Meet the man behind the miracle
By: Felix Carroll
This isn't something that he does — sitting down and discussing miracles with a reporter.
He has spoken about these things with friends and family, with Marians, and with investigators from the Vatican. But never before to a reporter.
And so here he is, in a nearly empty banquet room in Lichen, Poland, in the afterglow of the beatification of Blessed Stanislaus Papczyński on Sept. 16, this middle-aged man with a kind smile and with eyes that twinkle. They twinkle when he speaks of God. They twinkle when he talks of the people he loves.
Those people include his spiritual patron, Blessed Stanislaus, and they include a boy named Sebastian.
Sebastian is living proof that miracles happen. And this man, Zbigniew Chojnowski, is living proof that the Church's new blessed is a powerful intercessor. By praying to Blessed Stanislaus, Zbigniew initiated the miracle that cleared the 300-year-long path to the beatification of the Marians' Founder, Blessed Stanislaus.
Who is Zbigniew? Let's start with who he is not. He insists he is not "special" and that even his closeness to Blessed Stanislaus is "not unique."
"I don't have any mystical experiences," Zbigniew says, through an interpreter. "I have my inner experiences with Fr. Stanislaus, but it's nothing that others don't experience. I consider him my patron, my intercessor. That's it."
But then he says this: "We live in a world where there are many miracles around. Usually we don't see them, and if we do even, we don't offer thanks for them."
A married man, an economist by trade, Zbigniew is well educated, smartly dressed, and he serves the very earthly role as director of a public bus service in Bialystok, the largest city in northeastern Poland, where he lives.
Despite the beatification being nationally televised in Poland and front-page news, Zbigniew has successfully remained out of the spotlight. But he agreed to be interviewed by Marian Helper magazine out of an obligation he feels to Blessed Stanislaus, whom he believes has much to offer the Church and the world.
Miracle in the womb
"I have seen many miracles through the intercession of Blessed Stanislaus," Zbigniew says. "Some small, some big."
None bigger than the one involving Sebastian, one that the Vatican rigorously investigated and finally declared — without any doubt — was due to the intercession of the Marian Founder.
This is Zbigniew's story:
"It was at the end of March in 2001," says Zbigniew. "It was a Wednesday. I learned that my cousin was really doing badly and was in the hospital." His cousin — who is also his goddaughter — was about two months pregnant. Everyone had reason for concern. The previous year she had lost a child through miscarriage.
"Immediately that Wednesday, I started to pray to Fr. Stanislaus," says Zbigniew. He encouraged other family members and friends to do so as well.
That Friday, she was released from the hospital and told everything was fine. But then on Sunday she suffered from severe abdominal pains and was taken to the hospital again.
Upon examination, her doctor discovered that the fetal sac had shrunk due to a lack of blood flow through the umbilical cord. In addition, the woman had a tear in her amniotic sack that drained virtually all of her amniotic fluid. In-utero tests confirmed the baby's heart had stopped beating. The doctor declared the baby dead. The following day, Monday, a second test confirmed that the fetus had no heartbeat.
"But I didn't stop praying to Fr. Stanislaus," Zbigniew recalls.
On Wednesday, the disconsolate mother hadn't yet miscarried, and so her doctor prepared to perform surgery that day to remove the dead baby.
"But just before the surgery, examining her with an ultrasound, the doctor discovered a heartbeat," says Zbigniew. Further tests confirmed the baby was alive and that blood was flowing through the umbilical cord. The presence of amniotic fluid also indicated that the tear had mended.
"This was on the eighth day of my novena," said Zbigniew.
No medical explanation can explain these events. On Dec. 16, 2006, Pope Benedict XVI authorized the Congregation for the Causes of Saints to publish a decree recognizing the miracle attributed to the intercession of the Fr. Stanislaus.
Sebastian was born in October 2001.
"He's a healthy boy," says Zbigniew, with tears of joy welling up in his eyes. "He suffers from minor allergy problems. That's it. He broke his leg once.
"He's a boy. He's not a very quiet boy," Zbigniew says with a laugh. "He runs a lot. He's lively. He has a lot of energy. And he loves his grandparents very much."
During the beatification ceremony, Sebastian and his mother and father were among the procession that brought the relic of Blessed Stanislaus to the altar. Beyond their participation in the ceremony and their testimony with regards to the miracle, the parents of Sebastian prefer to maintain their privacy.
Why Blessed Stanislaus?
Zbigniew first learned about Blessed Stanislaus in the 1990s when he began participating in annual walking pilgrimages from the north of Poland to Czestochowa, in southern Poland. Midway through the pilgrimage, they would stop at Gora Kalwaria, at the tomb of Blessed Stanislaus.
"This is where I 'met' Fr. Stanislaus, so to speak" says Zbigniew. He collected photos of then-Fr. Stanislaus. He read books about him. He says it "wasn't love at first sight, it was love at second sight." One book in particular touched his heart. It was called "The Fruits of Prayer," a collection of reports of graces received through the intercession of Fr. Stanislaus.
Zbigniew, who is involved in charismatic renewal, began praying to Fr. Stanislaus and encouraged other members of his prayer group to do so as well.
"Not every prayer to Fr. Stanislaus was answered, " he says, "but the ones that were answered were dramatic. For example, there was a 30-year-old woman who was addicted to alcohol. A day after our novena ended, she emerged from the hospital, and her life was absolutely changed, and she was free from addiction. There were also cancer cases. One woman had cancer in her womb. Another had breast cancer. Both were cured.
"There were graces of healing for children who were sick," he says. "My conviction that these were cases of Fr. Stanislaus's intercession was based on the fact that when I was ending a novena to him there would be an answer to a prayer. Sometimes it would be the very next day after I ended a novena."
By the time Zbigniew learned of his cousin's troubles with her pregnancy, turning to Fr. Stanislaus had become a natural reaction for him.
What would Blessed Stanislaus think?
As the crowds were still dispersing from the beatification ceremony, Zbigniew couldn't help but to share his speculations of what the new blessed might think of all the attention.
"I am kind of smiling," he says. "I'll bet he didn't feel particularly well with all this celebration. It's not his style. He believed in humility. This was not his way of living, all this attention. It's not his style. Blessed Stanislaus was a humble and simple person."
But he acknowledges that with this beatification, with the Church's focus on Blessed Stanislaus, God seeks to draw our attention to a living example of faith. "Blessed Stanislaus was considered by people in his lifetime to be a saint. For 300 years after his death, people have considered him a saint. Now his holiness is formally accepted in the Church."
"Blessed Papczyński shows us how important life is," Zbigniew says, "especially when you think about this miracle involving an unborn child, and that's a message for our times."
He hastens to add that it would probably be a mistake to limit Blessed Stanislaus' intercessory role to the unborn. "The miracle can suggest that unborn children would be his [specialty], but we also have witnesses who will tell us how he has helped with addictions, illnesses, including cancer, and a lot of other day-to-day things.
"He also clearly has a love and concern for the old and dying," Zbigniew says. "He cared for them during his lifetime and encouraged other s to do so as well. "
Zbigniew also believes that with the timing of the beatification, God has a special message for Poland.
"Blessed Stanislaus lived in a time when there were numerous wars in Poland," he says. "Today, there is a fight in Poland with the Church itself, of a falling away from the Church. During Fr. Stanislaus's time, the king of Poland sometimes attended his confessional looking for counsel, for advice. In the present time, those who govern Poland should come to Bl. Stanislaus looking for his advice and counsel and asking him for wisdom."
Perhaps it was a good start that the president of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, attended the beatification.
As for Sebastian, he has no concept that he's a living miracle. His family prefers to keep it that way. During the reliquary procession, Sebastian seemed most concerned with waving to his grandparents out in the crowd.
Does Zbigniew believe God has something special in store for Sebastian?
"I cannot say," says Zbigniew. "Definitely, God has something special in store for Blessed Stanislaus. That's first of all."