(Today, May 3rd, in Poland marks the great solemnity of Mary, Queen of Poland. Hence, this reflection by Paul Suski commemorating one of the great apparitions in Poland is quite fitting). Editor
The 145th anniversary of the Marian apparitions in Gietrzwald falls on June 27, 2022. Although not as well known as Fatima, this shrine is a major pilgrimage destination in Poland, which prior to the pandemic, was visited by about one million of people every year. Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda came to pray there five years ago.
Today, when the peace of the world, the peace of families and of whole societies is in danger because of human sin we should direct our gaze towards the Virgin Mary.
Gietrzwald, formerly called Dietrichswalde, lies in the district of Warmia in northern Poland, which at the time of the apparitions was annexed to the German Empire. It was surrounded by Prussian Lutherans, but the majority of people there were Catholic and spoke the local dialect similar to the Polish language. Severe restrictions, including the ban on Polish language in schools and public offices, were enacted under Bismarck’s Kulturkampf regime. Catholic priests and religious congregations, except those which were actively involved in social work, were removed from the district.
At Gietrzwald in 1877, 40 years before Fatima and 19 years after Lourdes, between June 27 and September 16, Our Lady visited two young girls, thirteen-year-old Justyna Szafryńska and twelve-year-old Barbara Samulowska.
It is particularly noteworthy that the Mother of God appeared to these visionaries over 160 times, which makes it more relevant to consider them carefully. By comparison, Bernadette Soubirous witnessed the Blessed Mother 18 times in Lourdes, Lúcia dos Santos and her cousins Francisco and Jacinta Marto saw her 6 times at Fátima, while Maximin Giraud and Mélanie Calvat had a vision of Our Lady only once at La Salette.
The Blessed Virgin Mary, despite numerous obstacles put in the way by Prussian and Russian authorities, attracted one million pilgrims to Gietrzwald over the period 1877-1880, which at the time accounted for as much as 10 per cent of the Polish population under foreign occupation. It is as if about 33.5 million Americans or 2.5 million Australians, trying to overcome Covid restrictions, within three years made a pilgrimage to Fatima.
On June 6, 1877, Blessed Pope Pius IX, at an audience, while pointing to the Scripture “Jesus said to Peter, `Put your sword into its scabbard`.” (John 18:11) appealed to Polish pilgrims to strive for independence in a peaceful way through prayer, because the greatest enemy is sin. His words proved prophetic since in three weeks time God Himself intervened.
Bear in mind that two and a half years later, the parish priest Fr. August Weichsel wrote “the fruits of the apparitions are extraordinary. Millions [of Poles] are saying the Rosary which results in affirming their Catholic beliefs, and also a great number of drunks have been saved from eternal damnation and temporal punishment.”
Fr. Doctor Krzysztof Bielawny draws attention to the rapid demographic upsurge, followed by the increase of vocations to the priesthood and consecrated life. Over the next 40 years the Polish population nearly doubled which, in his opinion, is partly a corollary of the Marian apparitions. Moreover, they pushed aside the thought of an armed insurrection and focused instead combating the most insidious danger: sin.
If anyone says that sin it is just his or her private affair, they are dangerously deluding themselves. Saint John Paul II clearly stated in his Apostolic Exhortation – Reconciliation and Penance “…one can speak of a communion of sin, whereby a soul that lowers itself through sin drags down with itself the church and, in some way, the whole world. In other words, there is no sin, not even the most intimate and secret one, the most strictly individual one, that exclusively concerns the person committing it.”
“When we look at our families, our cities, our country, when we look at what is happening in Ukraine, the root cause of all that is sin, our individual sins and those of other people,” said Fr. Krzysztof Flis OFM Conv.
Archbishop Sviatoslav Shevchuk of the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church has recently slammed the practice of abortion, claiming that it has killed ten times more people than his country’s ongoing war with pro-Russian rebels. By the onset of war, every year in this country two million children were brutally robbed of the fundamental right to live. Another abomination to the Lord is a large scale practice of surrogacy, with its center in Kiev.
No sooner did the Holy Father, Pius IX learnt about the apparitions than he stated “Now the Poles can together with Our Lady’s cousin Elizabeth exclaim triumphantly ‘And how does this happen to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?’ (Luke 1:43).”
On June 30, 1877, upon the request of the parish priest Fr. Augustyn Weichsel, one of the visionaries, Justyna Szafryńka asked Our Lady “What do you want?” The reply she received was, “I want you to pray the Rosary daily.” The Blessed Mother at her last visit, on September 16, made her final words reflect her opening words: “Pray the Rosary fervently,” thus providing a comprehensive framework for the apparitions.
On August 1, Barbara asked the Virgin Mother: “Whether the orphaned parishes will receive the priests soon?” – The Holy Mother answered: “If people pray zealously, at that time the Church will not be persecuted, and the orphaned parishes will receive priests!”
About 20% fewer candidates for the Catholic priesthood enrolled in Poland’s seminaries in 2021, compared to the previous year. There were 47 fewer seminarians in diocesan seminaries and 38 fewer candidates for religious orders, said Fr. Piotr Kot, chairman of the Conference of Rectors of Major Seminaries. Going back to the past, on September 8, 1988, a record high number, forty-two young candidates for priesthood in the Order of Friars Minor Conventual, professed their first vows while currently there are only eight of them preparing for this religious ceremony. The shortfall in the number of candidates for the priesthood is getting more and more evident, but the Virgin Mary of Gietrzwald tells clearly how to handle this crisis.
12 August – When the parish priest told the children to pray for the conversion of drunks, then the Mother of God sighed heavily and said loudly ”They will be punished.”
As reported by the State Agency for the Prevention of Alcohol-Related Problems (PARPA) Poland had an annual consumption per person of 9.78 liters of pure alcohol in 2019. There has been a steady increase of average alcohol consumption since the 1990s. In 1993, the average annual consumption of pure alcohol per capita was approximately 6.52 liters.
“God does not punish us for our sins.” is the mantra embedded deep within the psyche of some Westerners. How many times have I heard people say: “I am allowed to sin because the Merciful God will always forgive me and nothing bad is going to happen to me.” Apart from Jesus and Mary, all of Adam’s descendants deserve punishment, for we have all sinned personally.
Sadly, hundreds of thousands of people, especially young women, took to the streets in October 2020, after Poland’s constitutional court imposed a near-total ban on abortion. Adding insult to injury, according to Fr. Bielawny, in the years 1920 – 2020, over 33.5 million of children were killed due to abortion in Poland, whose innocent blood is crying out to God for justice. It is pitiful and disgraceful – even though one should not be surprised, that those who are shouting longest and loudest about the horrors of the war in Ukraine in the mainstream media, at the same time treat the unborn with disdain and hatred by supporting unlimited right to abortion.
On September 14, during the apparition Justyna asked: “If a certain Lutheran will be converted?” She heard this answer, “He should come here and learn how to say the Rosary.”
Almost three million people have entered Poland from war-torn Ukraine so far, predominantly baptized in the Eastern-Orthodox Church, religiously indifferent, though there are some Muslim refugees. It can be assumed that a significant part of them will choose to settle long term in this host member of the European Union. I wonder whether Our Lady may expect devout Catholics to bring them back to the fold of the one, true, holy Catholic Church. If Saint Andrew Bobola were alive today, he might be up to his neck in evangelizing.
Blessed Honorat Hozmiński (1829-1916), picking up the national thread of the Gietrzwald apparitions, states: “Today, as Divine Mercy has swept over the Polish nation, the Virgin Mary comes at the most difficult time.”
At the coronation of Gietrzwald Shrine, which took place in September 1967, the Blessed Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, stated: “Faith in God and veneration for the Virgin Mary allowed us to endure the period of the indoctrination of Protestantism and the sinister Kulturkampf.”
Saint John Paul II, referring to the words “Don’t be sad, I will always be next to you,” used by the Mother of God on September 8, 1877, said “These words, uttered with maternal love, became the source of consolation and hope for all those who had experienced sadness during different individual, family and national trials. Finally uttered as a reminder of the power of the rosary prayer and a call to spiritual renewal, they contributed to the revival of the religious spirit not only in the district of Warmia but throughout Poland.”
The powerful message of Gietrzwald conveyed to us encapsulates four main ideas: fervent prayer of the rosary, moral life according to God’s requirements, a call for sobriety and a warning that sin entails punishment.
Some people tend to forget that the Mother of God is neither a good friend nor an eminent politician designed to be listened to or not. When Virgin Mary comes down out of Heaven all her subjects owe obedience to Her, which applies in particular to the Poles whose country was specially chosen by God.
“Who knows? God may again repent and turn from his blazing wrath, so that we will not perish. When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way, he repented of the evil he had threatened to do to them; he did not carry it out.” (Jon 3: 9-10)