good inside you when you see so awful things? The answer is simple but incredible life of Father Marian. Optimism, strength of prayer, activity, spirituality of dialogue – this is what brings attention when reading memories about him.
How the men becomes steadfast – is it a gift or his merit? It’s probably both. So it can came out and grow, there has to be certain conditions, not necessary luxurious. It is what like in Father Marian’s life. He was born on 30-th of January 1918 in Paledz as seventh child of large family. He knew from early years that he wanted to be priest and missionary. He’s journey begun in 1937 but it was quickly stopped by World War II. In 1940 he was forcibly trapped in Nazi’s Death Camp in Dachau, Germany. It seems like in this experience it came out (or was born?) his steadfastness. Looking at his friends and inmates deaths, father Marian wanted to stay alive for a better reason. He wanted to became a missionary, bring goodness to people in need, bring back people’s dignity. In his biography we can read: “… in a hell created by man we can get even closer to God, who does not remain in debt and He gives the grace of a steadfast will and will to serve others to convicted man...”.
Missions in India
Further life of Father Marian was about to realize that dream. First stage of work as missionary started in 1951 in diocese in Sambalpur in India and it last until 1975. He worked mostly with illiterate, poor people, from Adivasi (India’s First nation) tribe, who were suffering from economical exclusion and unfair social system. He helped them in everyday life – organized the education and worked hard to make their economical situation better. Next stage was Puri in Bengal Bay – the city with plenty of Hindu Temples, a lot of religions, place where pilgrims from whole India keep coming.
In this place father Marian build a church with library available for everybody but mostly he devoted himself to work with lepers He then died among them on 30-th of April 2006. In all those things he was so committed to, it’s clearly seen his steadfastness he never gave up in any difficulty, he was optimistic, it was impossible to discourage him to something. Father did not tolerated fault-finding, he always focused on good things. That is probably why he had so big influence on people he worked with – they called him “our father” (Bapa).
Strength of prayer
Those who met father in person, think of him as a man of prayer. It means the man who speak to God. In those conversations are asked the most important questions and the most important answers. How did it looked like in reality? As we can read in father Henryk Kaluza’s memories he wake up at 5 every morning, he started his day by cross sign and kiss the medallion and then he sang to Virgin Mary. At 6 he prayed Angelus when he pulled the churches bells. Later on he meditated in silence in front of Tabernacle, recite the breviary while preparing to mass. After mass there usually was queue to him – everyone got something but most important – blessing of white “guru”. Every activity in a leper colony he started and finished with prayer and during daily tasks he recited a rosary. In the evenings he was still praying by meditating upon Holy Bible or adoring the God. It is hard to imagine how in life so full of prayer he managed to find time to active work. It is the paradox that that only people highly connected to God can experience – that time “wasted” for Him is given back multiplied. And the proof of that is father Marian’s work.
Men of Action
Father Marian was missionary in India for 56 years – it became his second homeland. In first period of work in Sambalpur he was mostly focus on education work. He worked as a teacher, he administer the schools, he was also inspector of education. He was very involved in charity work, which brought him respect and sympathy.
When in 1975 he was moved to Puri, he had to learn new language Orija, get to know the culture and rules in holy city of Hinduism. It is where he discovered his mission to work with lepers who lived as beggars outside of society – despised and rejected by people. He set up the Karunalaya center for those people which became micro-society – with houses, hospital, kitchen, workshops and school. What he wanted to achieve was not only for those people receive care but also for them to find strength in themselves and potential to start living normal life as much as possible and give their children education. Testimonies of this are touching stories from people who lived in those settlements: Father made me a human being. Incredible is also fact how much those people got integrated with villages from nearby villages. It was happening mostly in Beatrix school founded by father Marian – pupils in this school are from families touched by leprosy and children from healthy families. In normal circumstances it would be impossible for children to be in the same place, it was highly forbidden to touch leper.
Readiness to act, creative approach to reality was also reveled in fact that he get so many people to voluntary work from all over the word. That cooperation was always exchange of gifts. This was also our case. Maitri Movement accomplished with father Marian many charity aid projects – as Wojciech Goral mention. This projects was: dental unit for lepers, carpentry workshops for young men, nutrition action for children from colony, drilling a well in lepers villages. For this days many children from Beatrix school is in the Have a Heart Adoption Program. We were learning from father Marian missionary attitude that he showed us the simplest way – by being good to everyone no matter what nationality, social status or religion he was.
Spirituality of Dialogue
How can you be a witness of Jesus, how can you preach the gospels in country so rich in different cultural and religious traditions as India? It is not an easy mission. Big dream of Father Marian was to open Center of Dialogue – a place where people of different religions could meet to pray and find truth. He managed to do it before just his death – in February 2006. This place is material sign of life attitude of missionary which can be specify as spirituality of dialogue. In everyday life was realized by very easy ways.
One of them was prayer. Every morning when he get to the near church and pull the bell rope for Angelus, he used to smile at the sound of imam from near mosque. It is just like they have together tell people truth about God, who is present in our life. Often he walked to temple of Jagannath God to pray with Hindus. He believed that his present among them strengthened Jesus that they did not know.
In the evenings when he vigil in prayer in his little ashram, meditated Holy Bible or adoring Christ, people from different religions keep coming to him – priests, Hindu hermits, dignified officers, simple people, lepers. And that this place became common prayer home, where you could experience unity no matter for social status, religion or origin – with God we are all brothers.
Another way of implementation attitude of dialogue was conversations and being friendly to others. Father had a habit talking to people on market – he told them about Christian values in gospel. But when he was looking for audience, he wasn’t talking straight about Jesus, he was using His words, trying to be more like him for those people. Father Marian did not “convert” anyone to Christianity, he was avoiding proselytism, yet people were lured to Christ and Church. He was friend with priests from Hindu Temples and important people from public. He cup people with his friendliness, openness and kindness. Someone once asked him why he never try to get to Hindu Temple he replied: I respect that prohibition and wouldn’t want to offend religious feelings my Hindu brothers and sister, by getting in to temple and profane it as I’m not Hindu. Those words express very clearly the attitude of dialogue, where first rule is respect for another person.
Steadfastness, strength of prayer, activity, dialogue… Those traits awake admiration for Father Marian. Probably that made him an icon of missionary, Pole role model, Father of Lepers. Thanks to that he got Brotherhood Award, he was twice nominated to Nobel Peace Prize. But usually beautiful biography means a lot of suffering, doubts, a lot of effort and disappointments. We don’t know much about that. Father Zelazek was common man, he must have experienced all that. Maybe experience from Death Camp hardened him to later hardships of life? Maybe after what he had been through he thought that nothing worse can not possibly happen to him that’s why he was so optimistic? He left a lot of goodness, memories and beautiful saying: It is not hard to be good, you just need to want. But looking at his life you want to ask: if it all was really so easy?
Joanna Antczak – Sokołowska
MAITRI Movement Gdańsk
Translation: Anna Pawlik