About a religious ‘miracle’ in Communist Poland
Heniek drove straight from the community garden to Zamkowy Square, to SS Peter and Paul. He found Romek in the parish hall, trying to hook up a video player to the television. Romek was a modern sort of priest. On pilgrimages he played guitar and gave the impression of being happy to talk about any subject. He’d be just as willing to go to a pigsty as to prenuptial lessons. Heniek stopped in the doorway of the parish hall, stammering out ‘Praise be’ a few times. Romek was so absorbed in the battle with the cables and switching channels that he only heard him after a few repetitions. At last, he invited Heniek in and offered him some tea. Heniek greatly respected the priest, but was too proud to ever accept even a glass of water from anyone.
‘I’ve been setting up a VCR,’ Romek told him. ‘I want the young people to come here more often. Do you know how to hook it up? No, I’m sure you don’t. I’ve got a couple movies too. You want to watch something? You sure you won’t have anything to drink?’ He kept on jabbering like that, while Heniek stood there, his ears red as beets.
‘The Blessed Virgin appeared to me,’ Heniek finally declared.
That was enough to get Romek to crawl out from under the table with the TV on it and put the cord down.
‘What are you talking about, Heniek? You mean in a dream?’
‘It happened just now in the community garden. I was tying up my tomatoes, I went back to the shed for some string and Our Lady was already waiting there, on a little cloud.’
‘A little cloud?’ our priest said, making sure. Romek was exactly the type who had to hear everything twice.
‘Yes. And she was incredibly beautiful. She was wearing this light beige dress, a brown robe on top of it, and a crown just like the one in the painting from Licheń. And I also have to add she had this gentle little face and sad eyes. And such delicate hands, I mean, you could tell right away she was a real queen. I thought she seemed so fragile and when I was driving to see you it occurred to me that she lifts up all our sins to God. If I see her again I’ll try to apologise. But what would she get from me apologising?’
‘Well, not that much,’ agreed Romek. ‘This happened here, in our community garden?’
‘Yes! Please father, you have to tell people about this as quickly as possible!’
Romek pulled Heniek toward the door and, if I know him, he glanced once more at the video player and the cassettes in their cardboard boxes.
‘I will, sure, of course I will. These are great things, dear Heniek, the most marvellous things. We’ve got to be careful with things like this, because they’re fragile, delicate. It’s best if we talk tomorrow. Absolutely come see me, even first thing in the morning, but before you do, make sure you get a good night’s sleep. And I’ll think everything through. We’ll make sure it’s done right. Well now, why should it be wrong?’
He closed the door behind him and plunged back among the cables. He plugged a few things in here, fiddled with the remote there, until he finally got it working, the screen turned blue and there, reflected on the screen sure enough, was my Heniek, with his knapsack and hands joined together as if in prayer.
‘I forgot to tell you, Father, that Our Lady healed me. She put her hands on my head and said there was nothing wrong with me. I mean, she didn’t say that, but that’s how I understood her words. “You’re healed,” that’s what I heard. Father, would you come with me to the garden now? Maybe Our Lady will appear there again. She said she would.’
‘What did she say exactly, Heniek?’ asked Romek.
‘Well, that she’d visit again. In a month, I mean, but maybe if you’re there, Father, she’ll come sooner.’
Romek thought for a moment and said:
‘If the Blessed Virgin promised to come in a month, then she probably won’t appear today, especially since she was already here. Why don’t you go, Heniek. We’ll chat tomorrow.’
Excerpt translated by Sean Gasper Bye
About a religious ‘miracle’ in Communist Poland
Inspired by true events from 1983, Łukasz Orbitowski has created a quasi-journalistic book portraying the alleged apparitions of the Sacred Virgin and Christ in Oława, outside Wrocław. Mary and Jesus were said to have spoken to a forty-nine-year-old uneducated labourer, who devoted the rest of his life to his religious mission, until his death in 2002. He taught and – as he claimed – healed people. Yet the Catholic Church never recognised the apparitions in Oława, unlike those in Lourdes or Fatima. The Communist authorities attempted to hush up the matter, but news of the ‘miracle’ swiftly made its way around Communist Poland. Catholic pilgrims came to Oława from all over the country, hoping to be healed.
The narrator of Worship is the brother of the alleged visionary. A hairdresser by profession and a sceptic by disposition, he looks coolly on his younger brother’s experience. He was always the more resourceful and clever of the two. Suddenly, the brother he treated his whole life long as a silly fool who needed looking after turns out to possess the enormous charisma that draws crowds.
The style in which Worship is constructed has the narrator spin his tale, years later in free Poland, into a young journalist’s Dictaphone. He not only sketches out the facts of that period, but he also represents, beyond himself, the social mores of that era – of people pauperised by Communism, impoverished and parochial. He is a provincial not only in terms of geography but also mentality. He’s never left Oława, nor has he ever felt the need to.
With documentary precision, Łukasz Orbitowski guides us into the reality of the Communist-era periphery. He gives detailed descriptions of clothes, hairstyles, and cars, identifies social divisions, and portrays the entertainments to which people devoted their free time.
In interviews, Orbitowski declares himself an atheist, but he approaches the events he describes without an agenda. He doesn’t exaggerate what happened in Oława in 1983 and seems very curious about it himself. A very ambiguous novel written with sociological flair.
Marcin Kube, translated by Sean Gasper Bye
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