Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC

Stockbridge, Massachusetts

Kazimierz Chwalek
From the time I was seven, I felt a quiet longing to follow Christ as a priest. I had many plans for my life, but this longing was always there. And, more than anyone else, Pope John Paul II awakened it in me.

I first met him at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C, in 1969. He was a Cardinal then, and I was a 17-year-old altar server. I was impressed by the way he made himself available to people.

Years later, as a college exchange student living in Cracow, his home diocese, I was inspired by his homilies. I could feel his deep love for Christ and for people. It was clear that he wanted to help them come to know the truth and joy of the Gospel.

Still later, as a graduate student at the Catholic University of Lublin, I felt encouraged by his talks, writings, and example to actively live out my faith. While I was there in 1978, the Cardinal I knew and admired became Pope John Paul II.

Something happened to me on that day. The quiet longing to become a priest grew into a strong desire to follow Christ with John Paul as my model of priestly service.

I began to follow his activities, read about his life, and learn from his writings. During this time, one experience stands out — his 1979 pilgrimage to Poland. I will never forget his opening prayer: a powerful cry for the Holy Spirit to come and renew the face of the earth — to renew Poland and the whole world.

Chills of joy and expectation filled my heart. I felt a tremendous sense of freedom and hope in Christ, and many others seemed to feel it, too. I could see it in their faces and hear it in their songs — millions of people sharing the Eucharist with a new sense of unity and mission as they served one another in a variety of ministries.

It was an experience that deepened my understanding of what Church really is and confirmed my longing to follow Christ. The following year I entered the Marian seminary. Since then, the message and example of John Paul II have inspired and enriched my life and ministry, and I will be forever grateful.