He Leadeth Them

Fr. Walter Ciszek, S.J.

From this interesting piece on Fr. Walter J. Ciszek and the simple (but not easy to come by) truths he learned while in the Gulag:

. . . Lubianka wore him down with its constant hunger and isolation and the all-night interrogations, with their mind games and agonizing afterthoughts. After a year—brutalized, drugged, threatened with death—Ciszek did what he had been sure he would never do: He signed papers that gave the impression he had been spying for the Vatican.

Afterward, burning with shame and guilt for being “nowhere near the man I thought I was,” he finally faced the truth.

I had asked for God’s help but had really believed in my ability to avoid evil and to meet every challenge… . I had been thanking God all the while that I was not like the rest of men… . I had relied almost completely on myself in this most critical test—and I had failed.

The interrogations continued,
and Ciszek fell into black despair. Terrified, he threw himself on God, pleading his utter helplessness. Then, in a moment of blinding light, he was able to see “the grace God had been offering me all my life.”

I knew that I must abandon myself completely to the will of the Father and live from now on in this spirit of self-abandonment to God. And I did it. I can only describe the experience as a sense of “letting go,” giving over totally my last effort or even any will to guide the reins of my own life. It is all too simply said, yet that one decision has affected every subsequent moment of my life. I have to call it a conversion… . It was at once a death and a resurrection.

Selfless in Siberia. Walter Ciszek was a new man—and it showed. Realizing they could not manipulate him, the Soviets sentenced him to fifteen years of hard labor in the Siberian Gulag.

You’ll want to read the whole thing. For me, I think I will hunt down my copy of Ciszek’s book, He Leadeth Me and hunker down with it for the weekend.

Sister Damiana with Baby Theresa

While we’re speaking of Russia
and the church, a recent post about a new order of American Catholic sisters, who serve Vladivostok, Russia has brought some interesting emails from reader Frances, who passed this along from a woman who has visited the orphanage in Vladivostok:

The children were darling, but there are so many of them that the well-meaning caretakers at the orphanage could not possibly give each and every child the personal, loving attention that they needed. The children were starved for love. They just wanted to be held. In one of these pictures, a little girl—who had never met any of us just climbed up into the lap of Sr. Julia and stayed there.

At this orphanage, there was a section for babies with HIV. The nurses were afraid to hold them, so the Sisters went in and held the babies. Me too, it was hard to put the baby that I was holding down because when I did, he would cry. He wanted to be held.

That is why Fr. Myron started the “Babushkas and Babies project”. The grandmas of the parish, and the sisters too, go over to the orphanages and give the children as much love and attention as they can. The grandmas are helped with a stipend (their pensions are next to nil and they need some financial support to live) and the little children get loving attention from the grandmas. It’s a “win-win” situation. Both the Widows and the Orphans are helped. Sometimes the grandmas are allowed to have children come stay over at their homes.

Some of these orphans have never left the building and gone outside to play! There was no outdoor play yard at one of the orphanages in Vladivostok. The Church has helped the orphanages with many of the very basics such as bedding for cribbs and beds, art materials, clothes, shoes, etc.. I think most of the Russian caretakers do care about the children, but the needs are so great, and the people are poor. They just need a lot of help there.

We have read in recent weeks, about the problem some Russian orphans have with bonding, because of their isolation and lack of human contact in the orphanages, where there are not enough helpers. These Sisters in Jesus the Lord are promoting the “Grand(parents) Mentoring” program at three Russian orphanages, in Vladivostok, Nakhodka, and Lesozavodsk.

For $70 a month we can send a grandma into an orphanage for 12 hours a week. This program was suggested by Americans who have adopted children at orphanages in our area. They say that the kids, besides needing more and better food [See our webpage "Help the Orphans"] also need more socialization. The program is designed to also aid pensioners who need additional income—they become the “grannies”.

Imagine if your poker buddies, your KofC or Rotary group, your bowling league, your prayer circle, your book club, your teen-group, your scouts, your summer play group or your auxiliary decided to raise $70.00 a month to “adopt” a Granny-mentor for the orphans. What a great help that would be; a win-win, indeed! Pray about it! Talk about it with your friends!

If you are not in a position to give material help to the sisters in their mission, you can always prayer-partner with them.

Prayer has power, as this sister interviewed by Kathryn Jean Lopez would doubtlessly agree.

Dreadful story out of Italy.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny L.

    As one who is in the process of adoption, I am fully aware that orphaned children just cannot get the human bonding that is necessary for proper socialization. It is sad. One just wants to help them all, but that is so impossible. Bless those Sisters who add Christ’s touch to these little ones. The religious do so many acts of love and kindness that it is incalcuble their contribution to society. Bless those sisters.

    And with Mother’s Day coming, just think about how much our mothers did in their daily activities to make us all healthy and sane? All those little acts of holding and feeding and showing a smiling disposition. It is incalcuable. Mothers are the rock on which society is built.

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  • Katie

    Also, for more on Father Ciszek, try With God in Russia. I read it last year after having found it at a used book store, and it was incredible. I had no idea about this He Leadeth Me, but I will definitely be checking it out now!

  • Nzie

    I will have to get hold of this book in summer while I’m back in the States. Mary, Mother of God in Vladivostok has some parishioners that were killed for their faith by the Soviets and also their priest was sent to the Gulag, too, and died there I think- after his term should have ended.

    The Soviet system was simply designed to crush people. I was a Russian studies major so I ended up reading a couple accounts and novels of the system… “Lubyanka” refers to the building that housed the various incarnations of the KGB (and is home to the Fed. Security Service) today here in Moscow – I never could figure out how many were killed there, but especially in the bloody purges probably thousands of people died in the basement there. They just wore people away until they had no real sense of themselves anymore. It’s been speculated that the Lubyanka building was a symbolic target of the 29 March bombing in Moscow at the metro station of the same name.

    And then they sent real criminals to the camps with these political prisoners who turned the camps into a seedy dystopic world of the rule of the cruel, where morality was easily subverted by perverts. The underlying thread to all these stories was that the situation was so stressful and terrible that it’s not even fair to judge these people by normal standards… I don’t know if I would go that far, but the stories are so horrific that the necessity of judging sin and not sinner is great.

    Thanks for posting this. It will be good to read a… more positive? – a terrible way to phrase it but there is no other way – account of life in the Gulag.

  • http://TheWithGodinRussiaVersion Jean Sullivan

    Dear Anchoress and readers,
    I would recommend that you read “With God in Russia” by Fr. Walter Ciszek (available in a paperback reprinted edition) FIRST before you read the second treatment of the same experiences recounted in “He Leadeth Me.” The content of “He Leadeth Me” is considerably adapted to reflect a later and more spirituality guided account. “With God in Russia” provides a much more immediate and intense account of Fr. Walter Ciszek’s remarkable experiences.

  • Jennifer


    I just can’t stop staring at the picture of Fr. Ciszek. His face seems to beam with peace to me. So much kindness in his eyes. It makes me smile just to look at him.

    I have He Leadeth Me but have not been able to read it yet. Now I want to read it even more.

  • Trish

    I am so happy to see anything posted about Fr. Ciszek; he is my spiritual father/mentor bar none!

    For those who haven’t read his two books, he wrote “With God in Russia” first, in response to requests to talk about what happened to him while he was in the USSR. It is his “exterior” autobiography. He wrote “He Leadeth Me” because he was never truly happy with such an “exterior” account of his years in prison; so then he wrote his “interior” autobiography.

    Fr. Ciszek has played a huge role in my life, beginning in 2003 as I was discerningn a call to Religious Life. When I took a religious name (and eventually a title as well), it was “Sr. Maura Walter of the Loving Providence of God” – Fr. Ciszek’s influence is easy to see . . .

    Although I have had to leave Religious Life – what I have learned from Fr. Ciszek has helped me to see God’s will in all things – from entering to leaving. His cause is slowing moving through the process in Rome – - several years ago all of his writings were finally transcribed and shipped in crates to Rome. May he become recognized as a saint in my lifetime!

  • http://TheWithGodinRussiaVersion Jean Sullivan

    Trish, I share your deep respect for Fr. Ciszek.

    It is that respect for him that prompts me to say that I think it would do him a disservice to only read “He Leadeth Me”, and not to read “With God in Russia” first.

    “He Leadeth Me” is a revised version of the same events described in “With God in Russia” with the difference that it modifies them by adding a spiritual interpretation of them. It “leadeth” the reader.

    I always assumed that the publication of the second book reflected Fr. Ciszek’s dissatisfaction with the absense of much of the overt spiritual interpretation of the first. I wish I could have told him that it was the raw purity
    and unselfsparing honesty of “With God in Russia” that made it speak to my heart. Having read the first book, the second treatment of the same experiences had a this is “I wish I had said” quality that detracted from the power and purity of the first rendering.

    I can’t join you in the eagerness of your desire that Fr. Ciszek become “recognized as a saint”. He already is all he needs to be for me: like the rest of us a flawed human being whose witness is that God was indeed “with him” and used him as he struggled to survive in terrible circumstances.

  • Mary Alice

    I knew Fr. Ciszek. He was my spiritual director while I was in high school from about 1965 until 1968. After graduation I visited him and his family first at Fordham Univ. and the in Shenandoah, PA where his sister lived. We got there by bus and he read me Polish jokes translating them into English. I still have a shoebox full of letters he wrote to me and the rosary that Pope Paul VI gave him during an audience in Rome. Very holy man – but very down to earth too and human. Odd to think he is up for canonization.