Rev Fr. Marianus Zelazek, SVD
Saviour of leprosy Patients
Oration, 2nd May, 2006, Jharsuguda)
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
1. End came too soon.
Two weeks ago we witnessed the tragic death of
two of our young confreres. The painful memories of their death and
funeral are still fresh in our minds. The Lord called them and they
responded “yes”. Yesterday at 2.00 pm the sudden death cut short the life
of a most illustrious, dedicated and saintly life of a great missionary,
Rev Fr. Marian Zelazek, SVD in Puri. His mortal remains lie before us
reminding us of his missionary vocation and the innumerable achievements
during the 88 years of his life.
2. Homage to a great missionary
Today we have come together to pay respect to this great soul who spent
his entire life only for God and for God’s people. Lying in the coffin,
his last possession on this earth, which he will soon abandon in the
grave, he is declaring to us that he has completed the task the Lord had
entrusted to him as a religious missionary. He is now probably repeating
the words of St. Paul:
“ I have done my best in the race,
I have run the full distance,
And I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).
3. The Ordeals
Fr. Marian has kept his faith at a great price. He kept
his faith during one of the bloodiest wars in history, the II world war,
which made him a prisoner. He kept his faith while he was suffering in
Dachau, the most inhuman, humiliating and deadly concentration camp of
Hitler and the Nazis in Germany. He survived it for five years which lakhs
of his contemporaries in similar situations did not.
4. Life in India
He kept his faith in India during the 56 years of his missionary life
here, of which he spent 31 years in the holy city of Puri
Fr. Marian Zelazek, SVD was born on 30th January 1918 in
Poznan in Poland. During the world war second he was a young novice forced
into Nazi custody where he was imprisoned for five years. He was not a
6. A great pioneering missionary.
His life in the inhuman conditions of
the concentration camp at Dachau laid a solid foundation for his future
life as a priest and missionary. He was ordained a priest in the Society
of the Divine Word on 18th Sept. 1948.
After his ordination he was assigned to Sambalpur mission in India in
1950, over half a century ago. While he was in Sambalpur, he distinguished
himself as an efficient and zealous missionary, an ardent educationist and
a vocation promoter, specially among tribal Christians. As a promoter of
vocations he was responsible for opening a minor seminary in the Diocese
of Sambalpur. He is also a linguist who can speak with ease at least three
Indian languages: Hindi, Oriya and Sadri.
7. Life in Puri, the holy city of Lord Jagannath.
On 1st June, 1975 Fr.
Marian was transferred from Sambalpur mission to Puri in the Archdiocese
of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar. As you know Puri is one of the five holiest places
of Hindus. I am wondering whether the arrival of Fr, Marianus in Puri has
not added more to the holiness of Puri, the city of Lord Jagannath?
Fr. Marian was privileged to enter the holy city in order to look after
the parish community, which included a large community of over 1,000
leprosy patients and fisher folks. These two groups are, perhaps, the
poorest among the population of Puri. His large-heartedness enabled him to
enter into the community of Hindu priestly class of Lord Jagannath of
Puri. The high priest of Puri temple was one of his close friends.
8. Saviour of leprosy patients.
Seeing the miserable existence of
leprosy patients Fr. Marian decided to do something to eradicate leprosy
and to rehabilitate the leprosy patients so that they could live with
dignity. As a result of his selfless and dedicated service of 31 years in
Puri, the community of leprosy patients has today:
- A well organized colony with a population of over 1,000 leprosy
- Beatrix school for children of leprosy patients
- A mini hospital for leprosy patients
- A mercy kitchen for those who cannot help themselves.
- A hostel for the children of leprosy patients.
- Self-help programmes, like weaving, bandage making, rope-making,
brick making, sewing, gardening, chicken farm, etc.
One of the very positive aspects of his work among the leprosy patients
is that he has succeeded to a large extend to integrate this community of
leprosy patients into the local communities. Beatrix school is a very good
example of this integration where children of non-leprosy patients too
nowadays attend classes together with the children of leprosy patients.
His dedication to the leprosy colony was total. He not only served
them, but he loved them. For his leprosy patients no sacrifice and no hard
work was too much for him. He told me once “ I would like to die while I
am working”. The Lord granted him his request.
On 30th April Fr. Marian had gone to the colony to take part
in their festival ”Okhya Trutia”. He had his mid-day meal in the colony
itself with some of his friends. Fr. Kurian joined him. After the noon
meal Fr. Marian was going to his jeep to return to his residence,
Ishapanti Ashram. He collapsed before he reached the jeep. What happened
is significant. He died in the midst of his beloved people. It was his own
people who picked him up and brought him to the dispensary where he died.
10. Man for all and for all seasons.
He was very out-reaching. His
generosity benefited everyone, even those who gave him immense trouble. He
was ready to help everyone and was ready on all occasions.
Fr. Marian was known for being late for meetings or other common
gatherings. Sometimes it annoyed the members who waited for him. But the
secret of his being late was that he was often held-up for rendering some
service to the most needy. He was a very noble and reliable samaritan.
He loved his life intensely because he was losing it daily in Dachau.
Once liberated from such misery he did not allow it to be bitter for
himself, nor for the others. So, he went out of his way to spread that joy
of life everywhere.
So, we have a man in the person of Fr. Marian Zelazek, who tried to
live his life in its fullness and spent himself fully to help others live
their lives in the same way.
11. A Man of God
Fifty five years of hectic activities in India,
fearless preaching the word of God, his infinite patience and open
heartedness towards all, clearly indicate that Fr. Marian was a man of God
who lived continuously in communion with God. He drew his spiritual
strength from prayer, the celebration of the Eucharist and his
experiencing of God in the love of the poor and the suffering. His
spirituality was to discover the face of Jesus in the poor. When Fr.
Marian collapsed the same Jesus lifted him up through the people whom he
served with such great love and dedication.
12. Fr. Marian lived the spirit of the Gospels.
His entire attitude was
based on the teachings of Jesus in the Gospels. He lived fully on God’s
providence. The bird’s of the air, the lilies of the field reminded him of
the goodness of the heavenly Father towards him and towards others. (Mt.
6. 28-30). He was able to ignore his own weaknesses, failures and
shortcomings and that of others because for him the most important thing
was God’s Kingdom.
“Set your hearts on his kingdom first, and on his righteousness,
all the other things will be given you as well (Mt. 6:33).
Jesus has opened the door of eternity through his death and
resurrection. He is inviting each one of us to share this life. Two weeks
ago 3 of our beloved brothers said ‘Yes’ to God’s call to enter into the
joy of the Lord. Yesterday Fr. Marianus too responded ”Yes” to that call
from the Father. Now Jesus is telling Fr. Marian as he told the good thief
“Indeed, I promise you today you shall be with me in paradise” (Lk.
23:43). Fr. Marian is with the Lord, I believe.
13. Uncertainty of death
Death is something that frightens us, even
though we are able to think positively about death. Its suddenness and
uncertainty may be the cause for such fears. Therefore, death of a person
is a challenge and a warning to all of us. The Psalmist reminds us that:
“my days dwindle away
like a shadow
I am as dry as hay” (Ps.102.11)
Two weeks ago we celebrated Easter, commemorating the resurrection of
Christ who won a decisive victory over death. But we witness or read about
death of many every day. Let us remain always ready to listen to the words
of Christ. “Indeed, I promise you.. … today you shall be with me in
paradise” ( Lk. 23:43).
† Raphael Cheenath,SVD