Reflection on the retreat in Zakopane, Poland, at the place where P. Michal Zamkovský CSsR was ordained a priest secretly more than 40 years ago, written by the lay missionary and leader of the River of Life Community Bohuš Živčák.
From 6th to 10th November 2023, a spiritual retreat for the Redemptorists of the Warsaw Province took place in Zakopane-Kościelisko led by Fr. Michal Zamkovský together with the lay missionary Bohuš Živčák. Approximately 30 redemptorist missionaries from Poland, as well as from Belarus and Ukraine, participated. The content is the secret of the retreat leader, but I want to share a few touches of God that I experienced quite unexpectedly…
The very first one was wandering into Javorina, for I had forgotten that Poland guards the border and you can’t cross Lysá Poľana. And so I was going back and grambling at my stupidity when I was surprised (again – for about the hundredth time) by the view from above through the church of St. Anna into the Javorina valley—one of the most beautiful views from our side of the Tatras. I was beginning to suspect that, despite the fatigue of the working week, God was waiting for me under Giewont on the other side.
The Redemptorist house in Kościelisko stands on a hill below Giewont, and the old part has a tiny chapel that hides many secrets. Among them is the night 43 years ago, when a young man was secretly ordained as a priest in bitter weather similar to what we are experiencing now. He had come from the factory after a day’s work, and only one priest was waiting to testify before Cardinal Macharski of Cracow that the candidate was trustworthy. That young man was Michal Zamkovský.
Standing by Michal’s side in that small chapel after many years, I suddenly realized the beauty of that adventure of God. After that profound nighttime event that changed his life forever, Michal didn’t know how or if he would ever be able to live it publicly. The next day, he returned to work in the factory, and it went on like that for the next 10 years. But even then, in that chapel, God knew that somewhere on the other side of the Tatra Mountains, there was a 13-year-old boy who couldn’t find his way around the town on a bicycle, together with a few other young people. About a year after his ordination, Michal caught me on that bike, and our lives intersected. Since then, we have been together – with Fr. Michal, my wife Alena, and gradually with the River of Life – we have crossed many streams. It’s been a long life – 42 years.
An incredible and undeserved gift for me, for Alena, and the whole River of Life.
In that foggy dark night, God called and dreamed of a priest who – despite many obstacles and misunderstandings – was able to start the Light of Life movement in Slovakia and later the missionary community Rieka Života (River of Life). It was very interesting to talk about this story with retreat participants, missionaries who had experienced Africa, Asia, and South America. These guys had already listened and preached enough on their own. They are looking for real heart, authenticity, and a testimony of life. And when they thanked us at the end, it was clear that they had seen and experienced so much in that week with Michal.
At a time of restructuring of the Congregation, even in this region, such encounters of the heart are becoming a space where God is uniting and rekindling the missionary fire in the hearts of Redemptorists and the laity around them. We need them so we do not lose God’s direction in the confusion around us.
Author: Bohuš Živčák, lay missionary