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Rev Fr. Marianus Zelazek, SVD
Saviour of leprosy Patients
(Funeral 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

5. Bio-data
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 soldier.

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 patients
  • 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.

9. Death
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,
and 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