BE AS GOOD AS BREAD
In relation to the 100th death anniversary of St. Brother Albert Chmielowski, attributable to 25 December 2016, the Polish Episcopal Conference acknowledged a request of the general superior of the Albertine Sisters (Cracow) and the chairperson of the Society of Help named St. Brother Albert (Wrocław), in order to establish the Year of St. Brother Albert in Polish dioceses. Also the Polish Parliament established the Year of St. Brother Albert. On this occasion it is worth going to Cracow to have a walk along the Cracovian route (http://www.krakowianka-przewodnik.pl/dla-pielgrzymów) – following ‘Brother of our God’, as it was written in a drama about the saint, entitled so, by Karol Wojtyła.
A miracle in Nowa Huta…?
The Year of St. Brother Albert began on 25 December 2016 with a solemn Holy Mass celebrated in the cathedral at Wawel by cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz and will last till 25 December 2017. It is difficult to believe but it is on the areas of the future Nowa Huta, about which communists hoped it would be ‘a town without God’, near the Cracovian abbey of the Cisytercians in Mogiła, there happened a miracle, which had a significant influence on the extremely colourful life of Adam Chmielowski. This was mother of Adaś – Jóżefa from the Borzysławwscy Chmielowska, who had brought her son in his bad health state to the sanctuary and entrusted him to God hopefully. And as in Vilnus, through the intercession of Our Lady of Ostra Brama Adam Mickiewicz had recovered, a miracle happened in Mogiła – the boy recovered too. Mickiewicz wrote about the fact of his healing in the Invocation of ‘Pan Tadeusz’: ‘Hail Lady who defend Jasna Góra in Częstochowa/And who shine in Ostra Brama! You, who protect the castle and Nowogród with its faithful people/ (When under your care from crying mother/ Being entrusted, I raised my dead eyelid/ And I could go on foot at once to Your church/Go there to thank God for my returned life), /So will you return us to the bosom of Homeland miraculously…’
‘A poor man from Cracow’
Adam Hilary Bernard Chmielowski of the coat of arms Jastrzębiec was born in Igołomia on 20 August 1845. When he was 8, his dad Wojciech died. In the place of non-existing house, witness the birth of the future saint, there is still a room today, where his father, worked. The Albertine sisters take care of it, as well as of the Memory Chamber devoted to their founder. The most important exposes of the exhibition include a copy of a writing from a metrical book of the parish church in Igołomia certifying baptism of the future saint.
Before ‘the poor man from Cracow’ noticed his vocation, and on 25 august 1888 (this day is considered as the date of establishing the Convent of Brothers Serving to the Poor, called the Albertinians now) he made convent vows, taking on the name Albert, as a man he has walked a long road, pursuing an inner fight. Who was he? It is difficult to find an unambiguous sentence! An artist who resigns from his artistic career, because of his inner impulse, a social activist devoting himself to work for the homeless and the poor, an insurgent in the January Uprising, who was awarded as a saint with a big Band of the Order of Poland Renewal after his death in 1938 for his independence activity and social work by the president of the Republic of Poland Ignacy Mościcki. Inhabitants of Cracow remember Albert as ‘an ordinary brother with a wooden leg’. He lost his leg at the age of 18 in a battle at Mełchów (amputation operation was carried out in primitive field conditions, in the candle light and without anesthesia…). Albert Chmielowski died, being considered as a saint at the age of 70. He was buried on the Rakowicki graveyard in Cracow. The grave (empty now) can be visited even today at the corner of the graveyard XI a.
Sanctuary Ecce Homo
In the church (10 Woronicza Street), above the main altar there hangs the most important painting by St. Brother Albert – ‘Ecce Homo’. The name of the sanctuary just comes from this painting and means ‘Here is the man’. This is a reference to words said by Pilate who shows scourged Christ to the crowd (see Jan 19.5). Brother Albert – Adam Chmielowski slightly deformed Christ’s arm and a red coat is falling off His shoulders in such a way that it sketches an enormous heart on the scourged breast of the Redeemer. The sanctuary is visited by artists, whose St. Brother Albert is a patron. Mainly the poor, the worried, the lonely are arriving here to ask for help.
A Cracovian route following St. Brother Albert
One can ask a licensed guide for help in finding all traces of St. Brother Albert or one can prepare a map with places which one wants to see. It is important not to miss the birthday in Igołomia, belonging to the so-called customs housing estate. One must visit the abbey of the Cistercians in Mogiła, where little Albert had recovered miraculously. It is worth seeing the oldest women’s shelter in Kazimierz in Cracow – in 47 Krakowska Street. In 4 Basztowa street there is a plaque commemorating the fact that in the year 1884 Brother Albert lived here with the homeless and alcoholics (also in a municipal steam plant in Skwaińska street).
Who is interested in painting, must visit the Polish Art Gallery of XIX century in Sukiennnice. Here on the first floor, in the Hall of Józef Chełmoński, we see two paintings by Chmielowski, among the others, ‘An Italian graveyard at dusk’ (it is worth remembering that all works by Adam Chmielowski includes about 60 oil paintings, over 20 watercolours and 15 drawings). An important place on the route is the church of the Capuchin Fathers in Cracow, dedicated to Annunciation of Virgin Mary (11Loretańska street). Here, on 25 August 1887, in the Loreta House (a project of Kacper Bażanek) Chmielowski received religious ordination and the name Albert. Here, on 24 March 1794 Tadeusz Kościuszko received a sacrificed sword. The considerate artist will also see a cannon ball which had fallen into a presbytery on 15 August 1768 and got stuck in the wall during fights of Bar Confederates with Russian armies. The background of the cover of one of the side altars is Merciful Christ, painted in 1944 by Adolf Hyła (the author of the most famous image of Merciful Jesus, whom he had painted 260 times). The background of the painting presents Warsaw on fire, and this is a votive of inhabitants of the capital city for their saved life after the Warsaw Uprising and thanking for a shelter which they had found in the monastery in autumn 1944.
Another place on the Cracovian route of St. Brother Albert is his empty grave on the Rakowicki graveyard. We can finish our walk in the Ecce Homo sanctuary – here under the altar stone there are earthly remains of ‘St. Francis of our times’. It is worth remembering that the sanctuary is also the place of cult of bl. Bernardyna Jabłońska.
There are a lot of Cracovian initiatives commemorating St. Brother Albert, among the others, ‘Albertiana’ – the Nationwide Festival of Theatrical-Musical Works of the Intellectually Disabled, whose initiator is the famous actress Anna Dymna. The Social Care House in Nowaczyńska street is named St. Brother Albert. On the estate of Squadron 303 there is a parish church devoted Brother Albert whose believers edit a quarterly ‘Voice of Brother Albert’.
Be like bread…
‘One should be as good as bread. One should be like bread which lies on the table, from which everybody can cut a slice for themselves and eat if they are hungry’ – these are the most famous words of St. Brother Albert. Therefore, reliquary of the Saint, which believers can kiss in the Cracovian Ecce Homo sanctuary, has got a shape of a loaf of bread. And we are facing a difficult task – getting to know the life of the saint and also a difficult attempt to be good like the everyday bread, for every man we meet on our way. Not only in 2017.