From the Polish monthly Familia (December 2007). Our translation.
Mary from Nazareth
The children are her life: those who lost their lives and those who survived. Maria Bienkiewicz is president of the NAZARET Foundation. For nearly 30 years, she has been one of the most active and successful workers for the protection of human life in Poland.
Her voice on the phone sounds like an eighteen-year-old. Her blue eyes evoke a gentle and boundlessly trusting glance. Though it was not easy. She wished to forget everything she had endured in an orphanage. Even her own name - Maria. From the moment she shut that gate behind her, she would introduce herself as Magdalena - her second name.
Her mother gave her those two names. As if she knew that one day her daughter would need both of them.
- "You already have five other children. Who is going to take care of them?" The doctor warned that she was not able to give birth to a new baby, and that she should terminate the pregnancy.
- "God will take care of it", she said.
And she did not abort the baby.
Her mother did not survive the birth - she died together with the newborn.
Maria was taken to an orphanage, and thereafter dreamed of forgetting everything, even her own name.
No, she is not eighteen, that was long ago. But still the same blue eyes and the same voice, although she nearly lost it due to asthma. And now, she has her own name.
- "That is because of those children. Every time one was born, the mothers would come up and show me the baby or at least send the pictures. And they would write the same words: 'I will give my daughter the name of Magdalena - for you'. And I thought to myself: my name is not Magdalena. I am Maria."
In her room, in Mokotow [close to central Warsaw], there are lots of books and music CDs and films. Some of them are about love. Some are about the war. And some are about herself. Her friends recorded the television programs in which she participated. There is also an album. In that album are different pictures of newborn babies, from christening ceremonies, from school, or from First Communions. But each picture reveals different eyes: brown, blue, green. Different children. Different dreams. Different mums and dads. But somewhere deep in their hearts, the same fear.
- "Psychologists, however, to their surprise, state that in those children there is the same syndrome of fear, a sort of memory that they were not to survive. It is in them, in their psyche even if they were to die in their fifth week of life from conception."
How many of them are there? Those who didn`t survive? Nobody knows.
- "My friend, a gynaecologist, said that she had killed over a thousand herself."
A thousand people! The ordinary ones: a little good and a little bad; and those talented and brilliant. Maria thinks about them as individuals not as numbers. A quarter of a century ago when she was studying medicine, a friend had knocked on her door. She looked very sad.
- "I can't. I don`t know how to go on with it", she trembled.
Magdalena, her name at that time, took her overcoat and they went out together in the rain. In the clinic, in a bucket, there were little arms, legs, small pieces of a baby lying on the blood-stained piece of rag.
- "Touch this", said her colleague, who wanted to become a gynaecologist.
Magdalena knelt down. She hesitated for a second but reached into the bucket. After that nothing was the same. Twenty-four years has passed. She still holds that baby in her hand.
Then, when she walked out into the corridor of the clinic, she saw a girl. She was sitting with her hands on her knees, looking grey, lifeless, just like the martial law world outside the window (imposed in Poland on 13 December 1981).
Magdalena had no need to ask anything.
- "So, you, too, have come to kill your baby!" She extended her hands, still red from the blood, towards the girl.
- "Where will I go?" The girl raised up her eyes, swollen from crying. "My mother will throw me out."
- "To my place", Magdalena decided.
Somebody had to take care of mothers who did not kill.
Today it is different. Since 1993 when the Act on family planning, protection of the human foetus and conditions allowing the termination of pregnancy was introduced, we live in a country where one can be a gynaecologist and not kill babies. Before then, in the Communist era, someone wishing to become a gynaecologist had to learn how to kill. To kill, as they used to say, not "babies" but embryos, foetuses or even just "something".
Yes, much has changed. But not everything. The current state of affairs could be heard during the debate on Jan Pospieszalski`s TV program Warto rozmawiac (Worth Talking). Magdalena was invited together with people like Magdalena Sroda, a moral authority in liberal-minded circles. On one side there were pro-lifers like Magdalena and on the other a "progressive", Leftist intelligentsia. They spoke completely different languages. As if they came from utterly different worlds. As if they were shaped by different civilizations. In the blood-stained tissues the first group sees a scrap of a man whereas the other sees only a piece of an embryo. The baby deserves a funeral; an embryo nothing more than to be thrown away together with other bits of rubbish or flushed away in a toilet.
- "Maybe this really is a different civilization?" she wonders.
Attic for Single Mothers
The constantly repeated question: "Where will I go with the baby?" And always the same answer: "To my place!"
Brave, or rather heroic, because "my place" meant only 14 square metres up in the attic of a block of flats in Chelmska Street, where the medical student tried to survive in dampness and chill.
But it didn`t matter. Now she had to win the battle with the girl`s mother.
- "I myself had 13 pregnancies terminated, so it won't do her any harm either," the woman shouted. "Please get out!"
Maybe that was anger, maybe despair. Anyway, it worked.
Later, when autumn knocked the leaves off, the little man could see the sky. The baby`s grandma came. "I am sorry for those 13 pregnancies," she said.
At that time, Magdalena was already a conspirator. In the beginning only acquainted doctors, then later other gynaecologists would note her telephone number in their calendars, next to the abortion appointments . She would come up to talk to the mothers. Illegally, since under Communism the doctor who refused to perform an abortion was at risk of losing his job: "We can`t allow the backwoodsmen to take away the rights of women to make decisions about their body."
Today they say the same. And they ridicule Maria when she says that medical progress today permits the explicit claim that "There aren`t any medical contraindications to kill the baby".
- "This is what gynaecologists, professors say. My friends."
Back in the eighties, people around Poland could see pictures of children killed by abortion.
- "I had learned how to operate the camera, smuggled it into the clinic and took the pictures. I wanted people to experience, at least a little, the shock caused by the sight of an aborted child's dead body. For the termination is being carried out in a way that the mother cannot see her child."
- "I could not save all the children. I was not able to take them all to my flat. I was not able to buy clothes, food, nappies, milk for those girls …. I needed a miracle."
And the miracles happened. Every month a lorry full of gifts for the mothers would arrive at the doorstep of Maria`s apartment block. The drivers would unload outside the building and she had to carry all the boxes up to the top floor and cram everything into her small flat.
- "One time I went to a distant suburb of Warsaw, to one of those girls, because she was to have a termination the next day. I used to take the address from my friends, doctors, and go. We would talk till two in the morning, sometimes it would take even longer. Then I found myself in the middle of nowhere, in the countryside, in the middle of a December night. And all of a sudden a bus pulls up next to me. I asked the driver, "Where are you heading to?" The answer came: "To a bus depot in Chelmska Street"- the street where I lived. And it would happen like this time after time."
Once there was a girl of seven months (from conception). She was due never to see the sun.
- "It is a difficult pregnancy" - said the doctor, slowly and gently. "Everything indicates that the baby will be handicapped. It could be a serious disability. You should seriously consider whether a termination wouldn`t be a better solution."
The mother wept. During the following week or maybe longer the handicapped child seemed too hard a trial for the parents to bear. They got scared.
- "I agree," said the mother, her eyes red from crying.
- "Let's set up the date." The doctor reached for the notebook.
Two days later the mother had a meeting with Maria.
- "These are probably the most difficult talks … with mothers who are scared to give birth to a handicapped child. I cuddled the woman. I didn`t say that she would be healthy, didn`t promise anything. I would tell the truth: 'Even if the child should be ill that means that God wanted it to be that way, that He wanted to give us that experience. …. Most handicapped children die during the delivery or soon after. Let the child be born. If the child is to die let him die with dignity, as a human being. Do not make him a martyr. He is only seven months'."
They continued crying …
- Before I formed you in your mother`s womb, I had known you; before you came into the world I had blessed you - Maria would pray in the prophet Jeremiah's words.
The girl was born perfectly healthy. A few years ago she played a solo concert at the National Philharmonic. She was twelve. The God-daughter of Mary from Nazareth.
- "Whole generations of gynaecologists and midwives were taught that any complication in pregnancy was only a medical problem. And so the problem should simply be removed, like adenoids." Maria is spreading her hand (indicating that almost nothing can be done about it).
- "It sticks so deep (in their minds). On the Parliamentary Commissions, when I say 'killing the unborn children', the Left-wing feminists call on the chairman to make me stop using offensive terms (truthful terms) for a 'life saving' surgery. I still believe that medicine can work without killing.…"
They didn`t know that she is a religious person. But in her pocket she was praying the rosary, which she had been given by Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, and which was blessed by Pope Paul VI. It has red beads.
- "Just as if it was made of drops of blood," she thought. "I would enter the corridor of the hospital and I saw seven medical teams ready to perform abortions, and seven girls determined to kill their children. I could sense the stress of the doctors flowing through the door. I am running from one girl to another and they are signing out of the hospital. I would take one girl after another to my place, the loft for single mothers on Chelmska Street."
Moisture was flowing down the walls because Maria was constantly boiling children`s clothes, which she had been collecting from her friends as well as strangers. Clothes for the babies were accessible only upon presentation of the pregnancy card. Like almost everything at that time. Well, except perhaps for abortion.
- "Yes, I was promising a fools' paradise. I was promising miracles; that I would take care of them, that the baby would be healthy, that they would not remain without money, nappies, milk or a place to live. Yes, I was scared. I would go to Czestochowa on Saturday, stand before the miraculous picture of Our Lady in the chapel, watching people bringing flowers. 'But I don't have any flowers, Mum,' I would say. 'I have only those children. One without a home, one without money to live and one whose father is a schizophrenic, and even if he is to be born I don`t know whether he will manage'...." And then miracles happened.
Ten White Coffins
Among all the pictures, in Maria`s album, one is different. A boy without a name. What's more, without even a birth certificate. Somebody had called: there was a child living in a refuse heap. She went there. The boy could not speak, had no civilized reactions. His whole body was covered with wounds and scars. She took him to the Fundacja Obrony Zycia Dziecka (Foundation for the Protection of the Life of a Child).
The curator called: 'Where is the child? Please, immediately, bring the child. If not, I will call the public prosecutor's office!'
- "I straight away called the journalists. I will show them the results of the curator`s work. I`ll show them scars from cigarettes and an iron." She was not afraid to stand up for the child. It was 1994. She was not scared of the curators or prosecutors.
The curator fell silent, so she added: "I will not give him to an orphanage." And the boy stayed with her. She then found him a family. That boy called her Maria, for she had regained her own name.
She is not living on Chelmska Street anymore. She now has a warm place with a big kitchen and a large hall with a spacious wardrobe. But it doesn`t hold her own clothes. The wardrobe is filled with children`s wear. For those who will be born but whose mothers don`t yet know. For they still consider abortion. About the "widening of women`s freedom space" as some would put it. About "killing unborn children" as the others say. According to the World Health Organization there are 50-70 million unborn children killed every year. That makes a population like, say, Germany
What is happening to us?
- "The tiny bodies end up in lavatories, the bigger ones are taken to Medical Academies, and are then 'utilized'. Or sometimes, as in Germany, that 'medical waste' is being used to make paving stones. The same is happening to miscarried children. The mothers do not even see their children. Often, they don`t know whether it was a girl or a boy. I thought something should be done about it. I couldn`t sleep knowing that those human bodies are being desecrated."
On 20 October 2005, at St. Catherine's church in Warsaw, she organized a funeral for several dozen of the children who were born dead. The little bodies were placed in 10 small white coffins. There were many TV reporters, journalists. They all had tears in their eyes. Even a woman from a very important newspaper was weeping, yet did not properly comprehend. The next day she wrote about a moving "funeral of foetuses".
- "We are setting up a Foundation which will aim to build a National Centre For the Protection of Life and Expiation (Narodowe Centrum Ochrony Zycia i Ekspiacji) in reparation for all the children murdered in Poland and throughout the whole world. Since September we have been holding regular prayers for this intention, at a sanctuary in Siekierki, famous for the apparitions of Our Lady and the Lord Jesus that took place between 1943 and 1946. For over a year, between 3pm and 6pm, people have attended Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament."
The Centre was a wish of Archbishop K. Majdanski - they spent long hours talking about it, though she did not understand the meaning of the idea at the time: building the hospital, where post-abortion syndrome would be treated along with other effects of killing unborn children.
- "We are going to teach doctors ethics. This is not just about abortion, it is about something much, much more. It is about, for example, not seeing when we turn on the TV a doctor closing his consulting-room in front of the patient saying, 'Man, come on, we are on strike because our wages are too low.' In the old days to be a doctor also meant presenting high ethical/moral standards or, in other words, being a real human. And why do young people choose medicine now? Is it for the money, or to take care of the sick person, to bring comfort in suffering? I can`t think of any more beautiful job. The Centre is going to be a place where doctors will have a chance to remind themselves of this simple truth."
To See the Sky
All the pictures in Maria`s album are small, but one is huge. A real poster. A very good-looking boy on it, just like Banderas only with blonde hair. His parents already had three girls. The mother killed the next three babies - he was to be the fourth one to go. She was in a difficult economic situation; problems with her own health.
- "When she was expecting this child I was doing everything I could to help her. Everything humanly possible. Yet, every day I could hear her: 'If I didn`t listen to you I wouldn`t have to suffer so much'."
'It is going to be even more difficult', the doctors were grumbling.
Maria took a book by Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski to the hospital. It brought something back to the mother.
- "I will take it. I knew him (the author), he gave me Confirmation," she said, and accepted the book.
Immediately, with tears in her eyes, she realized herself what she had done to her three children. And she said: "I will ask God to forgive me all this. I will accept every suffering if that is His will. I will do everything to compensate for these murders. I will also pray that this child, that I am expecting, is a boy, and I shall name him Stefan."
Stefan was born a healthy boy. His mother`s health, on the contrary, got worse after his birth. Now she moves around in a wheel-chair. She stays with people similarly afflicted, many of the women having killed their children on a doctor's recommendation. Some of them have attempted suicide. She does the same work as Maria, saving them and their children, who were to die. She tells the girls: "Do not kill. Let them see the sun."
Translated by Malgorzata Grzmala. The Centre for the Protection of Life and Expiation initiative is already underway. All prayerful and practical support is most welcome and sorely needed, since there is much work to be done. For further information visit, write or call:
Phone: (0048) 0791577901 (English speakers - 0048 0507 000 507)