Mystery and Faith
Extraordinary Events in a Little Polish Town.
SOKÓŁKA AND THE
By Wanda Skowronska
DURING A RECENT visit to Poland, as I sat in the bus full of pilgrims heading to a town called Sokółka, north east of Warsaw I wondered where on earth I was going. I had been told it was a place 'you must see.' It was not easy getting up at 5am but I made it, in the pre-dawn darkness, to the Warsaw bus station and clambered on for the four hour journey When not snoozing, I joined the pilgrims, in my Australian accented Polish, in alternating decades of the rosary with Blessed John Paul II's favourite song 'Barka'.
The bus full of singing pilgrims wound its way past pine trees and small towns outlined in the mist. Of all the little known towns of Poland, I reflected, Sokółka (pronounced Sokooka) might rank as the most unknown. And yet in this place, I was informed, mysterious, extraordinary things had taken place. It was connected with a Eucharistic host which had been dropped one day during the distribution of Communion during Mass.
Church of St Anthony of Padua, Sokółka, Poland
What had happened in Sokółka (pop.19,000) had spread throughout Poland like wildfire but is only now reaching beyond its borders. On October 12, 2A08, Father Jacek Ingielewicz was saying Mass there in church of St Anthony of Padua. On this typical morning 200 people were present at the 8.00 am Mass. When Father Jacek was distributing Communion, one host fell to the ground. Fr Jacek solemnly placed the host in a 'vasculum' a small silver liturgical vessel, then added water*1 and put it in a sacristy safe. This was according to Church procedure. A host which falls on the ground cannot be given out. According to common liturgical understanding, once the host is dissolved it is no longer the Body of Christ.
Father Jacek told his parish priest about the accident but the parish priest, Father Stanislaw Gniedziejko, did not check the vasculum until 2 weeks later. On opening the sacristy safe Fr Stanislaw saw that the host had not dissolved in the water. Moreover, in the middle of the host what looked like a blood stain had appeared. 'I was shocked and I did not know what to think of this' Fr Stanislaw said, adding 'my hands were shaking when I locked the safe. I could hardly begin to speak'.1 He showed the undissolved host to Fr Jacek, both very moved by what they saw.
The parish priest decided to inform Archbishop Edward Ozorowski, the metropolitan of the nearby city Bialystok (pop. 300,000) who was coming to St Anthony's soon for his regular parish visit. When the archbishop came, he was shown the host which was taken out and placed on a white corporal which symbolises Jesus' burial shroud. On inspection, a blood stain and also something akin to an organic substance had appeared on it. Fr Jacek said it was similar to the kind of tissue 'many of us analysed in our biology classes,' adding 'to this day I tremble when I recall it'.2
As soon as he had inspected the host, the archbishop called together a special church commission to investigate the matter and in particular, to rule out that there had been no interference with the host.
On January 5" 2009, he invited two highly respected medical specialists, both Professors of Medicine at Bialystok University - Maria Elizabeth Sobaniec-Łotowska and Stanislaw Sulkowski - to perform an analysis of a small section of the unusual host. Both had worked in the field of histopathology for over 30 years. They were handed the material to be analysed by Father Andrzej Kakareko, the Chancellor of the Metropolitan Curia of Bialystok. Neither specialist knew what it was.
A view of the immense crowd attending the open air Mass
Both investigators separately came to the same conclusion. The material they had been handed was actually living human heart muscle tissue. Professor Sulkowski stated that the it had 'many typical bio-morphological indicators of heart-muscle tissue' and in particular noted 'damage to fibres of the tissue' and 'the phenomenon of fragmentation. Such damage is visible as tiny ruptures.'3 Professor Sulkowski added:
Such changes can be observed only in living fibres and they show evidence of rapid spasms of the heart muscle in the period just bef,ore death.4
Professor Sobianiec-Łotowska came to the same conclusion: that it was living heart muscle tissue. In retrospect, but what particularly puzzled her was that the tissue had remained living, an 'incredible phenomenon'. As she explained:
For a long time, the host remained submerged in water and then even remained longer on the corporal and therefore the tissue, which appears on the Host should have undergone the process of "asphlxia" [dying out] but we did not observe any such changes during our tests....according to the current state of knowledge in biology, we cannot explain this phenomenon scientifically.5
She was also very puzzled by the union of the heart tissue with the consecrated host stating that:
This extraordinary phenomenon of inter-absorption of the heart muscle tissue with the communion host, observed under the microscope and also via transmission by electron . microscopes proves to me that there could not have been any human interference with the sample.6
When he obtained the results of the tests, the Archbishop also informed the Papal Nuncio in Warsaw and the matter was referred to Rome for consideration. In September 2009, the public learned about the report and news spread rapidly. People started to come to Sokółka from every direction including Belarus and Lithuania.
Polish Girl Guides gave water to those feeling the heat.
While Poland has had many miraculous events in its history, there had not been a 'Eucharistic miracle' akin to that of Lanciano in Italy where the host shows living visible human tissue on it. Of course each Eucharist is a miracle, where the substance of the host is changed into the Body and Blood of Christ. However, this is a Mystery, and it is extremely rare that there is visible evidence of this.
In Sokółka itself, the townspeople were amazed that their town could be 'chosen' for such a miracle. Apart from the sensation, however, the response was an immediate strengthening of devotion to the Eucharist. People came to the church to pray for broken families, for children leaving the faith, for healing and for easing financial burdens. They were surprised to see the media all over the town.7
Not all observers of the events commented positively. Poland's Rationalist Society expressed concern, declaring that if living heart tissue had been found, then a murder had been committed somewhere and a search for the body should begin immediately. They even took the matter to Sokółka public prosecutor, Analtoly Pawluczuk, who after duly considering the matter, declared that there was no evidence of any murder having been committed in the town.
On October 2, 2011, the day I travelled to Sokółka - a large open air Mass and procession had been organised and tour buses were coming from every direction. Archbishop Ozorowski, having officially declared that the visible tissue on the host was truly miraculous, was to say Mass and then lead the solemn procession to St Anthony's church, placing the host, now in a monstrance, in a side chapel for veneration. By the time the pilgrim bus entered Sokółka and we reached the 'Roundabout of the Siberian Exiles' and the park adjacent to the church where the Mass was to take place, large crowds had already arrived.
Amongst the people present were representatives from the local Russian Orthodox church and imams from the local Mosque. Sokółka inhabitants speak of the peaceful co-existence of the Catholic, Russian Orthodox and Tartar Muslim communities in the town. The Tartar Musiims [of Turkic origin] arrived in the fourteenth century and have lived in peace there ever since, even allowing girls, to attend the Iocal co-educational schools. The Russians came centuries before in time of Russian occupation and have also lived there in peace. All the representatives showed respect for the Catholic community's joy and reverence at the events.
On this day, every Catholic priest was treated like a film star and people lined up to speak, to ask questions, to share in that 'supernatural excitement' that accompanies such manifestations of heaven on earth. I even saw a young priest with pictures of the host literally running across the park as hundreds of eager pursuers stretched out their hands for a picture. The young priest reached higher ground and then handed out his cards to the enthusiastic queue.
The crowd of over a quarter of a million people were whisper quiet during Mass. Young Polish scouts in khaki uniform were on hand to give water to those feeling faint' The 'Knights of Christ the King' wore their red cloaks. Church organisations brought their banners and flags The procession after Mass followed the colourful flower-strewn path on which the King of Kings, the Prince of Peace and our Saviour, was carried in solemn dignity past crowds on bended knee. What was clearly evident was the profound awe for Christ's invisible presence in the Eucharist as well as the visible presence of the human/divine heart tissue.
The Archbishop said in his homily that we cannot know the mind of God. Why did God allow such a visible sign of His presence in unknown Sokółka? Was it to lead us to deeper reflection? Was it that He was especially welcomed here? Was it that the belief in the Eucharist is threatened in our world?
Through this event, the Archbishop said, perhaps God wanted to tell us clearly - 'Look, here I am' - in every Communion host at Mass everywhere in the world. Sokółka is a reminder of the extraordinary reality that Christ 'speaks' to us through this living heart tissue. In the end one lifetime is not enough to grasp the meaning of the merciful love unveiled in the 'miracle of Sokółka' a love forever seeking our response.
WANDA SKOWRONSKA is a registered psychologist who works as a counsellor in inner city schools in Sydney. She has recently been awarded a PhD in Psychology/Theology at Melbourne's John-Paul II Institute. She has done voluntary work for the Catholic pro life organisation Family Life International, and is a regular contributor to Annals
Endnote *1: Note added by F. John Loughnan December 12, 2012; The following has been downloaded from the Diocese of St Petersburg, USA website relative to GUIDELINES FOR EXTRAORDINARY MINISTERS OF HOLY COMMUNION, Revised June 2006
If an accident occurs . . . don’t panic!
With the Eucharistic Bread:
The minister has several options. You may bring the dropped host to the altar and place it on the corporal to be dealt with after communion, or you may hold the host in the same hand as the vessel. The host that is dropped is never to be replaced in the vessel, given to the next communicant, or consumed by the Extraordinary Minister of Holy Communion at that time. When distribution is finished and the minister returns to the altar, then the host may be consumed or brought to the sacristy where it may be completely dissolved in a bowl of water, which is then poured into the special sink (sacrarium).
With the Precious Blood:
The minister should cover the spillage with a purificator, first asking the communicant to proceed to another minister of the cup. Clean up the space as best you can with the purificator. After Mass the area should be washed with a damp clean purificator. Clean (damp) towels should be used if the area is larger. The cloths are rinsed and then wrung into the sacrarium.
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