The Polish Council of Christians and Jews
had the honour of inviting to the ceremony
of awarding the title of

Person of Reconciliation 2018

to Sister Michèle
from the Community of Grandchamp

The Ceremony took place on August 4, 2019
at the Centre for Dialogue and Prayer in Oświęcim

The honorary title “Person of Reconciliation” is awarded by the Polish Council of Christians and Jews to people from outside of Poland who work for greater rapprochement and understanding between Christians and Jews, especially in Poland, in recognition of their contribution to the work of rapprochement, better understanding and reconciliation of the followers of both religions.

By awarding this title to Sister Michèle, we want to express our appreciation for her attitude, her commitment and her contacts with Poland, in particular with our Council members. In addition, we are pleased to express our gratitude and appreciation to the Grandchamp Community to which the Sister has belonged since 1960, and for thirty-three years was responsible for the novitiate.

Stanisław Krajewski
„Sister of Reconciliation”
can be found here

Sister Michele said in response:
Dear Staszek, Dear Mr Nosowski, Dear Marta, Dear Members of the Polish Council,
with all my heart, thank you very much!

The gift that I gladly accept is combined with the attitude contained in a Hasidic story: “Why make so much confusion about serving God? Does the hand praise itself  when it does the heart’s will”?

Teshuva, coming back to God; the grace of all graces, described in Lamentations, verse 5,21: “Restore us to yourself, LORD, that we may return; renew our days as of old.” One should have empty hands and fear of a God who is withdrawing (cim – cum), making room for our freedom and responsibility. Just like the story of the hummingbird, who once “when the forest was burning, took a sip of water to put out the fire. Other animals said to the bird in pity: You went crazy! With so little water you want to put out a great fire. The hummingbird replied:” Yes! I give as much as I have, that’s enough. “

The choice made by you, made me realize something that has been with me since childhood. It drifts like the main thread of my life – the presence of God in another person – in the words of one of the fathers of the Church from the 4th century, it is “the sacrament of the Brother, the sacrament of the Sister”. Similar to this Hasidic story, “If you see a human face and discover the face of your brother or sister in it, then know that the night has ended and the day has begun.”

I will go back to the early years, to my meetings (it is impossible to name and calculate them all. Each of them is equally important and real to me). Almost all resulted from silence and listening. I did nothing, they happened on their own. “take off your sandals! This place where you stand is a holy place.” I will cite some examples:

1.I didn’t know anyone in Poland. The first addresses were given to me by Brother Marek from Taizé. They were his friends in Gdańsk and Poznań – Joanna and Artur, Roman and Hania who had small children. There was great surprise in Sopot synagogue with Arthur and the Jewish brothers there – what does this nun want? We parted like friends, we broke a few stones out of the wall of prejudice! Joanna bought old Sopot plans to compare streets related to my family from the past. “Such German maps were unthinkable a few years ago!” she said.

I was with Roman in the Lutheran church with Fr. Raszyk, in the Jewish community, and at a Mass at the Dominicans. We shared everything! At the time, both families lived in very small apartments and they welcomed me like a princess! And my kingdom was a children’s room! So much understanding, so much warmth and so much forgiveness …

2. A little later in Poznan again – Małgorzata (Grzywacz) – an article about her childhood written in 2005 from a girl’s perspective touched me strongly. Małgorzata, like me, recognized Edith Stein as a great master of the spiritual life. I learned a lot from her, thank you. In 2016, on the eve of the Reformation year, Małgorzata published in Polish the first book of Sister Minke, the prior abbess of our community. The book was accompanied by the text of the Way of the Cross which Pope John Paul II ordered from Sr. Minke for the prayers  in the Coliseum, 1995 in Rome. In one of the stations she wrote: “Forgive us that we have rejected your people, even in our liturgies, especially on Good Friday.”

3. There was the first visit to Wroclaw together with Prof. Witt of the Lutheran church. He guided me around the so called tolerance district, where the White Stork synagogue and three Christian denominations remain in mutual respect. The professor picked me up by car from the airport. He asked me many times with astonishment and surprise: “Sister is a Catholic, right? .. A friend told me to pick up a Protestant deaconess from the airport.” We became good friends.

In Breslau I also had to think of Alain Blancy, who grew up in a Jewish-Polish family. As a refugee he came to a camp in France; Later he became a pastor and was very involved in the Jewish-Christian dialogue. I learned a lot from him and received an important “invitation”: “We must dialogue – and it suffices that we resist the deadly temptation to radically separate Judaism and Christianity.

4. There was the trip with the “Little Brothers of Jesus” Mirek and Zbyszek to Tykocin, a former Jewish village. On the way back we went to Treblinka and we prayed in silence. A gentle touch on the arm – young Polish brothers … and how great was the reconciliation. We had a lot of contacts – Brother Mirek’s profession in Warsaw’s Praga. There were Russian tanks standing there, looking at the occupied city, not helping the fighting. Amid the traces of death, all was tangibly present during his perpetual vows ceremony, a decision binding all his life,. Contacts with “the Little Sisters of Jesus” – especially from the centre of Krakow. I had seen many movies about the expulsion of Krakow Jews from Kazimierz to the ghetto … And I was given shelter by the “Little Sisters” – such a strong presence of God in their tiny chapel in trust filled singing. We cried together.

5. The meetings of the “Christophorus” ecumenical network brought many closer together. Father Christopher from England had earlier contacts with Poland and Germany, with Catholics and Protestants. I met two people who belonged to this team: deaconess Aleksandra Błahut-Kowalczyk – from the Lutheran Church, a writer, and Sr. Aleksandra, the superior of the Dominican Order in Krakow. Both have contributed greatly to the success of the conferences through their openness, their trust in God and their knowledge of German.

6. The small booklet ‘The Bond of Memory’ published in 2008 by Zbigniew Nosowski was a very present companion to me. I was impressed with the work for Christian – Jewish reconciliation in many places in Poland. I met people who were completely involved in it. I even meditated on photographs and longed to meet the people one day in person. Step by step it came true. Zbigniew Nosowski, I had not known personally before, although we had contact by e-mail preparing an ecumenical conference about the Jewish past in Otwock.

7. One of the photos contained in this publication shows the faces of Bishop Szurman from the Lutheran parish and Mr. Kac from the Jewish community in Katowice. During the gala dinner at the bishop’s house, I understood hardly anything, but I felt happy that the two met. It was similar in other situations, especially with the collaborators of Bishop Szurman. At the end of the service in the bishop’s church in Katowice, after I had asked for forgiveness, there were whispers: “Prime Minister Buzek is among us!” He came to me with open arms and said: “Thank you for what you said about reconciliation, we need it so much, please do not stop!” It seemed to me then that all of Poland had forgiven Germany.
Thank you to Bishop Niemic, the successor of T. Szurman, for being here today.

Miodowa Street in Warsaw. Every time I write this address, my heart gets warmer. This is where the Lutheran centre is located in Warsaw, where people who I value very much live. There were meetings with Bishop Samiec and his wife. Before they came to Granchamp, I met Ania, the bishop’s secretary, and Ewa, Wanda, and many others.

8. There were many hours spent with Marta Titaniec, and important conversations in the Warsaw synagogue with Rabbi Schudrich. During the Simchat Torah festival, together with Monika and other women from the community, we experienced moments of great joy. Many years ago, in the same synagogue, tears came to my eyes when I saw children playing among the praying men … “there is still a future for your people.”

9. Staszek Krajewski: the first meeting at his home with his wife Monika and his wonderful son Daniel. As the “Little Prince” used to say, what is most important remains invisible. It cannot be described – God’s Presence – Respect – Amazement, we belong together and are so different. The importance of the silence that Staszek had understood in Grandchamp connects us deeply.

Our contact developed – up to the seventieth anniversary of the death of Edith Stein, the prayer path in Birkenau, prepared by the Polish Council of Christians and Jews, to the chanting of the prayer for the dead “El male Rachamin”, and the contact remains up to this day. For our retreat group, the testimony of Staszek’s life and what “Listen to Israel” – Sh’ma Israel – means was very important.

10. Finally, let’s return to the “Centre for Dialogue and Prayer”, to Father Manfred, then to Edith Stein. One of Manfred’s most important sentences is: “Auschwitz is a fertile land. Why? Because it is a place of change. It should not make us sick but more human.” This belief has made my intuition to “pray in Auschwitz” even stronger. Karin Seetaler also understood this well. Father Manfred helped us make contact with the Missionaries of Maximilian Kolbe, with Sister Angela. Two years later, in 2015, we were in Harmęże. Their openness moves us and life emanates with a part of the “cell of love” in which Father Maximilian Kolbe gave his life. – I’m also very close to the Carmel sisters not far from here, especially to s. Maria-Teresa.

Agnieszka, a volunteer from Poland who lived with us in Granchamp, took part in a retreat conducted at the Centre by Fr. Manfred. Seven years ago, she wrote: “It was a very important experience. I felt that this place wanted to be a source of life and hope, stronger than death and hatred, a source of living water.”

Finally, a few words about Edith Stein, whose seventy-seventh anniversary of death we commemorate on August 9. Once, after a walk, Manfred said to me “You are strengthened with the beauty of nature, now you can go to Birkenau, to Edith Stein. Two years ago, in 2017, at the place of her death we found this tree, symbolizing for us change and forgiveness. A tree that was hollow inside, but full of flowers! It brings to mind words of Edith Stein: “… without transformation of suffering into joy, the burden of life would be meaningless – what appears weak in the eyes of men has made God strong, that is the hope of my life.” Thanks to Margaret for this idea and for all the translations.

In a Hungarian film (that does not reflect completely the character of Stein), I was moved by the last scene: Edith takes off her prison outfit in the dressing room and goes a long way from darkness to a great light, there her mother accepts and embraces her. “

Collete Kessler, the Jewish theologian of the Reform synagogue in Paris, who is close to Grandchamp, said: “In the person of Edith Stein, there was an eschatological anticipation, an encounter of the Christian and Jewish soul … that Jews and Christians would both, each one in his own way, become a blessing for all nations on earth, to the highest glory of God.”

Eva Mozes Kor, a survivor of Auschwitz, died a few weeks ago in Poland. After an attack on the museum, which she had founded with great difficulty in America, she wrote – and I want to conclude: «They may have destroyed some photos, but not our history. They may have destroyed a building, but not our community. Light conquers darkness and love will always overcome hatred.»

Thank you!

Polska Rada Chrześcijan i Żydów
The Polish Council of Christians and Jews
Co-Chairs: Stanisław Krajewski i Zbigniew Nosowski
Address for Correspondence: ul. Trębacka 3, 00-074 Warszawa
Pictures: Iwona Budziak i Manfred Deselaers