Father Walter Cizsek: a hero who was a missionary and priest

Father Walter Cizsek would fulfill what the future St. Paul VI would call, “The grace and vocation proper to the Church, and her deepest identity” because the Church “exists in order to evangelize.”

By Father Eugene Ritz, co-postulator for the Cause of Canonization of Father Walter Ciszek.

The mandate of Christ to go to every nation in His name serves as the foundation and motivation for the life of a man, a priest, a son of Shenandoah.

He was a man whose faith and fortitude took him 5,000 miles from home to endure cruelty, to court martyrdom, and to unite his life to Jesus Christ and proclaim Him crucified to a people brutalized, suffering, and laboring under the Godless dictatorship of atheistic Communism.

Father Walter Cizsek would fulfill what the future St. Paul VI would call, “The grace and vocation proper to the Church, and her deepest identity” because the Church “exists in order to evangelize.”

Exactly 90 years ago, 150 Jesuit priests responded to the missionary call of Pope Pius XI, who realized the gravity of the circumstances in Russia as a new and godless doctrine began to corrode away a culture once steeped in the life, death, and resurrection of the Son of God. He called those Jesuits to go to Russia. Only Father Walter would ever come home.

Disguising himself to enter Russia, he was arrested and endured five years of torture and starvation, was imprisoned with Nazis and murderers when not being kept in the desolation of solitary confinement, and was forced to endure a decade of the most brutal Siberian labor.

Yet facts only tell part of the story, because in them we also find the countless thousands of hidden baptisms and secret confessions. We find a man of such deep personal mental, if not mystical, prayer that it led him to make so great a sacrifice of his very self to offer the sacrifice of the Holy Mass and treasure its richness and power, and in turn to offer that grace to others.

As Father Walter wrote, “it was my primary concern each new day… I would go to any length, suffer any inconvenience, run any risk to make the bread of life available to these men.

As the last century faced the threat of Communism, so we also face what Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI so rightfully called, “the dictatorship of relativism.” It is a doctrine unto itself in which knowledge, truth, and certain morality is blinded from finding an absolute. Father Walter’s life goes beyond showing us a diagnosis; he presents us with a cure.

Our Pope Emeritus states, “A friendship with Christ that opens us up to all that is good and gives us a criterion by which to distinguish the true from the false, and deceit from truth” is the answer. Father Walter’s words are so powerful, but as saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.”

Father Walter’s friendship with Christ brought forth heroic actions meant to bring about the salvation of souls. From his life’s witness we too can draw the strength to become missionaries. In this new era of Evangelization, our Church calls us to be the presence of Christ to a culture where the Gospel has been preached for centuries, because its message demands that it must be heard anew. We do so remembering those who once risked their lives for the Sacramental absolution of Sins, for the grace of the sacraments, and most of all for sanctification that occurs in the depths of our being from the Mass.

From Siberia, Father Walter discerned how the missionary plan of Christ is brought about. He writes that the Gospel reaches men one at a time, and “by God’s grace and according to his providence, not in some great visionary crusade or overnight,” but rather by each day as God presents to us people and opportunities on which he expects us to act.” Then, to the many priest prisoners in Siberia, he wrote, “Waste no time through doubt or discouragement because Christ alone is the guarantor of the success of a priest.”

The words and heroic actions of Father Walter Ciszek draw us to that friendship with Christ that is necessary for our own salvation, and then they impel us to offer this greatest of gifts to the world. To accomplish this we might hear his words again: Waste no time on doubt or discouragement: Christ alone guarantees our success.


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