M. Jana Zawieja
Translated by: Sr Helen Tereba
On 28 and 29 July 2018, celebrations were held in Nowogródek to mark the 75th Anniversary of the Martyrdom of our eleven Sisters, now Blessed.
People came for the anniversary celebrations from all over Belarus as well as from outside the country, mainly from Poland. Some came in buses and cars, others walked as pilgrims. Among them were some very elderly people as well as teenagers and children, single people and entire families. There were religious Sisters from our Congregation and others, as well as diocesan and religious priests and bishops. On Sunday, the Apostolic Nuncio from Minsk also arrived. The White Fara in Nowogródek was prepared beautifully for these celebrations. It had been completely renovated, painted, and had new benches. In the side chapel, the sarcophagus with the Relics of the eleven Martyrs, was beautifully decorated with flowers and candles. Red roses adorned the whole church. An unbroken river of people were coming to the Shrine, to thank the Martyred Sisters for various graces, to pray for new ones, to ask for help, as they used to do when the Sisters lived in the convent opposite the church ...
On our way to Nowogródek by car from Warsaw, just in front of us, on the bridge over the Niemen River, pilgrims from Grodno were walking along singing and praying. Later, we learned that other pilgrims were also walking from various places. All were to arrive at the forest, to the place of the Sisters' martyrdom, on Saturday afternoon, before the celebration of Mass.
And arrive they did! First, we could hear the sounds of singing and praying coming from the edges of the forest. Then it became quieter, and finally the pilgrims came and prostrated themselves on the ground in the form of a cross at the gravesite of the Sisters. A great silence fell...
Mass in the forest and in the morning
At 18.00 Holy Mass began at the place of Sisters’ martyrdom. Seven bishops stood by the altar, with Archbishop Tadeusz Wojda of Bialystok (Poland) presiding. It was difficult to count the number of concelebrating priests. The sound of singing was heard: Eleven shots echoed in the forest, they went to die together, so that others could live... In the gathered crowd there probably were people who were descendants of those who survived. Family members of the martyrs were also there. The last surviving pupils of the school and kindergarten were among those present. Also former pupils of Fr. Zienkiewicz, or "Uncle" as he was known, the surviving chaplain of the Nowogródek community.
In the morning, at 4.30 a.m, the hour of martyrdom, the next Mass was celebrated. This time in the newly renovated Fara. The Mass was preceded by an all-night vigil and Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. And later there was Mass at 10.00 a.m. with the Apostolic Nuncio as the principal celebrant. The shrine was full to capacity the whole time. It was during this Holy Mass that the Fara was proclaimed a Diocesan Shrine of the Blessed Martyrs.
During the offertory procession, former students of our martyred Sisters carried a special gift, a beautifully preserved banner from the pre-war school of the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth in Nowogródek. One had to see with what emotion they offered this gift.
A family picnic in the garden
And finally a “family” picnic was held in the garden. How nice it was to see the simple "babushka" (grandma) from the neighborhood sitting next to the Apostolic Nuncio in the stately colors of purple; the venerable elderly pupils of the Nowogródek school together with children who come today to the Fara for prayer; Nazareth Sisters from Belarus, Ukraine, both Polish Provinces, from London and Rome; priests, lay people, families; Catholics, Greek Catholics, believers, and those still seeking, all came together, in good weather and under a clear sky (though a storm raged during the night). They were one family, because didn’t the Blessed Martyrs give their lives for the family?