A bright light in the darkness

“There is no greater love than this, to give one’s life for one’s friends.” (Jn 15, 13)

I was very happy that my duties did not stand in the way… on September 10, 2023, together with two Sisters from my community, I was able to travel to Markowa in southeastern Poland. The occasion was special because an entire Polish family was to be beatified at the site of their martyrdom: Wiktoria and Jozef Ulma and their 7 children, who hid 8 persecuted Jews from the Germans during World War II.

The organizers of the beatification wanted to prepare us spiritually to experience this event; the Youth Chaplaincy of the Archdiocese of Przemyśl prepared a play about the Ulma family which carried a profound message, especially addressed to young people. It presented the value and power of the sacrament of marriage and the openness to conceive life that is the outcome of true mutual love and trust in God. The Ulma family, despite its poverty, often read the Scriptures at home. It is likely that during World War II, when the Germans decided to wipe out the Jewish people, they highlighted in their Bible the passage about loving one’s enemies and the parable of the merciful Samaritan, next to which they added the word “YES.” It was perhaps the fruit of Wiktoria and Jozef’s shared decision to give shelter in their own home to 8 Jews who were threatened with death at the hands of the Germans. The couple was aware that they and their children could also pay for this with their lives, as there was collective responsibility for hiding and helping Jews. Someone denounced them. On March 24, 1944, German gendarmes shot 17 people: the entire Ulma family that included Wiktoria’s less than 9-month-old baby in her womb and 8 Jews. On the eve of the Feast of the Annunciation, their shared “fiat” was accomplished. “The Ulmas’ love did not fail even though it took their lives,” sang a soloist in one of the songs about the family before the start of the beatification Mass.

The Eucharist was attended by some 37,000 faithful. The Mass, which began at 10:00 AM, was presided by Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints. Among the thousands of priests and members of the Polish Bishops’ Conference were guests from abroad, including Cardinal Robert Sarah and Cardinal Gerhard Müller as well as the Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich. The reading of the Act of Beatification became a proclamation of victory: the love that was given to us through the Blessed Ulma family was victorious. The beatification, especially of the blessed unborn child, was also a symbolic act for today’s people who feel lost and reminds every one of the fundamental right to life. The Holy Father, Pope Francis, who we joined as he prayed at St. Peter’s Square at noon in Rome, said: “The Nazis murdered this entire family because they gave shelter to persecuted Jews. They countered hatred and violence of the time with the love of Jesus. This Polish family was a bright light in the darkness of World War II. May it become an example for all of us to follow!”

Many other Poles, other than the Ulma family, also gave shelter to Jews during World War II. About a thousand of them, like Wiktoria and Józef Ulma, paid for it with their lives. Thanks to the Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in Markowa, these Poles have been immortalized for history and future generations. After the Mass, Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, who was present, paid tribute to all of them at the end of his speech.

After the ceremony, I returned home with my Sisters with a heart filled with peace and love. The depth of prayer and the example of the martyrs became food, strengthening my soul to learn to love like them.

Sister Anna Wilkońska DC

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