Sexagesima Sunday: (Latin – Sexagesima, sixtieth) is the eighth Sunday before Easter and the second before Lent. The Ordo Romanus, St Alcuin and others, count the Sexagesima from this day to Wednesday after Easter. The name was already known to the Fourth Council of Orléans in 541. To the Latins it is also known as “Exsurge” from the beginning of the Introit. The station was at Saint Paul’s Outside the Walls of Rome and hence, the oratio calls upon the Doctor of the Gentiles. The Epistle is from Paul, 2 Corinthians 11 and 12, describing his suffering and labours for the Church. The Gospel (Luke 8) relates the falling of the seed on good and on bad ground, while the Lessons of the first Nocturn continue the history of man’s iniquity and speak of Noah and of the Deluge.
Notre-Dame de Bolougn-sur-Mer / Our Lady of Bolougn-sur-Mer, France (633) – 20 February:
In the year 636, a small group of people standing on the seashore witnessed a ship without oars or sails came into the harbour of Boulogne. It finally came to rest in the estuary, seemingly of its own accord. One of the witnesses boarded the boat and confirmed that there was no-one aboard and that the vessel had no rudder, oars or sails. The ship, however, bore a luminous statue of Our Lady. Taking hold of it to bring it to land, a voice was heard saying, “I choose your City as a place of grace.” The citizens welcomed Mary to their city by erecting a Shrine to her, which reached its height of glory in the 12th Century.
King Henry VIII is reported to have stolen the Statue of Our Lady of Boulogne and taken it to England. After many negotiations, the French managed to get it back. The image had been stolen and hidden many other times but always saved and returned. World War II almost completely destroyed the Statue. In modern times, four exact replicas of Our Lady of Boulogne toured France for more than seven years, as a symbol of French devotion to Mary. One of these was taken to Walsingham, England in 1948 and carried in procession by the “Cross-bearing pilgrimate” when many other Statues and images of the Virgin visited England. Bologne was one of the most important Lady shrines of medieval France; among its noted pilgrims have been: Henry III, Edward II, the Black Prince, John of Gaunt. Marian Feast Day, 10 July: The dedication of a new Church built in honour of Our Lady of Boulogne was consecrated in the year 1469 by Bishop Chartier of Paris. The confraternity of Our Lady of Boulogne was so celebrated, that six French kings have chosen to belong to it.
At the French Revolution, the Statue was burnt to ashes and the Church pulled down. A new Shrine and Statue was made in 1803 and pilgrimages began again. The image represents the Mother with the Child in her arms, standing in a boat, with an angel on either side. At the Marian Congress in Bolougne in 1938, a custom began to take replicas of this Statue “in turn” in France and abroad. A branch of the Confraternity of Our Lady of Compassion at Bolougne has been established for the reconciliation of the Church of England. The Sanctuary Church at Bolougne was badly damaged during World War II and Mary’s image smashed but the return, the “Great Return” of one of the copies of the Statue which had been sheltered at Lourdes, took place in 1943 and the occasion will long be remembered by lovers of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
Most remarkable about the Grand Return was the unprecedented avalanche of graces, especially of conversions and penance. Thousands upon thousands of atheists, communists, freemasons and fallen-away Catholics converted on the spot when they saw Our Lady enter their village. One bishop described the effect on the faithful:
“The passing of Our Lady in my Diocese is the most extraordinary contemporary religious event of our times and the most significant. Crowds of people rose up, motivated and enthusiastic. In fact, the confessionals and communion rails were besieged during the holy vigils, while the recitation of the mysteries of the Rosary kept the faithful praying in the Churches. In some Parishes, there were tremendous conversions like never seen before on the missions.”
Thought for the Day – 20 February – The Memorial of Blessed Julia Rodzinska OP (1899-1945) Martyr
Excerpt from the account of the Works of Mercy, Spirituality, Love of God and the Church and the Martyrdom of Blessed Julia Rodzinska, by Eva Hoff, a prisoner of KL Stutthof, a German Jewess, who survived and after the war settled in Sweden
In her presence, you felt the need and urge to pray.
Everything she had, she shared with others, even the last piece of bread. Though devastated by starvation, she saw others to be in greater need and offered them her meagre ration of bread.
When other prisoners did everything to avoid contact with those who were sick and dying of typhus, she, instead, rushed to assist them.
Her sacrificial love of neighbour was stronger than fear of exposing herself to a deadly disease. She cared more for others than herself. The person in need was her key concern. She assisted anyone in need with no difference. Her heart’s desire was to be wherever she was of help. She never thought about herself, yet always about others. She was very devout. Her piety was contagious and inspired others to pray. She sought the brokenhearted and downcast to console and uplift their spirits. Strikingly noticeable was tranquillity, her face radiated with. Every time I had been with her, I could sense how calm and recollected she was.
She died of exhaustion and commitment to her sacrificial ministry, so we, whom she served, could survive. She performed works of mercy where there was no mercy!
I got to know sister Julia in that ghastly concentration camp of Stutthof near Gdańsk (Poland), where we suffered humiliation at every turn. The initial selection after arrival at the camp was already horrible. People were sent to the gas, based on external appearance.
I accompanied Sister Julia until her last days. She never concealed that she was a religious. She showed unwavering faith and hope in God. She consoled all of us, entrusted us to God and encouraged us to pray. She organised and led common prayers. We always prayed the rosary, the litany of Our Lady, hymns and any number of prayers she composed according to our needs and situation. Prisoners of different nationalities came to pray. People spread the word – let’s pray the rosary with sister Julia. The image will always stay with me – the small, poorly lit room overflowing with people on bunk beds, three or even four levels high; here and there, rags drying in the air. Kneeling on a wooden plank, straight, with her head lifted up and eyes aimed at the Infinite is our Sister Julia. She holds a rosary in her strong, shapely hands. Her face is focused… She was very pious. Her piety influenced others. In her presence, one felt the need to pray.
She was outstanding in her love of God and the Church. She made arrangements secretly to meet with a priest—also a prisoner—to go to confession and to give others an opportunity for reconciliation. On many a Sunday morning, when the circumstances allowed, we walked in silence around the barrack taking part spiritually in the Mass.
When I encouraged her to talk about the convent, she spoke about the noble customs and lofty ceremonies of religious life. At those time, she became absorbed by what was highest and dearest to her. She thanked me at the end of such conversations, whereas it was I who should have thanked her, for what those conversations meant to me.
Sister Julia performed works of mercy in the camp, where people had nearly forgotten that mercy even exists. She was cheerful, prayerful, obliging and self-sacrificing. She risked her life to help others. She cared for those who despaired. She showed the same attitude toward every person, regardless of nationality or religion. She knew how to offer consolation because of her profound hope in God. She literally shared everything—to the last piece of bread—with those who suffered hunger more than she did.
She reminded us frequently that God guides everything. She said that we needed to obey God’s will, even if we had to suffer everything in such humiliation or die in the camp, that everything was in God’s hands. She accepted her fate in the spirit of faith in Divine Providence, even as she sensed that she would not survive. She prayed constantly and served her neighbour until the very end.
She visited the victims of typhus—so terribly contagious—when others did everything to avoid them. She wouldn’t lie down herself, despite her own illness, in order to help others. Led by love, by sacrificial love, she succumbed to the disease. Despite everything, she couldn’t imagine abandoning those who needed her help. Her sacrificial love was stronger.
Sensing imminent death, she missed her Community and those she would not see again. She cried in her helplessness but she didn’t despair. She overcame her weakness by prayer, serving the sick until the end. Sister Julia died from typhus. She gave her life for others. The survivors spoke of her, as a great and holy person.
Quote/s of the Day – 20 February – The Memorial of Blessed Julia Rodzinska OP (1899-1945) Martyr
“Kneeling on a wooden plank, straight, with her head lifted up and eyes aimed at the Infinite is our sister Julia. She holds a rosary in her strong, shapely hands. Her face is focused… She was very pious. Her piety influenced others. In her presence, one felt the need to pray.”
“She was outstanding in her love of God and the Church.”
“She performed works of mercy where there was no mercy.”
“She reminded us frequently that God guides everything.”
By a fellow inmate of the Concentration Camp speaking of Blessed Julia Rodzinska, Martyr
One Minute Reflection – 20 February – Wednesday of the Sixth week in Ordinary Time, Year C – Gospel: Mark 8:22-26 and The First Memorial of Saints Francisco (1908-1919) and Jacinta (1910-1920) and Blessed Julia Rodzinska OP (1899-1945) Martyr
And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village….Then again he laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored and saw everything clearly. And he sent him away to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”...Mark 8:22,25-26
REFLECTION – “They came, then, to Bethsaida, into the village of Andrew and Peter, James and John. Bethsaida means “house of fishers” and, in truth, from this house, hunters and fishermen are sent into the whole world. Ponder the text. The historical facts are clear, the literal sense is obvious. But we must now search into its spiritual message. That He came to Bethsaida, that there was a blind man there, that He departed, what is there remarkable about all that? Nothing, but what He did there is great; striking, however, only if it should take place today, for we have ceased to wonder about such things.
How, then, is his house not in Bethsaida? Note the text exactly. If we consider the literal interpretation only, it does not make any sense. If this blind man is found in Bethsaida and is taken out and cured and he is commanded: “Return to your own house,” certainly, he is bid: “Return to Bethsaida.” If, however, he returns there, what is the meaning of the command: “Do not go into the village?” You see, therefore, that the interpretation is symbolic. He is led out from the house of the Jews, from the village, from the law, from the traditions of the Jews. He, who could not be cured in the law, is cured in the grace of the gospel. It is said to him, “Return to your own house” — not into the house that you think, the one from which he came out but into the house that was also the house of Abraham, since Abraham is the father of those who believe.”… St Jerome (343-420) Father & Doctor of the Church – Tractate on the Gospel of Mark, Homily 79.
“Our lives are sometimes similar to that of the blind man who opened himself to the light, who opened himself to God, who opened himself to His grace. Today, we are invited to open ourselves to the light of Christ in order to bear fruit in our lives, to eliminate unchristian behaviours; we are all Christians but we all, everyone, sometimes has unchristian behaviours, behaviours that are sins. We must repent of this, eliminate these behaviours in order to journey well along the way of holiness, which has its origin in baptism. We, too, have been “enlightened” by Christ in baptism, so that, as St Paul reminds us, we may act as “children of light” (Eph 5:8), with humility, patience and mercy.
Let us ask ourselves about the state of our own heart? Do I have an open heart or a closed heart? It is opened or closed to God? Open or closed to my neighbour? We are always closed to some degree, which comes from original sin, from mistakes, from errors. We need not be afraid!
Let us open ourselves, to the light of the Lord, He awaits us always in order to enable us to see better, to give us more light, to forgive us. Let us not forget this!”…Pope Francis – Angelus, 30 March 2014
PRAYER – Heavenly Father, just as the little children, Francisco and Jacinta and Blessed Julia Rodzinska, were chosen to be bearers of Your message, grant we pray, that by their prayers on our behalf, we too may Your bearers of light. Be with us, holy Mother, during our journey to the eternal glory of your Son, help us to become like little children and in that new purity, shine with His Light. Through Jesus our Lord, with the Holy Spirit, one God forever, amen.
Saint of the Day – 20 February – Blessed Stanislawa/Julia Rodzinska OP (1899-1945) Martyr – Dominican Sister, known as the “Mother of Orphans” and the “Apostle of the Rosary”, Apostle of Charity, Teacher, Catechist, also known as Sister Maria Julia, Mother Maria Julia, prisoner P40992.
Blessed Sister Julia Stanisława was born on 16 March 1899 in Nawojowa, a town near Nowy Sącz. She was baptised and given the names, Stanisława Marta Józefa. Her father was an organist. He also worked in a savings bank and in the District Office. There were four other children in the family. When Stanisława was 8 years old, her mother died and two years later, her father. After her parents’ death, the Dominican Sisters from a nearby convent run by Sr Stanisława Lenart took care of her. There, she finished school and then she started her studies in the Teachers’ College which she was unable to complete because she began her religious formation in Wielowieś. On 3 August 1917 she assumed the habit together with a new name – Maria Julia. On 4 September 1918 she continued her studies in the Holy Family Teachers’ College in Kraków, from which she graduated in May 1919.
After having completed her studies, Sister Julia Rodzińska began to work as a teacher, mainly among orphaned children. She made her monastic vows on 5 August 1924. She then continued her education and in 1925-1926 she completed an Advanced Teachers’ Course and at the age of 27 she was named the director of the State Primary School of Our Lady of the Gate of Dawn in Vilnius. Sr Julia was not strong physically, suffering from a very serious stomach disorder, which meant she had to undergo a difficult operation in 1937.
After the Soviet army occupied Vilnius, the situation of the Dominican Sisters was put into jeopardy. In September 1940, the sisters who worked as teachers were dismissed from work. At first, they tried to work as technical personnel but finally in 1941 the Home for Orphans was removed from their authority and placed under that of Lithuanian authorities and Sister Julia left the Home forever. The schooling work done by the Dominican Sisters since 1922 was terminated.
The Dominicans did not leave Vilnius. Together with Sister Julia, they stayed on Parkowa Street and in the convent of the Nuns of Visitation on Rossa Street. In these conditions, Sister Julia continued to teach in secret, also during the German occupation, until she was arrested in 1943.
On 12 July 1943, Sister Julia was arrested by the Gestapo on a charge of political activity and collaboration with the Polish partisans. She was imprisoned in Vilnius and for almost a year she was kept in an isolation cell. Then she was transported to the disciplinary camp but soon, she was evacuated together with other prisoners to Stutthof concentration camp. She arrived there on 9 July 1944 and was given number 40992. Together with a group of women from the Vilnius intelligence, she was assigned to block no 27 in the “Jewish Camp”. The conditions were indescribable. Filth, vermin, overcrowding in the barracks (three or four women slept on one bed on a three-storey bunk bed), low-calorie food rations given out in extreme conditions, unbearable physical work, limited access to water, lack of hygienic products, necessity to satisfy one’s bodily needs in public – these are only some of the elements of the indirect extermination used in the camp. An additional torment, was the inhumane treatment carried out by the prisoners who were assigned as ‘wardens’ – mainly German criminals and SS men.
In these conditions sister Julia did not lose her hope for survival. She shared her hope and spiritual strength with other prisoners. In the camp it had a special meaning because the inhumane treatment distorted the prisoners’ minds and changed the moral norms of many of them. In the barrack, where mostly Jews lived, Sister Julia organised and led the prayers. She also constantly reminded the prisoners about the religious values. Religious observances were strictly prohibited and punished in the camp. Therefore this was one of the forms of moral resistance of the prisoners to what was happening in the camp. Sister Julia was never guided by nationality or religion in her way of helping others. She was kind to all the needful. She was known as the one who consoled and encouraged all the adrift and miserable. She knew that one prisoners, whose wife was living in the “Jewish Camp”, was about to commit suicide. She sent him notes until he assured her that he wouldn’t take his life. According to the testimony of this prisoner, he survived the camp thanks to Sister Julia, who awaken his hope for survival and overcame the fear of the life in the camp.
In November 1944 a typhus epidemic devastated the camp. The illness spread mainly among the prisoners in the Jewish part of the camp. The authorities of KL Stutthof isolated the “Jewish Camp” from the rest of the compound and left the women without any help. Risking her own life, Sister Julia Rodzińska undertook the task of helping the Jews from block XXX, who were dying alone. When the majority avoided this “death block” fearing the infection, Sister Julia took a decision that meant the acceptance of death among those who she helped. She organised water to drink, dressings and medicines that where available in the camp. She served the needful even when she got infected with typhus and was suffering from serious illness.
The Dominican Sister, Julia Rodzińska, died on 20 February 1945 in block no 27. Her body was burnt on a pyre. An amazing testimony about the heroic conduct and the martyr’s death of Sr Julia has been written and declared by Eva Hoff, a prisoner of KL Stutthof, a German Jewess, who survived the marine evacuation and after the war settled in Sweden. There, she gave an oral and written account of the life and the circumstances of the death of Sr Julia in KL Stutthof. The account has been confirmed by other prisoners of KL Stutthof and Father Franciszek Grucza who heard Sr Julia’s confessions and gave her Communion.
On the 13 June 1999, during his pilgrimage to Poland, the Holy Father John Paul II beatified 108 martyrs of World War II. Sister Julia Rodzińska, the Dominican nun, was among them.
On 12 June 2006 the Primary School in Nawojowa has been named after blessed Sister Julia Rodzińska.
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