Story of a real man
Josephological Congress - Kalisz, 27 September – 4 October 2009
Josephology is the youngest theological discipline. Just before the Second Vatican Council special educational centres were created in various parts of the world. They were to examine the figure and life of Saint Joseph. For example, the Ibero-American Josephological Association embraces Spain, Portugal and South America as a whole. The North American Josephological Association created at the known St Joseph’s Oratory in Montreal, Canada, is famous. There are two big centres in Italy: the Joseph’s Movement created by the Congregation of St Joseph and the Centre for Studies of St Joseph. Prof. Tarcisio Stramare, the greatest authority in the field of Josephology, works in the first unit. Mexico has the Centre for Josephological Documentation and Studies. Salvador has the St Joseph’s Central American Centre. There are such centres in Germany, Malta, Korea and Chile. The Polish Josephological Society in Kalisz has played an increasingly bigger role, if not the leading role in Josephology worldwide. That’s why Kalisz was chosen to be the venue of the jubilee – the 10th International Josephological Congress. In the diocese there is the oldest sanctuary of St Joseph and the oldest crowned picture of St Joseph in the world (1796). The leading theme of the Congress was ‘St Joseph – patron for our times’ taken from the apostolic exhortation about St Joseph and his mission in the life of Christ and the Church ‘Redemptoris Custos’. In this document John Paul II expressed his heartfelt wish that ‘the very person of Joseph have renewed significance for the Church in our day in light of the Third Christian Millennium’ (No 32).
Many of us do not mention his name along with St Anthony of Padua, St Pio or St Francis. But we speak about the man to whom God ‘entrusted his greatest and most precious treasures’ (No 32) St Joseph, Mary’s husband, custodian of Jesus whom he gave his royal name (St Joseph descended from the royal house of David). The nun with a diploma in architecture regrets that priests who build churches very seldom ask her to place a picture of St Joseph in them. They most often order pictures of St Pio, Mother Therese of Calcutta, St Maximilian Kolbe. ‘Why not St Joseph? I have no idea’, she admits. According to Fr Andrzej Laton, the President of the Polish Josephological Centre and the Director of the Josephological Centre in Kalisz, there should be even an obligation to place a picture of St Joseph in every Catholic Church. ‘He is humble; he does not demand attention but is one of the most powerful saints. God entrusted him care for his Son, gave him great privileges as an advocate, patron, custodian. Will the 10th International Congress dedicated to the person of St Joseph be able to change this situation? Will it help people come to this Saint?’ Bishop Stanislaw Napierala of Kalisz is deeply convinced about that. ‘Come to St Joseph and he will know what to do…’, he says with great conviction.
St Joseph – patron for our times?
Is it not some exaggeration? How can a man born over 2,000 years ago be an inspiration for contemporary man? What can he show him, how can he support him to solve problems that are overwhelming for men? Fr Leszek Szkopek, the secretary of the Congress and the head of Radio Family Kalisz, convinces us that no one else than St Joseph can do that. ‘The timeless, universal and uncommon man that can succeed to become a model of truly manly attitude.’ The Josephological Congress is to transfer the personality of St Joseph to contemporary times; to reinterpret this extraordinary man; to call scientifically these spheres where he marked his presence. ‘Speaking by deeds’ is the name of St Joseph used in the special hymn composed for the Congress. ‘He is a real man, whom the youth would call ‘a fellow’. Do not be afraid to think about him in such a way. He finds his place in many aspects of our difficult reality that is torn by demons’ interferences’, Fr Szkopek adds. ‘Firstly, he accepted a new life although he was not the father of this Life, and he defended this Life against Herod, which made him the first defender of life. Secondly, he married Mary, which made him patron of married couples. In present times when so many marriages end in divorce it is worth appealing to St Joseph; to follow his behaviour, e.g. invariability of feelings, faithfulness to the promise, etc. Thirdly, St Joseph was the head of his family and he cared for his family. He knew the troubles of daily life, the ordinary reality and because he was not rich he had similar financial problems like most of us; he faced various kinds of discomfort. To support his family he worked hard and that’s why he is the patron of workers and also of those who have lost their jobs or face unemployment; those who cannot sleep because of their concerns for the future of the closest ones.’
Recently St Joseph has been called the patron of immigrants, those who leave their homeland and families to work abroad. ‘Finally, the carpenter of Nazareth escaped from his country to save his family. His behaviour shows one more element – he took his family with him, he did not leave them. Take your family with you as I took Mary and Jesus, he seems to say today’, Fr Leszek Szkopek explains.
To demythologise the figure
The Josephological Congress has many dimensions. On the one hand, it is undoubtedly a considerable scientific event; it will draw scientists from Poland and Europe as well as from distant South America or Africa. The great names will include Fr Tarcisio Stramare from Rome who is said to be the biggest authority in Josephological studies in the world. As many as 60 speeches delivered by scientists from 15 countries were planned. St Joseph will be depicted from many angles, including the artistic and musical ones. Apart from strictly scientific events the Church of St Joseph will witness solemn celebrations with Josephological messages. This pastoral pious trend seems to be extremely important and characteristic of the Congress in Kalisz. In order to meet the organisational challenge a special schedule of participation was prepared. The organisers invited: nuns, priests, Josephological associations and brotherhood from all over Poland, married couples and families, seminarians (all seminarians from Wloclawek and Poznan confirmed their participation)… and young people for the last day of the Congress. Lectures are to be accompanied by prayers and here we have a surprise. Most of the lectures will be delivered by Fr Joseph-Marie Verlinde, an extraordinary man with an amazing life who speaks about St Joseph in a fascinating way. Fr Verlinde is a physicist who made a stunning carrier; then he left for Tibet, became a practicing Buddhist and finally was suddenly converted and now is a Catholic priest and the founder of the community of St Joseph’s family. His teachings draw crowds. This year’s pilgrimage from Kalisz to Jasna Gora was dedicated to bringing people to St Joseph. For several days 2,500 people tried to discover the figure of St Joseph in rather unconventional subjects. Two priests: Fr Rafal Zubryka and Fr Piotr Wozniak undertook the uneasy task to demythologise the figure of the Saint. With what result? ‘Nowadays when have a programme about St Joseph on the radio we receive one telephone call after another. People call to tell us how they have discovered St Joseph in their lives. How he has become in a way a companion of their daily lives’, says Fr Leszek Szkopek. The special guests of the Congress: Blessed Brother Andrew from Canada who was an ordinary man, quite hopeless but a spiritual giant as he was called, created, having no means, a powerful shrine in Montreal, and the holy parents of St Therese of the Child Jesus, the Martins. Of course, these guests will be present in their relics.
The Congress will end and what’s next?
‘You cannot stop making this one event’, the organisers say. Certainly, the strong message concerning the Custodian of Jesus will be spread in the world. All the texts delivered during the Congress will be translated into Polish and published. During the Congress there will be the official inauguration of the activities of the Josephological Centre in Kalisz. Now it can boast of the biggest library about St Joseph in Poland. In fact, all those who are interested in this figure or who conduct research on him will find their way to Kalisz sooner or later. ‘The Centre will be a natural continuation of the Congress activities’, Rev. Dr. Andrzej Laton, the chairman of the organising committee explains. He is a priest who is fascinated by the figure of St Joseph.
Fr Leszek Szkopek:
In the times when families experience a considerable crisis abortion, in spite of considerable social awareness, is still present. When the economic crisis makes thousands lose jobs, when demoralisation is shockingly big, St Joseph, a pragmatic man, knowing the hardships well, seems to be sent to our difficult times. Please see how brutal and absurd are sometimes various events that interfere into our family, religious life, into our ways of perceiving the world. Some think that it is Satan’s interference. And it is not by accident that the last call in the Litany of St Joseph is, ‘Terror of demons’.
Fr Andrzej Laton:
We must take the lead so that St Joseph is not only associated with the patron of workers. This is a very beautiful patronage but Josephology tries to prove that this attitude makes the figure of the saint shallow. He is humble and helps but the essence is that the Word was made flesh since Jesus was born from Mary who was betrothed to Joseph. Jesus was born in the family whose head was Joseph. The whole theology will be deficient unless theologians acknowledge that Jesus was the son of David. This is a fundamental title. Joseph is not some saint but he descends from the royal house and gave this royal descent to Jesus.