Optional Memorial, June 12
by Fr. Pascual Chavez, SDB, and Fr. Pierluigi Cameroni, SDB
Your humble blogger was traveling to his new assignment on June 12-13, and packing for the move in the preceding days (besides carrying on with parish ministry), so is tardy with this post.
On June 12 the Salesian Family celebrates the liturgical memorial of the martyrs Blessed Francis Kesy and his four companions, who were members of the Salesian Family as leaders in the Salesian youth center in Poznan, Poland, and were executed by the Nazi occupiers on August 24, 1942, on account of their commitment to pastoral work at the Salesian church and youth center of Mary Help of Christians in Poznan.
All five of the youths were fully committed to their human and Christian development, and all five were involved in working with their peers, sharing similar interests and personal and community projects. Arrested within days of one another and imprisoned briefly in different places, they were then put into the same prison and suffered martyrdom the same day and in the same way. Fr. Juan Vecchi, the Salesian Rector Major (1996-2002), spoke about them in this way on the occasion of their beatification: Each of them had his own particular biography, which then became intertwined with that of the others in the common Salesian setting, which prepared them in a human and spiritual way to embrace martyrdom.
Francis Kesy, 22, was sensitive and frail, often in ill health. But he was cheerful and good-natured. He loved animals and was always ready to help others. He wanted to become a Salesian. During the Nazi occupation, he was unable to continue his studies and took a job in a factory. He spent his free time at the Salesian youth center, where he was a great friend of the other four and led youth groups and activities.
Edward Klinik, age 23, self-conscious and quiet, became much livelier after joining the Salesian youth center. He was a conscientious and methodical student. Among the five he stood out because of his deep commitment to every kind of activity. He gave the impression of being the most serious and thoughtful.
Jarogniew Wojciechowski, 20, was outstanding among the others: he was a contemplative, with a tendency to look into things more, trying to understand what was going on. He was a leader in the best sense of the word. He was known for his good spirits, his commitment, and the good example he gave.
Chester Jozwiak, 22, was irascible by nature, but spontaneous, full of energy. He was in control of himself, consistent, and ready for sacrifice. There was no doubt about the hold he had over the younger children. He was clearly striving after Christian perfection and was making good progress in that direction. One of his fellow prisoners wrote: “He was good natured and had a character with a soul as clear as crystal.... I could see that his heart was free from any stain of sin, from any wickedness. He shared with me one of his concerns: that he should never fall into impurity.”
Edward Kazmierski, 23, was noted for his sobriety, prudence, and kindliness. At the Salesian youth center, he was able to develop his special musical gifts. The religious spirit he had acquired in his family quickly blossomed into Christian maturity under the guidance of the Salesians. While in prison he showed great love for his companions. He willingly helped the older ones and was completely free from any feelings of hatred toward his persecutors.
These young men give outstanding proof of the strong formative influence of the Salesian youth center, when there is opportunity for co-responsibility, when the educational approach is personalized, and when the Salesians are capable of guiding the youngsters along the path of faith and of grace. They were arrested in September 1940 and imprisoned in Fortress VII in Poznan. They were then moved first to the Neukölln prison, and later to Zwickau, where they were questioned, tortured, and put to hard labor.
Two notes show that we are dealing with giants of the spirit: “God alone knows how much we are suffering. Prayer has been our only support in the depth of the nights and days.” “God has given us this cross, and he is also giving us the strength to carry it.”
On August 1, 1942, they were condemned to death for treason. They stood to hear the sentence, which was followed by a long silence interrupted only by the exclamation of one of them: “Thy will be done.” They were condemned simply for belonging to Catholic organizations, which it was suspected might give rise to resistance to the Reich.
Before they died they were able to write to their parents. Reading these lines, one is astonished by a perception of greatness. A good example is what Francis wrote: “My dearest parents, brothers, and sisters, the time has come to say good-by to you. It’s August 24, the day of Mary Help of Christians.… May the Good Lord take me to himself. Don’t have regrets that I am leaving this world so young. I am now in a state of grace, and I don’t know whether in the future I would remain faithful to my promises.... I am going to heaven. Farewell. There I shall pray to God.… Pray for me sometimes.… I’m going now.”
They were taken into the prison yard in Dresden and beheaded—on a day when Salesian communities were keeping the monthly commemoration of Mary Help of Christians. Their martyrdom crowns the range of youthful Salesian holiness. “We point to them as intercessors, as well as models of the highest ideals” (Fr. Vecchi).
In Mary Help of Christians Church in Poznan, the five are venerated as intercessors on behalf of young people who have moved away from God and the Church, imploring for them the grace to return to Christ. In the young martyrs we can see representatives of the ideals of young people from Catholic schools with the vision and the strong desire to serve their country with dedication in all areas of life, in the name of God’s love. They are the most convincing proof of the validity of Salesian education.
Francis, Czeslaw, Edward, Edward, and Jarogniew are models for the young people of today because of their defense of the value of life and human dignity, and their opposition to false ideologies. Today’s false ideologies include racism, fanaticism, absolutism of the state, discrimination, and exploitation of the poorest and most vulnerable. These young men staked their whole lives on God, Jesus, and the Gospel as the sources of happiness and life.