TESTIMONY FROM COCHABAMBA
S. SAVIA BEZAK SBDNP
A servant from Dębice s. Savia Bezak gives her report on pages of ‘Niedziela’ on death of Helena Kmieć. In January 2017 she was on the spot of the tragedy in Cochabamba in Bolivia. Before that, as she says, she had not given an interview to newspapers because of the investigation taking place and because of pain which is still accompanying her memories. S. Savia also corrects some information which reached to mass media soon after the tragedy, and which were later checked. Readers of ‘Niedziela’ receive proper knowledge on the circumstances of the Polish missionary’s death and what happened at the missionary outpost in Bolivia after the tragedy. Editors. In January 2018 I participated in the Holy Mass on the first anniversary of Helena’s death in her home parish in Libiąż. I felt that all this was still lively in me, as if it happened yesterday.
Servant Sisters of Dębica in Bolivia
The Convent of Servant Sisters of God’s Mother the Immaculately Conceived Virgin (Servant Sisters of Dębica) began their mission in Bolivia in 1982. At present the Sisters – 11 Polish nuns and 25 Bolivian nuns – are working in 7 missionary institutions in Bolivia and one in Peru. They run 2 orphanages, 3 boarding schools for girls, a rehabilitation centre, a school 3 nurseries for children, a rehabilitation centre for disabled children; they give catechesis, prepare people for holy sacraments, take care of the ill at homes, they are extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion, take care of décor of churches, work in parish offices. These are important and very necessary works for the local communities. For example, 2 thousand children attend our school and for this reason lessons are in 3 shifts.
The headquarter of the Missionary Vicariate is Cochabamba. On 22 February 2017 a newly built Nursery under invocation of Divine Providence was to be opened there. High financial contribution in building this institution was given by the diocese of Tarnów from the fund of Missionary Carolers, therefore during a sanctifying ceremony the bishop of the diocese of Tarnów was to be represented by the auxiliary bishop Leszek Keszkiewicz, whereas I was elected to represent the Convent from Poland, as a member of the general council. Because I am also the general accountant, and on that occasion I planned an economic visit in our missionary institutions. I was also to meet with the youth from Bolivia and Peru whom we had hosted in our convent communities in Poland during the World Youth Days. I made a strong emotional bond with those young people during their month stay in Poland, accompanying them all the time and realizing an ambitious pilgrimage-touristic plan whose culmination point were the World Youth Days in the diocese of Tarnów and in Cracow. I was very glad and I was awaiting that re-visit. Moreover, I was to take part in other events and ceremonies in the convent, such as retreat, convent vows and jubilees of sisters which were taking place at that time in the Missionary Vicariate in Bolivia.
Meeting with Helena
On Monday 16 January 2017 I arrived in Cochabamba. Next day I met volunteers from the Missionary Volunteering of Salvator: Helena Kmieć and Anita Szuwald, who had been preparing with nuns an orphanage house for a week, for a ceremony of sanctifying and opening it. They were decorating walls with colourful paintings, cleaning and collecting educational props, toys, furniture, and putting all their hearts into it, as well as their abilities and love to children, whom they were to help for 6 months. 3 days later I and the superior of the Missionary Vicariate - s. Bejzyma went to 2 other missionary places of ours. I returned to Cochabamba on Monday 3 January in the afternoon. I met with volunteers during the Holy Mass at 7 p.m. at the Bolivian time. Heaving left the church I stopped with them and s. Bejzyma. I started talking about what they had been experiencing during the previous days, what they had managed to do about the orphanage house. They were happy. We saw them off to the gate of the orphanage house at about 8 p.m., hoping that they were feeling well and safe.
A tragic night
At 1.27, when the day of 24th January was beginning, we were suddenly woken up by s. Bejzyna who had answered a phone from Anita saying about a terrible event about which she was not able to say anything. Helena was murdered by 21-year-old Romuald, who, when looting the orphanage house, got to her room through its separate part being a flat. Helena was unexpectedly attacked by him when sleeping. He stabbed her fatally. We have not known his motifs for this murder till today, beside the fact about which he says himself, that he was drugged. He does not reveal any other motifs, and does not want to talk about it, beside the fact that he admitted to this terrible crime. He received a verdict and accepted imprisonment for 30 years. I realized then – and I am still aware of it now – that in such dramatic circumstances two young people met, whose lives are so different. Helena wanted to live for others, serve, help and love others. In the name of love to God and others, she began her mission in Bolivia, wanting to take care of children in an orphanage house disinterestedly. She was full of peace, modest, warm-hearted, praying all the time and very hard-working. He was liked by everybody who met her. I did not have enough time to get to know her better. Only after her death did I get to know her whole spiritual richness, talents and all forms of her evangelical, charity, missionary, music engagement, when I had talked with Anita, her family, friends and priests. Helena left a testimony of her beautiful life – consistent realizing accepted rules, her life interests, her desire to be close to those who needed her loving heart, helpful hands, good word and support. She had her strength for it from her close relationship with Jesus.
Prayer for the murderer
Romualdo Manio Santos comes from northern Bolivia. He strayed onto a wrong path of his life. He had already been sentenced for committed crimes before. In Polish media there appeared information that he had been brought up by our school and I have read recently that he was not known by sisters. He had arrived in Cochabamba about two years earlier, and moved nearby the district where our mission is, two weeks before that tragedy. But whether he lived there really, we do not know. It was where stolen things from the orphanage house were found. In the local vision he did not reconstruct the course of events of that painful situation. He did not admit to why he had done it and whether he had some accomplices. He did not fall onto his knees, about which media were speaking loudly, to apologize. Although he was emotionally moved when our Bolivian sisters gave him something to eat and a warm blanket, and when they told him that we (sisters) and parents of Helena had forgiven him and had been praying so that God would give him grace for conversion. He said that he did not deserve to receive the goodness and gifts from sisters even when he said the word ‘I’m sorry’. It proves that some feelings of repentance woke up in him and I thank God for that, as when I saw his photos just after his being arrested, and then on our CCTV screens, his appearance was enough to raise fear in me. Evil was reflecting on his face, as if he had been without any emotions. But he had a long way to his conversion.
Till now, reading various kinds of information on that event, circumstances and culprits, I did not agree to be interviewed and I did not correct any incorrect versions, as it was too painful for me. The investigation was taking place, there were a lot of unknown facts. On the death anniversary of Helena, some people quote information given on Internet, on social medias and in press, not checking their credibility. Here I recall a request which was placed on the website of the Missionary Volunteering Salvator, not to believe everything which appears in media, and, to take on a critical attitude when hearing information which appeared after that event ‘hot live’, not to hurt those who are feeling mourn after the death of Helena. I know that reliable information is needed but not everything – and not at once – it is and will be possible to pass over.
Mission of Helena is going on
I am looking at this event from the perspective of the last year, in the light of faith, as it is impossible to experience or understand it in a different way. I see how much goodness, after her death, Helen raised in people’s hearts and their action not only in Poland, but also in Bolivia. Remembrance about her is still alive. Every 24th day of month in a year the Holy Masses were celebrated for the soul of the late Helena and in the intention of her relatives in the parish church in Cochabamba. Sisters from that community made a tablet commemorating Helena and placed it next to the grave tablet of our deceased Polish missionary s. Joela Mleczko, who was a builder, founder and the first head-teacher of the School named Edmund Bojanowski in Cochabamba. The new orphanage house under invocation of Divine Providence was sanctified on 14 June 2017 and since that day it has been used by Bolivian children.
Translated by Aneta Amrozik
Niedziela 7/2018 (18 II 2018)