It has been many years since I heard his name or thought about his life but in the Easter edition of America magazine an article reignited my interest and admiration of this extraordinary man.
I am talking about Father Walter J. Ciszek, S.J., an American Jesuit, born in Pennsylvania in 1904 and died in 1984. I share the Jesuits enthusiasm and happiness that the Vatican has now given formal permission for the canonization process to begin for this wonderful American priest.
Father Ciszek as a young man volunteered to go to serve as a missionary in Poland. When the German army rolled over Poland in 1939 Ciszek became a refugee moving into Russia. Following the war, the Russians falsely accused him of being a spy. After five years of brutal interrogation in Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka prison, he was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. Amazingly, he survived both of these experiences. In 1963, President Kennedy secured his release from Russia and he returned to the United States where he would later write two extraordinarily powerful and popular books, With God in Russia and He Leadeth Me.
This man’s life was truly amazing. His heroism, patience and, yes, let me mention here, forgiveness, for he carried no bitterness against those who caused his terrible experience, is really an example of a follower of Jesus. May God bless the Jesuits and may God bless Father Ciszek.
I think that canonization of men and women of this caliber will do much to bring the various factions of the Church in the United States closer together, and maybe once again we can be Catholics and not liberal Catholics or conservative Catholics.
Coming – A New American Saint!