A REPORT FROM BEHIND THE CLAUSURA GATE
And what about the religious Clausura? It is a part of the monastery which is only for monks, closed for the people from outside. The Clausura (i.e. the closed house) allows to keep silence and concentration in the monastery, helps the monastic community to create a more intimate atmosphere of a common house which is not disturbed by strangers. The Clausura helps to keep discipline by the monasteries and avoid various trespasses.
To satisfy the understandable curiosity of the visitors to Niepokalanow of what it is like behind the border of the Clausura at least partially we quote the remarks of the journalist who visited that part of the monastery accompanied by one of the monks.
"From the secretary office we get to another road, parallel to «Holy Father's Road». Talking to the Friar in a black habit I remarked:
- There are well kept roads in your community...
- Yes, their surface greatly improved thanks to Holy Father's visit. If you are interested to know, the overall length of our asphalt roads is as much as 1600m.
Meanwhile we pass a small orchard and a little further a miniature park. We approached a long building.
- A lot of monks live here. That house is assigned for the youths of our Order: temporary professes and postulants. Each is given a small room which we call a small cell. The houses are usually centrally heated.
- What is there in that part with big windows?
- That is our bakery, situated in the old machine room from before the war.
- Oh, really? Have you got your own baker?
- Naturally. Bread is the main part of our food...
Although the subject was very interesting for me we did not enter the bakery as the employees had a break after the night shift. As I checked during lunch, which I was invited to, their bread is delicious so their bakers are good at their profession.
I was curious what the refectory, i.e. the monastery dining room, was like. It is in a big hall as if divided into aisles with a row of columns. On the background of the main wall there are wood-carved figures: Jesus on the Cross, the Immaculate, St. Maximilian. The wooden tables covered with trans-
parent varnish do not have tablecloths but they are kept clean and look modest and aesthetic. It was here that Holy Father ate his dinner together with monks and invited guests during his pilgrimage.
The hall is connected to the kitchen by a row of small windows through which the meals are served. I could not see the kitchen because the friars were preparing a meal at that time.
On the ground floor there is a chapel where the inhabitants of Niepokalanow have their daily spiritual practises.
Looking around the monastery I noticed two tunnels, i.e. a vegetable-flower greenhouse run by friars gardeners who prepare the seedlings for growing in the monastery garden. One can see quite a lot of trees, predominantly fruit ones. There are two small parks with religious statues in them. There are beehives run by one of the friars.
In the neighbourhood of the bakery I noticed an outstanding big two-storey building. The friar explained when I asked:
- Once Fr. Maximilian said that the most important part of work in Niepokalanow is the small hospital. In this way he underlined the importance of suffering in apostolic work. The building which is used by suffering brothers was erected at the spot where once the Low Seminary building had stayed and had been devastated by time and burnt down.
- And by the way, what about health care in your monastery? It is an important problem with so many elderly people - I asked.
- In the hospital there are brothers ill with chronic diseases or ill with lighter diseases under the care of the friar infirmar. Three times a week a doctor comes to look after the health of the monks. In need we use the Health Centre or go to hospitals in the vicinity.
I apologised for my inquisitiveness but I had to ask that question:
- How much time do friars spend on prayer? Everyone says one must pray long in the monastery.
My interlocutor smiled and answered:
- It is not a secret; if it is long or short depends on individual estimation, but common prayers take about three hours...
- And that is out of the usual eight hours of work? - I inquire.
- Naturally - the answer comes, but there are exceptions for the feeble or ill ones who pray in private.
Before I used the invitation to a monastery lunch we saw the apiary consisting of 75 beehives but we kept a safe distance to it.
- Bees are a model of diligence and good organisation for us. The fruit of their work is estimated by professionals according to the quality and quantity of the product - my guide added.
After lunch we went out to the garden. The way ran beside the buildings with a laundry and the tailor's workshop and the boarding house for the disciples of the Low Seminary. I popped into the monastery-editor's library. There are a few dozen thousand volumes on religious subjects in it.
The mechanical department is in a low, long building. Among other, the friars impress medallions of the Immaculate there. No doubt that more than a single pilgrim carries the Miraculous Medallion originating in that workshop.
To the will of the Founder such a medallion is a symbol of total putting himself in the hands of Mother of God and of the membership of Militia Immaculatae.
On the way to the field altar at which Pope John Paul II served the Holy Mass in 1983 I took a glance of a complex of household buildings. I saw friar farmer doing his best to supply the brothers with food for their kitchen and onto their table. I heard the squealing of pigs and joyful barking of dogs.
- There were little horses and cows as well but today it is easier to buy food than to produce it - my companion remarked duly.
Beside the monastery cemetery there is a high cross, a part of the papal altar, with a plaque informing that: "Here on this spot Holy Father John Paul II served the thanksgiving Holy Mass for the canonisation of St. Maximilian. There were more than a quarter of a million people, mainly Polish, who came to the meeting with Holy Father John Paul II. It was difficult to hold them within the monastery borders.
There is the monastery cemetery nearby. It is as if the second «monastery», holding over 200 graves of the old inhabitants of Niepokalanow. Until 1944 the monks had been buried on the parish cemetery in Pawlowice or in some mission ground or on camp cemeteries. In the centre of the cemetery there is a high cross with a statue of Our Lady of Sorrows. On the pedestal I can read the inscription: «Those monks who answered Fr. Maximilian's call and worked and suffered for Niepokalanow are buried on this cemetery». Further on there is a fragment of The Canticle to the Sun by St. Francis of Assisi: «Be praised, Lord by our Sister the bodily death...». There are simple tombs arranged in rows, each fit with a plaque. I saw the grave of Prince Jan Drucki-Lubecki, the donator of the ground for the monastery, the grave of Fr. Alfons Kolbe,
a brother of St. Maximilian and the grave of Franciszek Gajowni-czek for whom Fr. Maximilian went to death by starvation.
The Saint, however, has a symbolic grave at the cross - a metal container with the motif of Auschwitz camp: the letter P in a triangle. Inside the container there are ashes of Auschwitz martyrs.
Going back we passed the «airport» where the helicopters bringing Holy Father and his assist landed. The building next door with the aerial is the broadcasting station of Radio Niepokalanow.
- After a lot of organisational efforts and a long waiting time for the permission - the friar says, the station started working in March 1995. It broadcasts religious programmes on the wavelength 102.7MHz with the radius of 40km. Television Niepokalanow started its work in January 1996 as well, broadcasting the programmes on channel 52 to the area of Skierniewice Voivodship with the hope enlarging its range at least to Warsaw. Both the radio and television are expensive and responsible enterprises. One needs equipment and people - my interlocutor stresses.
I could not help asking about some statistical data. And the Brother gave me the information willingly.
- There are about 150 monks together with candidates for monks now. They work in various departments and prepare themselves to work. Thirty priests take care of parish and pilgrimage ministry, run missions, retreats, teach the youth and run editor's offices.
- What is the pilgrimage movement in your sanctuary like? It is widely known that Polish people imitate the Great Pilgrim, our Countryman in the Holy See, in masses.
- The annual number of pilgrims and tourists is remarkable. We do not hold exact statistics, however as it would be difficult to include numerous individual pilgrims in it.
I thank the polite Friar Guide for the company and say goodbye to him at the monastery gate.
I do realise that even a couple of hours' visit to that Franciscan centre can give only a very general image of people living there. Nevertheless you can experience the influence of the great personality of the Founder, his work and organisational charisma with each step you make".
A REPORT FROM BEHIND THE CLAUSURA GATE