The following is a revised version of my earlier blogpost (published 25 September 2023) about the “Vocations Night talk by Fr Marek Woldan.” The previous version contained minor inaccuracies and miscommunication of key facts owing to the brevity of the notes that I took during his talk and has led to unforeseen misunderstandings by readers of Fr Marek’s personal wellbeing. As of the publication of this revised blogpost, the previous version has been removed from my website to avoid any further confusion.
I am thankful to Fr Marek for reaching out to me to help me correct the record on all previously mentioned points.
How God speaks to us simply, in ways that He alone knows that we can understand.
Unfortunately, he was left at somewhat of a disadvantage by the semi-regular speaker Fr Samuel French (who sent his regards for that night) who had already covered every possible topic about vocations under the sun prior to World Youth Day Lisbon.
So, what could Fr Marek possibly talk about to a dining table of two dozen or so Catholic youth? He chose simplicity and talked from his own experience.
Fr Marek was 7 years old, back in Poland, when he first knew his vocation in life.
At the time his two older siblings were preparing for their First Holy Communions. He recalled that somehow, he had picked up a prayer book and was reading it. Even looking back, he knew that he could not understand much of what was in it, but he was reading it. Then his mother walked into the room where the little Marek was and said: “Ah, Marek, I see that you are going to become a priest.” Not wanting to upset his mother, he said, “Okay.”
Later on in his life he was thinking about it. When all his classmates from school were worrying about which high school to go to, Marek was not worried. He knew that he was going to be a priest. It was very convenient to know it from that time, there was no uncertainty for him to deal with.
In seminary, around Year 2 or the beginning of Year 3 you are investured with the black cassock of a priest, and (in Poland) you are to no longer wear secular/common clothing. This is a very important threshold within a seminarian’s journey to becoming a priest. A visible sign that you are truly serious about answering God’s call to this holy vocation. No former seminarian would wish to be remembered amongst his community for going through with his investiture only to then say that the priesthood is not his true calling.
It is far better for you to resign before this moment happens, Fr Marek told us.
So, it was at this important threshold in his own journey of discernment that seminarian Marek had his first seed of doubt: Am I being truly called or am I just doing this for my mother? Dear God, please tell me, is this just me wanting to be a priest to make my mother happy or are You truly calling me to this?
Two weeks before he was to receive the cassock Marek was visiting his family, still wondering whether his calling was real or not. For some reason his mother began recounting stories from his childhood, he had heard most of them before. But then she told a story that he had not heard before.
Marek’s mother told of when as a child up until the age of 2 he had suffered through twelve bouts of pneumonia, one soon after the other. During one of these periods of illness, when she had taken him back to the hospital to be examined again, the doctor said to her, “If I were you, I would prepare.” Prepare for his death.
Not at all content with the doctor’s advice, Marek’s mother took him to their local church and prayed before the altar of Our Lady. She made a deal with Mary, “You heal him, you can take him.”
A while after, Marek recovered and the details of these events began to fade from his mother’s memory, until God called them back to the front of her mind when Marek most needed to hear them. It was late in Marek’s vocation, but it was still the right time — God’s time — for him to hear this story. Here was the confirmation that he was on the right path; God the Father was calling him to be a priest.
Fr Marek knew at the time, ‘This is not about me.’ God speaks to each of us in different ways. HE knows which ways to speak to us that we can understand, individually. Listening to some details of your life, you will see clearly where God is calling you. God can speak through other people. Pay attention to things that are repeated: phrases, events, conversations, and so on. It is not always some big message or big trumpet blast; God speaks to us simply, in the ways that He alone knows that we can understand.
For example, Fr Marek’s Vocation to be a Missionary.
When he was walking through a high school as a Year 9 student, out of the corner of his eye he noticed a poster for the Geographic Department and that was a small photo showing somewhere in Oceania, he couldn’t recall where exactly. And in that moment, it came to him, “Okay, I am going to be a missionary.”
God used something I would understand, he said. Something as simple as that photo.
Later, it came to his heart that he was to go to Papua New Guinea. There was no warning, he had no prior ideas about it, this was God calling him again to where he should go.
Priests that Marek knew, and his own fellow seminarians, told him that becoming a missionary would not be so easy. Their bishop was not one to let go of freshly ordained seminarians, Marek may have to wait a year or two before the bishop would be willing to let him go on mission work. Marek was not fazed; he knew that he was going to be a missionary.
Every time that the bishop came to visit and talk with the seminarians during their years of formation, Marek would say to the bishop, Bishop, “I am going to Papua New Guinea to be a missionary.”
Later on, Marek thought to himself, ‘Hmm, it might not be a bad idea to have some experience before becoming a missionary.’ So, he decided to stay for a year, or two, in Poland as a priest in a parish before becoming a missionary. He ended up staying 6 years for placement in his local diocese.
Then the bishop came on one of his parish visits. When he saw Fr Marek, he said, “Okay, here is the man who said he would be a missionary.” This statement left Fr Marek thinking again about his vocation and precipitated his second struggle with doubt. “Am I being called to be a missionary? Is this of me or not?”
In his parish as a newly ordained priest, Fr Marek met and became friends with a former missionary who was also living there. They would often go out for lunch together and the missionary would share stories about being a missionary, not knowing that the young priest before him was called by God to be a missionary as well.
Fr Marek knew that God was calling him to minister in Papua New Guinea, but all the missionaries from his diocese in Poland went to serve in communities in Africa and South America. There was no one who had been to, or was in, Papua New Guinea that he could ask about being a missionary there. He felt being called specifically to Papua New Guinea, however there was no one to contact to find out whether they were indeed in need of missionaries in that part of the world.
Fr Marek knew that if he was to be a missionary, he would need help in discerning the call.
“Okay, God if I am to be a missionary, I need a sign or a contact in Papua New Guinea to know that you want me to go there.”
What then followed for Fr Marek was a long period of prayer and questioning, by himself and others. This was God’s good way of purifying his call to missionary work. Marek wasn’t doing this because he liked the idea of Papua New Guinea, no, he wanted to go there because that was where God Himself was calling Marek to be.
After this period of purification there was still no sign or contact from Papua New Guinea. Then Fr Marek thought to himself, ‘Okay, Marek, if God calls you to be a missionary, what does it matter which country He sends you to?’
Only after this did Fr Marek then find out that one of his priest friends was actually going to be a missionary in Papua New Guinea. However, as clear a sign as this was, it was still not enough for Fr Marek to take this as a sign from God. He need confirmation that he wasn’t taking this turn of events to his human advantage — he had already given his, “Yes,” to God to go to Africa.
So, Fr Marek went to talk with the Director of the Mission Training Centre where he was studying, and asked the director, “Where should I go to be a missionary: Africa or Papua New Guinea?”
The director answered him, “They have more than enough missionary priests in Africa already, go to Papua New Guinea.”
And so that is how Fr Marek came to be a missionary in Papua New Guinea, but that was not the end of his story.
In his time ministering in Papua New Guinea, Fr Marek was called again by God with a thought, a thought that the missionary had never had before, that came to his mind: Australia.
Australia! Why Australia?
It took Fr Marek a while to understand this call. Talking with those around him and his fellow missionaries, he could come up with many Human Reasons to go to Australia:
In the end none of this Human Reasoning finally mattered, only God’s Reasoning mattered.
When Fr Marek received his call to Australia, it was so clear. Normally people have motives for moving. He had none. He was trying, as all humans do, to make up reasons for something that cannot be answered by human reasoning. For God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are above our ways.
The only reason Marek had to go to Australia was that it is THE Call — God’s call — and that was enough reason for him.
Now that Fr Marek is in Australia, he feels deep within himself that he is in the right place. The place where God wants him to be. His past 2 years in Australia have been of great spiritual growth to him and his life as a priest. That spiritual growth was never a motivation for him to come here, he has only received it because he followed God’s call.
For Fr Marek, the best way in life is to follow God’s call. He cannot truly express in words how happy and fulfilled he is for following the many calls that God made in his life so far.
In closing, Fr Marek advised us to be attentive, to discern, and aware of the things that we may not even think of as God’s call in our lives - may just be the God of Infinite Surprises knocking at our heart’s door.
He was glad to see so many young people gathered for the Vocations Night, “It is good that you are actually putting your ear to what God is calling you to. Thank you.”
Fr Marek Woldan has been an ordained priest for 23 years.
He was born and raised in Częstochowa, considered to be the Spiritual Capital of Poland.
In January 2008 he arrived in Papua New Guinea and was sent as a parish priest to one of the parishes in the Diocese of Mendi.
From the end of 2021, Fr Marek has been an assistant priest at Our Lady of Dolours Parish, Chatswood, Sydney, helping with pastoral work in the Diocese of Broken Bay.*
(Revised Version) 4 October 2023
* Details taken from Our Lady of Dolours Catholic Parish Chatswood Facebook post welcoming Fr Marek to the parish.
Pencilled 17 Jul 2023.
Painted 18 Jul 2023.
It's slowly starting to hit me that I'm actually going abroad in 7 days.
I'm really feeling the exhaustion, as I write this, after having been out tonight at our Diocese's WYD Pilgrim Blessing Mass. It was a very taxing night mentally, as well as physically.
Thankfully, I can report that I am now in possession of both my Diocesan Pilgrim and Pilgrimage Travel Provider Kits. I know have a better idea of what I have to pack as well as how much extra space is now available thanks to the new cross-body satchel.
17 Jul 2023
Previous WYD Formation Session blogposts:
Pre-Session #1 Thoughts
WYD Travel Itinerary UPDATE
Because that’s basically the only thing that I can control.
Our 3rd World Youth Day Formation Session was held last Tuesday (20 June) in the same venue as Session #2. There wasn’t all that much new to talk about.
We had confirmation of the multiplicity of different flight paths/times we would all be taking as pilgrim small groups going into Europe and coming out again due to post-COVID-related travel booking arrangements. I've illustrated my own flight path below.
Small updates about diocesan-branded WYD merchandise and clothing. The diocese’s WYD app has been approved by Apple, but no mention of Google at all.
We had a rough explanation/run-through of how the Rise Up Catechesis session are supposed to run; our diocese will be the Animating Host Team for the English-speaking sessions for a 3rd WYD. Think conversation ice-breakers and running around with wireless microphones to multiple other English-speaking pilgrims from across the world inside as-yet-to-be-determined venues.
My rather lacklustre reporting of this is because I’ve only in the last 24hrs found out that I will be the only one from my small group flying out on the first of the 3 flights from Rome to Lisbon on 31 July. I will of course be travelling with other pilgrims from the same bus group; but before this oblique gut-punch, I was already processing that I was being flown into Lisbon by Ryanair. An airline that any aware passenger needs no introduction to.
And I am still recovering from whatever laid my low after my cross-border travels from almost 3 weeks ago. Other than that, I am at least slightly closer to starting a picture that’s been waiting since before my afore-mentioned sojourn.
Until next time.
28 Jun 2023
The reason that there hasn’t been much news from me as late is because I have been sick at home for the best part of a week after having done a crazy 5-and-a-half-day round journey with my father from Sydney to Melbourne, to Adelaide, and back to Sydney again, all by rail.
I hope to be in a fit state to attend the 3rd WYD Formation Session this coming Tuesday (20 June), God willing.
Until then, I have put together this collection of relevant YouTube Travel Videos for my fellow diocesan pilgrims and for anyone else planning on travelling to Italy or Portugal.
I do admit that most of these videos are from Mark Wolters and his Wolters World YouTube channel. This is because he and his family are inveterate travellers with a wealth of lived experience and, in comparison to other travel advice channels, he aims to be helpful rather than fear-mongering (case in point: the Scam City tv series, widely available on YouTube).
I would highly recommend checking out Wolters World for further travel advice that I can't share due to how long this post is already getting 😉
Artwork created 26–29 May 2023.
If there has been something that has intensified over the past year, it has been this gentle but firm pressure from above to represent particular saints. With St Agatha this pressure has been of unusual strength.
Way back at the end of April I had collected a series of reference images, which I left on my drawing desk day in and day out, but strangely couldn’t get much further with.
The impasse only changed after a deeper dive into the story of her life, and of how she has been represented in Rome and in Sicily. In doing so she went from being an important saint mentioned in Eucharistic Prayer 1 of the Church to being formidable and unforgettable.
A brief re-cap of her life would be useful. St Agatha was a native of Sicily, and a beautiful and rich young woman of a noble family who had given her life to Jesus as a consecrated virgin. To signify this consecration she wore a veil.
When the early tortures failed to move her determination, he then ordered that her breasts be torn off with the special type of tongs you see depicted and then rolled in hot coals. Neither managed to kill her, and she was returned to her prison cell where St Peter visited her. Next Quintianus decided to burn her at the stake, but an earthquake happened to prevent that happening. So she was returned to her prison cell where she died of her injuries.
The lictor sliced off my breasts with doubled blows,
Due to the details of her martyrdom, St Agatha became the patron saint of breast cancer sufferers, of rape victims, of nurses, of bell-founders, of Sicily, and other patronages.
One of the images that helped was the statue of St Agatha above the colonnade at St Peter’s basilica in Rome. It told the story of her life without being unchaste. The other image that helped was the reliquary of St Agatha’s head kept in the Cathedral of Catania in Sicily.
This reliquary is a master-work of silver and enamel. An online article about the relics of St Agatha can be viewed here.
If you are patient (depending on the device you are using), it is worth using the Google translate option if you (like me) are not fluent in Italian.
On either side of the bust representing St Agatha are two angels. She is crowned, and in one hand holds a crucifix and in the other she holds an inscription. The whole thing is covered with votive offerings, pectoral crosses from bishops, episcopal rings, jewels etc. According to tradition, the crown upon her head was put there by King Richard the Lionheart.
Also this reliquary is the origin of the decision for blonde hair rather than the black or brunette hair found more widely in popular culture imagery of St Agatha.
Below is the inscription, and a translation of it, that found all over the Cathedral of Catania where her reliquary–bust is kept, and that I have included underneath my depiction of St Agatha:
Mentem Sanctam Spontaneam Honorem Deo Et Patriae Liberationem
These are no idle words. Her veil, kept in a separate reliquary, has been successfully used several times to invoke God’s help when natural disasters threatened Sicily.
When invaders came to Sicily and rounded up the native inhabitants, the conqueror permitted them to have a last Mass at the shrine of St Agatha before being executed. When it came time for everyone to open up the hymn books, each and every page held the initials of a promise that St Agatha would always protect Sicily with her intercession. Needless to say, the inhabitants were saved, and the invaders exited in a hurry.
St Agatha, this holy martyr, has been given mighty intercessory power by God.
St Agatha, pray for us. Amen.
Catherine Cavanagh, (based on notes and with minor edits by Vincent Cavanagh).
~31 May 2023
~21 May 2023
Our second Diocesan WYD Formation Session was held in Sydney last night (16 May 2023) and it came preloaded with post-WYD Event promotions, zero Pilgrimage Itinerary updates, a do-it-yourself Spicks and Specks round, and a side order of cringe through the conscription of ELO's Mr Blue Sky. The less said about that particular episode, the better.
Apart from finally getting to see what the Diocesan and Travel Provider merchandise (only visual mock-ups, nothing physical), the main highlight of the night was the reflection from Fr Stephen Wayoyi AJ (Apostles of Jesus Missionaries) on The Road to Emmaus, Gospel of Luke 24:13-35.
He told us that we are all, on this pilgrimage, invited to an important encounter with Jesus, just as the disciples encountered Him on their way to Emmaus. Their sorrow from the crucifixion was turned into joy by meeting Jesus on the way. So to are we called to bring our own daily sorrows, pains and discouragements with us on this pilgrimage; and to be open to God. To give him all that is weighing us down, that He may also turn it into joy. Joy in Him.
Remember: the word became flesh and dwelt among us. Be not afraid! We don't have to give up. God is with us. We are not here [in this hall, on this pilgrimage] by mistake. He has chosen us. He is asking us to journey with him. He wants to be a companion with us. To remind us always, that God is real.
Then Fr Stephen finished by asking us to say to the person next to us, "We are together again."
And he concluded the reflection by leading us together in song:
Something good is going to happen.
~17 May 2023
Not all, but most of Fr Stephen Wayoyi's rendition of "We Are Together Again" from last night's 2nd World Youth Day Formation session (16 May 2023).
~17 May 2023
~30 April 2023
News and Other Stuff
About recent artwork, inspirations and other things I find interesting.