The reach of resurrectionists is wide



Pope Francis arrives for a meeting with priests of the Congregation of the Resurrection at the Vatican in 2017. (CNS Photo/L’Osservatore Romano)

The geographic triangle on the shores of the Great Lakes that stretches between Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan is perhaps the most recognizable hub for the Polish diaspora living outside of the European nation all over the world. The food, music, and various other aspects of the cultural heritage of Poles who immigrated to the area in waves since the 1850s dominate the area. Many parishes in the region, including some where I often attend daily Mass, are administered by the Congregation of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ, more commonly known as the Resurrectionists.

The religious order was founded in 1836 by three Polish emigrants, Bogdan Janski, Peter Semenenko and Jerome Kajsiewicz. Janski prioritized a vision of a more enlightened, educated clergy and active laity, especially among his native country’s expatriates spread across Europe, particularly in the early years in France and Italy. On Easter morning 1842, in the catacombs of San Sebastian, seven members of the original group of believers made a profession of living in community and forming together a new way of life. As they emerged from the underground crypts, they heard Easter bells ringing throughout the city and decided to make the celebration the center of their newly founded religious congregation, taking the name Resurrectionists.

They took seriously the exhortation of Pope Pius IX: “Organize in the way that will do the Church the most good. In 1857 they decided to dedicate their ministry to the administration of parishes and the education of young people, especially in the regions where the Poles arrived and struggled, but of course extending this mission to everyone they met. in need of conversion, as well as material, spiritual and intellectual support. Today, resurrectionists work in Australia, Austria, Bermuda, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, Slovakia, Tanzania, Ukraine, United States and, of course, in Poland. Their headquarters in Rome is located on Via Sebastianello (Little Saint Sebastian) which recalls that mass in the catacombs named after the same Roman martyr almost 200 years ago.

The parishes founded or administered by the order often, but not always, stress their connection with Polish history. Figures like Saints Stanislaus Kostka, Hedwig and Hyacinth are often invoked, as is the famous Polish veneration of the Blessed Mother, evident under patronages like Our Lady of the Desert, Our Lady of the Lake and Our Lady of Mentorella. And, quite naturally, many of their ministries invoke the name of their primary feast (and of all of Christendom): the Resurrection.

One of the moving prayers of the order, the Litany of the Resurrection, invokes Jesus more than 30 times under the title of risen Lord, asking him to reconcile everything with him, to raise us to new life and to send us his Spirit. Much of the order’s literature speaks of their wish to be divine instruments in “the renewal of society”.

The famous theologian Jürgen Moltmann once said, “Christianity is unique in that it is a religion of joy. The carols of Christmas and the laughter of Easter and the awakening of the feelings of Pentecost: this is unique in Christianity. … Compare that with Judaism and Islam and Buddhism; they are all unique in their own center. But this center of the Resurrection is unique in Christianity.

We are all then a collective People of the Resurrection. The shocking and outrageous cry that “He is risen” reminds us of the night when “Christ broke the bars of death and emerged victorious from hell” because of the “happy fault” of humanity which earned a Redeemer, as the Exsultet proclamation of the Easter Vigil says. It is in the resurrection that the sanctifying power of Christ “dispels wickedness, washes away faults, restores innocence to the fallen and joy to the mourners, drives away hatred, promotes concord, and brings down the mighty”.

Although the whole Church recognizes this moment as God’s ultimate and irrevocable triumph over human sin and division, Resurrectionists everywhere are called to live this reality as a central dimension of their charism in a particularly intentional way.

Originally from Collingswood, Michael M. Canaris, Ph.D., teaches at Loyola University Chicago.

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