“I think that the only option and the best option for you is to minister in Canada”. I remember this sentence so well. When I heard it for the first time, it was on one of those beautiful, sunny days in April in Vienna. It changed my life like it happened yesterday. I mean, how could I forget it? I remember many feelings that were going through my mind on that red-letter day. When I went to pick up the phone to call the Provincial of the Polish Province, I felt fear but more so, I was excited. My dream to work somewhere in an English speaking country had been growing for a long time. I was praying and asking the Holy Spirit for guidance. Was it God’s will? I spoke to many brothers in the community asking them for advice. Many of them shared my passion but not all: we need you here in our Polish Province, they used to say. Finally I felt it was my decision. I called Fr. Wesley Spiewak C.R. who is now the bishop of Bermuda, but in those days he served as our Polish Provincial. When I heard him confirm my dreams, when I heard him saying that I needed to wait for a year, I felt in my heart that it was God’s plan for me to go to Canada to begin a new stage of priestly ministry. It was like a Christmas gift received in April.
That was almost 3 years ago. Now let me start at the beginning. My name is Pawel Szymanowski, when I entered the Congregation of the Resurrection at 18 years of age I had just finished the Minor Seminary within this community. After my profession of first religious vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, I started my priestly education in philosophy in Krakow, then I was sent to Rome, Italy in order to continue my theological studies. It was one of the best times of my life until this point. I met many wonderful Resurrectionists there, from all around the world: from Brazil and the USA as well as from the Ontario Kentucky Province. Some of them lived in our General House, others visited Rome for many occasions. So it was there that I met: Fr. Sudie MacDonald, Fr. Terry McGuire, Fr. Chris Buda, Fr. Paul Voisin, Fr. Joseph deViveiros and many other wonderful people. It was in Rome where I learned that our Congregation is really international! After I graduated from the Gregorian Pontifical University I spent one year in Krakow where I was finally ordained a priest on April 26th, 2008. My first assignment was to one of our CR parishes in Zlocieniec, Poland. I spent three years working in different ministries. One of my main responsibilities was as a full time high school teacher. Then I was sent to Vienna, Austria. It was another wonderful time for me working in the Polish Mission.
In September 2014 I came to Canada and started my English course at Renison, Waterloo. Living in our religious house in Louis Hall I had an amazing opportunity within the OK Province not only to learn the language, but most of all to live with other CR’s and to learn from them what it means to be a Resurrectionist in Canada. There I learned that a Resurrectionist is a man full of joy like Fr. Ray. I learned that a Resurrectionist is a man who can preach in a very vivid way like Fr. Jim. I learned that a Resurrectionist really loves our community and spirituality like Fr. Charlie. I learned that a Resurrectionist is a man of vision and knowledge like Fr. Sudie. I learned that a Resurrectionist is devoted to our Congregation and to the poor like Fr. Murray. These were the more important lessons I learned as a beginner in life in Canada. These factors led me to the preset full time ministry at St. Mary’s, Kitchener, as an associate pastor with Fr. George Nowak.
Not withstanding the friendly and understanding people, at St. Mary’s; or the great support of Fr. George, who is very patient with me; or Fr. Michal, who has been a strong support and advisor; parish ministry is not easy. This is mostly because of my limited abilities and comfort with the language. For example, it does take me a while to prepare a Sunday homily, even though I have a wonderful teacher, a parishioner from our parish. The trouble is how can one be ready and know all that you must know, when you landed in Canada a little more than a year ago!
Although I face some difficulties, I am really happy where I am right now. It is not only because I can help at the parish but because I feel that I’m growing as a religious and a priest in terms of my personal and spiritual life. One more thing, here in Canada, I realized the importance of Pope Francis’ words “what might you need to change in your own heart, in order to respond to the call of, to “give voice” to the cry of those in poverty?”. Invited by Fr. Murray I started to help in the wonderful soup kitchen project usually once a week. I still don’t speak very much with people that come there (I hope that will change when I will feel more comfortable with the language). I am simply there to help with basic tasks. To my understanding those are very important. Actually, I learn a great deal from these people and from those who are involved in this ministry. The Pope once said “what do your brothers and sisters in poverty have to teach you? “ They can teach me a lot and I feel that this is the place where I can find the person of Jesus Christ, even if it is not alway easy to make time to be there.
Martin Luther King once said “you may be 38 years old, as I happen to be. And one day, some great opportunity stands before you and calls you to stand up for some great principle, some great issue, some great cause. And you refuse to do it because you are afraid…. You are afraid that you will be criticized; so you refuse to take the stand. Well, you may go on and live until you are 90, but you’re just as dead at 38 as you would be at 90. And the cessation of breathing in your life is but the belated announcement of an earlier death of the spirit.” I’m only (or already) 33 years old,but I really feel deeply in my heart that I did not refuse my opportunity from God and from the community and here I am, in Canada, responding to this opportunity. Of course, by coming to Canada, my dreams didn’t end, I still have many dreams, especially when it comes to our congregation, the dreams about young people, like br. Raphael Ma, who wants or will want to continue the mission and charism of Bogdan Janski as a Resurectionist. People, who want to serve as signs of the transforming power of Jesus’ love and be instruments for the renewal of society, bringing life and love to all people and leading them to the Church.
This is why I feel that ministering in Canada is a Christmas Gift at this point in my life, the wonderful gift of people that surround me. I hope and I know, that it is not the last gift that I will receive from the Lord!