Central and Eastern Europe

One of the earliest non-state award has been given to the greatest personalities and most considerate institutions

By Agata Szostkowska

Two great Polish composers: Krzysztof Penderecki and Henryk Mikołaj Górecki. I believe that at least once you could hear their worldwide recognised masterpieces.  Do you know what they have in common, apart from being Polish born, of course? They were awarded a prize which has a rich history and it has always been given to celebrities and renowned institutions. The Awards Giving Gala – held by Catholic Association “Civitas Christiana” – took place recently in Warsaw’s former Primate’s Palace (a seat of the most important Archbishop in Catholic Church of Poland, primus inter pares). Let me tell you about the award and its patron Włodzimierz Pietrzak, the hero of the Warsaw Uprising.

The history that will never die

It was a long time ago, 1944. The Warsaw Uprising was being fought for 22 days. Włodzimierz Pietrzak was a cadet corporal of the Radoslaw Group (a codename of the unit Kedyw), the strongest and most distinguished  group of The Home Army (Armia Krajowa), the dominant resistance movement in German-occupied Poland during World War II. He was known as „Balk”, „Andrzej Ados” and „Juliusz Wolden”. The soldiers started the combat trail in the Warsaw district of Wola (location of Warsaw ghetto). When they got to Stare Miasto (The Old Town) several battles were conducted and on August 22nd Włodzimierz Pietrzak took a mortal hit with grenade shards and died instantly. Four years later the award would be established in his name for outstanding activities in such fields, as culture, science, arts, literature, social life, education, being a testimony to moral values and human attitudes, both Christian and patriotic. 

Renaissance man

Włodzimierz Pietrzak was a real Renaissance man. He graduated from The Law College at University of Warsaw but literature was his great love. He belonged to a few groups, one of them was Klub Artystyczny “S” (The “S” Art Club), the avant-garde literary society which referred to the two famous Polish poets and precursors of the movement in poetry in this part of Europe: Tadeusz Peiper and Julian Przybos. Pietrzak himself was a big name and a personality of the Polish interwar literature. His works were published in literary journals. He also was a critic of literature and performed as the deputy head of the monthly “Young Poland”. During the Nazis occupation he was active in underground culture and worked as the editor of the “Young Poland” (Młoda Polska) magazine. He brought up the ideological and moral issues in his poems making some of them close to catastrophic convention. He died too young, soon after he turned 31 years old.

The Christian values

The award was established to protect the Christian cultural and intellectual life in the communist Poland. At that time the government approved only the atheist worldview and disapproved of any Christian values. The Włodzimierz Pietrzak’s Award was one of a few social initiatives to serve the Catholic culture.

The Award goes to …

This year the Włodzimierz Pietrzak Award’s laureates are:

– Rev. Prof. Miroslaw Wrobel, well-known for his translation of The Arameic Bible, was awarded for scientific achievements in the field of The Biblical Sciences and sharing God’s Word, specifically with young people

– Fundacja Małych Stópek (The Small Feet Foundation) for brave and adamant protection of fetal rights and human life in aspects of education, charity and formation

– Dzieło Lasek (Fund for the Blind of Laski) for 100 years of experience in the education and rehabilitation of blind and visually impaired also with additional disabilities; the award went to the blind, secural co-workers and Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross for service full of love, Evangelical testimony of brotherhood and engagement in Church Renewal.

The Award Gala was broadcast online
The Gala was hosted by Polish TV personality Marek Zając who is well-known for his shows on history in Poland. He is also the president of Council of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Foundation.

The First Pole at École Biblique et Archéologique Française in Jerusalem

to get a Ph. D.

Rev. Prof. Mirosław Wróbel is the head of the Department of Biblical Philology and Inter-Testament Literature at the Institute of Biblical Sciences of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (the third oldest Polish university still open to students). From 1995 till 1998 Rev. Prof. Wróbel studied at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome. In October 1998, he began postgraduate studies at École Biblique et Archéologique Française in Jerusalem and on November 13th, 2003, he became the first Pole in the history of this university to obtain a doctorate in biblical sciences. He is an honorary canon of the Lublin Archdiocese, also a member of the Council of Consultors and the Council of Priests.

Over the years, Rev. Prof. Miroslaw Wrobel has been an active member of Bible organisations both at home and abroad. Since 2003, he has been a guide in biblical lands. Apart from academic work, he has been bringing Holy Writ into general use. In April, 2015, his work “The Arameic Bible. Targum Neofiti 1 for the Book of Genesis”  received the prestigious Phoenix Award in the literary category, given by the Association of Catholic Publishers. Rev. Prof. Wróbel is fluent in Hebrew, Arameic, Syriac, ancient Greek and Latin, and all his works make him the great authority and first to be chosen this year to be a laureate of The Włodzimierz Pietrzak Award.  

Small Feet, Big Hearts

The Small Feet Foundation was established on April 5th, 2012 in Szczecin (Stetin) in Western Poland. However this is the only a date of formal approval of the activities of the organisation which consists of those who have been committed for many years to defend the value of human life from conception to natural death and the dignity of its transmission. Initially, their main goal was to organise the March for Life in Szczecin and to promote the spiritual Adoption of the Conceived Child. Currently, the activities of the Foundation have a much wider scope – they include the year-round formation and education of young people, shaping public opinion and helping mothers who gave up the intention to have an abortion and gave birth to their child. These activities are not only local, concern the entire territory of Poland, and many initiatives have an international scope. The concept of giving life deserves the award which was established in the name of a man who lost his life fighting for his nation.

The Foundation took its name from the Brotherhood of Small Feet (BMS) that existed in the virtual space, established by Fr. Tomasz Kancelarczyk. The fraternity is not a formal structure. It is an initiative that brings together in an informal way (on the Internet) tens of thousands of pro-life activists from all over Poland as well as from abroad. Its purpose is to share information regarding the defense of life and to activate pro-life activities wherever are members of the Brotherhood.

The Small Feet Foundation (FMS), unlike the Brotherhood, is a formal structure. Thanks to the support of the donors, FMS can provide specific help to individuals.

The name of Brotherhood, and later The Small Feet Foundation, was taken from the international symbol of life defenders around the world – the badges on the feet of a child at 11 weeks of prenatal life, in its natural size.

The activities initially undertaken by the Foundation were mainly related to the organisation and co-financing of the March for Life in Szczecin and all accompanying undertakings. Thanks to the generosity of the Foundation`s donors, their trust in the created organisation and the people involved in its activities, headed by the charismatic president, the Foundation was able to take new initiatives and develop the existing ones more and more dynamically.

The Mission of The Small Feet Foundation is to protect every unborn child, regardless of the conditions and circumstances which it was conceived in and to promote responsible parenthood. They act for the benefit of the community in general, at the service of family and people. In particular, they promote the values that underpin the family institution. They help families and people who are uncertain and confused about their tasks or have doubts and lost their awareness of the meaning and truth of married and family life. The Foundation carries out its mission through youth education, spiritual and intellectual formation, as well as through specialist help, including material one.

One hundred years of service full of love

Dzieło Lasek (The Laski’s Masterpiece) aka Dzieło Matki Czackiej (The Mother Czacka’s Masterpiece) is a name of The Educational Centre for the Blind created by Elżbieta Róża Czacka, a Polish countess who suffered an accident in her childhood. Later it led to her becoming blind when she turned 22 despite the numerous surgical interventions that were performed on her. At the time she set a life goal which was to build an educational centre for the blind.

She was born to the aristocratic family, could have lived a comfortable life, attended the royal balls, enjoyed the social life and at most joined a few charities along with the other ladies of her circle. Instead she chose to devote her life to the blind children and became Sister Servant of the Cross.

Many outstanding ancestors contributed to the Czacki’s importance, including Cardinal Włodzimierz Czacki, the secretary to and friend of Pope Pius IX and later advisor to Leo XIII. Róża’s father was the grandson of Tadeusz Czacki, the founder of Liceum Krzemienieckie, member of the Commission of National Education (Komisja Edukacji Narodowej), co-author of the May 3rd Constitution (Konstytucja 3 Maja), the first European state enactment and co-founder of the Warsaw Society of Friends of Learning (Warszawskie Towarzystwo Przyjaciół Nauk). Through her mother, Zofia, she was related to Cardinal Mieczysław Ledóchowski. Róża had five siblings. In her childhood she learnt how to play on the piano and also learnt how to ride horses. Czacka became proficient in English and mastered German and French; she also studied ecclesial and medieval Latin.

She considered her loss of sight as a vocation. In 1911 she founded The Society for the Care of the Blind and a couple of years later – the Franciscan Sisters Servants of the Cross. Both of these, in the second decade of the 20th century, became foundations for the creation of the Institute for the Blind.

The next decade saw Czacka travel throughout Europe hoping to learn about techniques that she could use to help the blind. She adapted Polish phonetics into the Braille alphabet that ended up becoming mandated in all schools for the blind since 1934.Czacka entered the Franciscan Third Order in 1917 before founding her own religious congregation in late 1918 based on ideas that she had formulated since at least 1915. Her work received approval from the apostolic nuncio Achille Ratti (the future Pope Pius XI) who lauded her efforts as an exceptional apostolate. In 1950 she retired from her role as the Superior General for her order (having held the post since around 1923) due to her declining health.

Mother Elżbieta Czacka was aware of the need for the proper education of the blind to enable them to live independently and responsibly. This is why The Centre in Laski educates blind children from their first months of life until the Baccalaureate and Professional Exams in an atmosphere of self-respect and openness to others. In the future, this will enable the blind to live independently amongst their family, work environment, and in a society of sighted people.

The process for her beatification launched in 1988 in her native Poland before it moved to Rome for further investigation. Pope Francis confirmed her heroic virtue and named her as Venerable on 9 October 2017 before later approving a miracle attributed to her in late 2020. This latter confirmation enabled Czacka to be beatified in Warsaw on September 12th, 2021.

The Primate’s Palace in pre-capital Warsaw

The Awards Gala was being held in a state of the pandemic and a limited number of guests were invited. It took place in the Bellotto Hotel, in the district of Warsaw’s Old Town. The edifice is the former seat of The Primate’s Palace. The Palace itself had a long history. It had been built in 1593, three years before Warsaw became the capital of the Kingdom of Poland. Zygmunt III Waza (Sigismund Vasa III) moved to Warsaw to be closer to the country of his birth, Sweden. Paradoxically, the Primate’s Palace was demolished during the years of the Swedish Deluge in 1655-1657.

Warsaw’s former Primate’s Palace, now Bellotto Hotel

Since the 18th century it has served various purposes and housed numerous institutions. In the interwar period it housed the Ministry of Agriculture.The palace was destroyed during the Nazi Invasion of Poland, after the war it was gradually restored. In 1965, the palace was the place where the coffin with the body of Maria Dąbrowska was lying in state. She was one of the greatest Polish writers, novelists, essayists, journalists and playwrights, the author of the popular Polish novel “Noce i dnie” (Nights and Days). She was nominated for the Nobel Prize in Literature five times. Maria Dąbrowska was also the literary translator of Danish, English and Russian books. 

There is a natural monument in the courtyard – European white elm, also worth seeing.

*** One award and a rich history, a patron and a lot of personalities. This is all behind The Włodzimierz Pietrzak Award.

Photos: ©Aneta Żylińska

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