In Turkmenistan, the victory of kindness
Interview with Andrzej MADEJ, OMI
At the beginning, he underlined that he was baptized before he was four weeks old, on the last day of October 1951…. Fr. Andrzej MADEJ, recently stopping by the General House, didn’t even wait for me to ask the first question. His usual luminous face radiating enthusiasm, Fr. Andrzej began immediately, saying that there was a solemn procession that day to close “the month of the Rosary,” and it was before that procession that he was baptized. From that time, so many events in his life have occurred in association with days, months, and places dedicated to Mary.
- How did you become an Oblate?
I was still a child when my parents said to me, “Pay attention! Never believe the communists. They do not tell the truth. We must have confidence in the Church which speaks the truth.” At the age of 13, I learned that one of my companions, a year older than I, had entered a convent and was doing his high school. I said to myself that I could do the same thing. At the time, I didn’t yet know that it had anything to do with the Oblates. I knew only that they were in the Catholic Church. I wrote to them, and thus entered the minor seminary with the Oblates at Markowice in Poland.
- So you continued your journey with the Oblates. Didn”t you study in Rome?
Oh yes, I studied theology at the Gregorian University …. It seems like it was a hundred years ago! Then I continued my studies in Poland , at the Catholic University of Lublin, then at the Pontifical Theological Academy of Krakow. I was ordained a priest in 1977. Very soon after my ordination, the university students of Krakow called me to preach their retreat on the theme of “Evangelization”. I remember that the Cardinal of Krakow at the time came for the conclusion of the retreat… who shortly afterward became John Paul II.
- What was your first ministry after ordination?
Very interesting. I was sent to study liturgy, under the responsibility of Fr. Franciszek Blachnicky, founder of the movement “Light and Life”, called “Oaza” in Poland – today his cause has been introduced. Those were still the times of atheistic propaganda and the government considered those who worked with youth as enemies. Cardinal Wojtyla strongly supported this priest. Therefore, I was chaplain of this movement for several years and that marked my first years of ministry. I accompanied the youth in the movement’s camps; they lasted fifteen days, which corresponded to the mysteries of the Rosary. There, we delved into the Gospel, prayed spontaneously…. Those camps were and continue to be organized in the mountains. We now await the day of Fr. Blachnicky’s beatification.
- After that ministry?
I worked in the Oblate minor seminary and preached some retreats both in Poland as well as in other countries. Above all, I was engaged in media work. The engagement of the Church in this domain seems to me as one of the great responses to the ‘signs of the times’; it is necessary that we be there, we must proclaim the Gospel in this ‘first Areopagus’ as our former Superior General, Fr. Zago, used to say. Following that, I went to our mission in the Ukraine , at Kiev , for three years beginning in 1994.
- Then from the Ukraine finally to Turkmenistan?
Yes, the Provincial thought that my knowledge of Russian would be advantageous for the evangelization in a former Soviet republic. At the time, Fr. Marcello Zago was still General and he wanted to open that mission as a challenge for the Oblates. And thus, I went to Ashkabad. Among the ecclesiastical categories we are known as ‘missio sui iuris’ and we depend directly upon the Holy See. For the Oblates, Turkmenistan is a joint mission of the Polish and United States Provinces . Unfortunately, up until the present there are only Polish Oblates working on the shores of the Caspian Sea . Currently, we are two : Fr. Tomasz Koscinski and myself. Fr. General, Wilhelm Steckling , has promised us a third. It was a great joy when Father McLean, an American Oblate, was able to stay with us for three months.
- What are you able to tell us about this country?
The population is around five million inhabitants. Until a little while ago, the majority of the people were nomadic. Even today one sees everywhere sheep, shepherds, and camels…. The women make very beautiful carpets . The cultivation of cotton is very important; there is also gas, petroleum…. But these thirteen years of independence have been and continue to be a time of transition, which is never easy and for which a high price is being paid. Every day I encounter people who live the Beatitudes, poor and simple people, open to the Lord, open to other people, responsible for one another. They are the true ‘anawim’ (poor) of the Lord.
The majority of the population is Muslim. There are only twelve Orthodox parishes, while we Catholics have some fifty baptized at Askabad and about thirty catechumens. These days, I have come to Rome for a Justice and Peace meeting, and I have been accompanied by two women: Anna who is already baptized, and Galina, from the group of catechumens. The catechumenate lasts from three to four years. We had an audience with the Pope, and I presented them as the first fruits of the Church of Turkmenistan . The Pope has an open heart toward this country and the others of Asia , and he prays much for us. Galina, though not yet baptized, asked him to bless her desire to consecrate herself as a religious sister, and the Pope did so.
- What do you do in your parish?
Each Sunday at 10 a .m. we celebrate the Mass in Russian and at 6 p.m. in English for the diplomatic community and for the travelers from different countries. Also, on Sunday at midday there is a liturgy of the Word for the group of catechumens. Every day at 8:30 a.m. we pray the Rosary and celebrate the Eucharist; and twice each week, we pray Lauds before the Mass. A breviary in the Russian language has been published in Moscow.
- What is the political climate that you face?
We are registered as an Apostolic Nunciature. I have the honor of being the cultural attaché of the Nunciature. Therefore, I am part of the diplomatic corps. Frequenting the different receptions can be draining! The government is working to officially register certain denominations, the Catholic Church among them. That is the reason I have been called to the ( Vatican ) Secretariat of State this time.
- What about the coexistence with the Muslims?
It’s like being among good neighbors, familiar people. Sometimes as friends.
- What do you envision for the mission in Turkmenistan?
God knows. We must be men of hope. The future is in God’s hands. We all hope in the victory of truth, of goodness, of mercy. We are there to contribute to that victory, which is the victory of Christ. And God guides the entire history of the Church toward this happy goal. In the meanwhile there is much instability, but that’s life!
- You feel you are truly an Oblate?
There are so many possibilities to be truly Oblate. The people of Turkmenistan merit more. What a pity not to be a saint! I would like to serve more fully, and I ask your prayer for this mission.