On December 5, 2015 in a stadium in Chimbote, Peru, His Eminence Cardinal Angelo Amato, 500 priests, and a congregation of 25,000 people celebrated the Mass of Beatification for Friars Michal (Miguel) Tomaszek, OFM Conv. and Zbigniew Strzalkowski, OFM Conv. Fr. James McCurry, OFM Conv., the Minister Provincial of the Our Lady of the Angels Province, participated in the ceremony.
Slain by the Marxist guerilla organization the Shining Path on August 9, 1991 in the mission of Pariacoto, Friars Miguel and Zbigniew are the first declared martyrs of Peru. The theme of the Beatification was “Testigos de la Esperanza,” or Witnesses of Hope, and recognized the firm faith and joyful charity the the men embodied even unto death.
Fr. Miguel and Fr. Zbigniew were both Franciscan Friars Conventual from Poland. From the day they arrived in Peru two years earlier, they dedicated themselves to serving the people with the two hands of Gospel and Charity, in order to restore to them their dignity as sons and daughters of God. They loved to the point of giving their lives, following in the footsteps of Jesus, like St. Francis of Assisi and the martyr of Auschwitz, St. Maximilian Kolbe.
Fr. Miguel was born on September 23, 1960, in Łękawica, Poland. He was ordained a priest on May 23, 1987. On July 24, 1989, the Feast of St. James, filled with excitement and enthusiasm, Miguel left for Peru as a missionary. Fr. Miguel was a man of deep faith, simple and prayerful, evangelical and generous. He had a great love for the Blessed Virgin and communicated with children and young people in a special way through his great gift for music.
Fr. Zbigniew was born in Tarnów, Poland on July 3, 1958. After primary school, Zbigniew went to technical school in his hometown and began to work at age 20. A year later he entered the novitiate of the Conventual Franciscan Friars. On June 7, 1986, at age 28, he was ordained a priest. On November 30, 1988, Feast of Saint Andrew, he traveled to Peru to work as a missionary. Friar Zbigniew had a gift for organization and was very responsible. He loved nature, and was passionate about serving others.
August 9, 1991, after Mass, Fr. Migue and Fr. Zbigniew were taken from their friary and led to the town hall. There the terrorists put them in their own jeep, and drove the friars to a place called Old Town (Pueblo Viejo), near the cemetery. There they executed Fr. Miguel with a gunshot to the neck and Fr. Zbigniew with a bullet to the back and another to the head. Writing their death warrant in the Friars’ own blood, the Shining Path terrorists killed the missionaries because, according to them, “They preach peace and tranquilize the people with religion, through the rosary, Masses, reading the Holy Scripture, and because of that, the people don’t want revolution. We must kill those who preach peace.”
Even before the deaths of Friars Miguel and Zbigniew, our former Province of St. Anthony of Padua was preparing to send one of its own American friars as a new member of the Polish Mission in Peru. Shortly after the deaths of Miguel and Zbigniew, then Minister Provincial of St. Anthony Province, the Very Reverend Fr. Mark Curesky, OFM Conv., allowed Friar Vincent Imhof, OFM Conv., to go on mission to Peru thus assuring that the Order’s Peruvian mission would be sustained without interruption. This courageous decision on behalf of Friar Mark and Friar Vincent was reached after considerable prayer and anguish. When Friar Vincent arrived, Shining Path guerillas were still spreading their reign of terror. Undaunted, the friars persevered, and the Order’s implantation continues to reap a holy harvest, even now. As Tertullian wrote in the second century: “The blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.”
As a sign of the enduring fraternal support of the mission in Pariacoto, Peru, Fr. James presented to Fr. Jacek Lisowski, OFM Covnv, Provincial Delegate for Peru, and Fr. Jarek Zachariasz, OFM Conv., Minister Provincial of Krakow, two chalices originally from our former ministry in Staten Island as a gift from Our Lady of the Angels Province to the mission. The chalices were re-plated in silver and gold, and inscribed with the names of Blessed Miguel and Blessed Zbigniew.
Before leaving Pariacoto, Fr. James returned to the tomb of the Blesseds and prayed for their intercession upon all of the living and deceased Friars of the Order, as well as for our living and deceased relations, friends, and Companions.
Reflecting on the heroic virtue of Blessed Miguel and Blessed Zbigniew, Fr. James said, “These two Poles were very ordinary Friars, itinerants with sandals planted firmly on the ground. They are our contemporaries. They had their own fears, weaknesses, and anxieties. They did not pray for the grace of martyrdom. It happened. Their faith gave them courage to rise and meet the moment of their destiny – in solidarity with the poor and their fellow victims of violence. The terrorists burned the bridge, but the Friars’ witness doused those flames and galvanized the town to rebuild a bridge of hope.”
Blessed Miguel and Blessed Zbigniew, pray for us!
For more information on the life and martyrdom of Friar Miguel and Friar Zbigniew, go to:
To read the full text of Fr. James McCurry’s reflections on his experience at the Beatification of Blessed Miguel and Blessed Zbigniew, go to: www.olaprovince.org.
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