Praying in the Basilica of St. Francis in Cracow, Poland, Friar Arkadiusz ŻELECHOWSKI was contemplating a mural on the wall that featured pansies woven into a trellis-style lattice work. As he reflected, his attention was drawn to the blue and yellow flowers that were painted in the same hues of the Ukrainian flag. Friar Arkadiusz later shared with me that the name of the flower in Polish is “bratki,” which means “little brother.”
The friars in Cracow have been welcoming their “little brothers and sisters,” namely, refugees from Ukraine—children, mothers, and grandmothers—with open arms. I imagine the friars could easily assign the name of each refugee, to whom they have ministered in these past months, to a specific flower on the mural in the basilica.
During Holy Week and Easter, I came to appreciate how our Christ-like our Franciscan “bratki” are in their ministry. Some of our friars are busy preparing accommodations by organizing rooms, supplies, food, and ensuring there is a plan in place that allows grace to flow freely for those who are in need. Other friars are taking their meals with the refugees or facilitating their healing by accompanying them to the hospital or medical clinic. Children often arrive dehydrated and sickly.
Friar Karol HABEREK shared with me how he and the other friars in formation regularly go to the train station to pick up refugees and take them to the friary for a different kind of “washing of the feet.” They offer them a shower and clean clothes before they continue their journey westward. The friars often walk with their guests through the main square because they have come to realize that giving the refugees a moment to watch other people going about their daily lives always seems to calm them.
Our Franciscan “bratki” embody the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise to send the Paraclete. They are working tirelessly in a spirit of holy flexibility, attending to anything and everything that comes their way, in a manner that brings consolation and strength to hearts that are troubled.
The mural in the basilica that features the “bratki” pansies was painted by the artist Stanisław WYSPIAŃSKI. The work was created during the height of the Polish Arts and Crafts Movement (1890-1918). Inspired by the “Little Flowers of St. Francis,” the artist decorated the walls of the basilica using familiar, local flowers that can be found on the wayside between the river and the basilica. In the same manner, Mary and the saints are dressed in the clothing of poor folk from that period.
WYSPIAŃSKI’s art echoes the words of Pope Francis, when he speaks of St. Francis of Assisi: “He was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and outcast. He loved, and was deeply loved for his joy, his generous self-giving, his openheartedness….He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace” (Laudato Si’ 10).
Watching, listening, and working alongside the friars during Holy Week, I have come to appreciate them as a lattice work of Easter flowers or “bratki.” They are true lesser brothers, writing their own chapter in the Franciscan “Little Flowers” of today as their story becomes entwined with the stories of their little sisters and brothers from Ukraine.
After breakfast on Easter morning, as I said good-bye to the refugees at the friary, a little girl (who, with her mother, had experienced, first-hand, the horrors of the war), hugged me and handed me a cookie in the shape of a heart. It was decorated in the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine. Turning to her mother, I noticed tears in the woman’s eyes—the tears of a mother on Calvary with a broken heart full of love.
To my Franciscan “bratki” in Cracow, Harmęże, Chęciny, Przemyśl and Kalwaria Pacławska, I am personally grateful for your kind hospitality and your openness to letting me pray and minister with you. To you, and the countless other Franciscan “bratki” in Ukraine, Poland, Slovenia, Hungary, Romania and beyond, I offer my prayerful support as you bring the hope of the Resurrection to the crucified places of today—to hearts painted blue and yellow.
Friar Michael LASKY
General Delegate for Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation