All mission work needs two things: missionaries and benefactors (both spiritual and financial).
First of all we thank St. John Paul II for his blessing on this project in May 2003. During an audience with Pope John Paul II, I (Fr. Leszek, MIC) presented the project of the Marian Formation (CANA) Center to him, and he blessed it and said, “Go and build this Center in Kibeho. I give you my blessing.”
With the blessing of St. John Paul II upon us, we embarked on our mission in Kibeho in 2004, and everything that we have built in these past 14 years is by the blessing of God and through the generosity of many benefactors. We began building our Center with zero funds. All we had (in addition to the blessing of the Pope) were the blessings of our late former General Superior, Fr. Mark Garrow, MIC, from the United States and of his assistant at that time, Fr. John Rokosz, MIC.
1. The first gift I received in 2004, was from Fr. Michael Gaillard, who was the chaplain at the airport in Brussels. It was a great and generous gift, and it served as the seed that launched the construction of our first building. We then prayed to our Founder, St. Stanislaus, to help with our mission and very soon afterwards there was an Extraordinary Divine Mercy Mission Appeal in Stockbridge, MA, and we received a large donation! It was an incredible gift, and with it we started to build this Center which today has grown into a beautiful place of peace and prayer. But this was just the beginning! The next blessing came in the form of an extraordinary gift from Oscar Delgado and Fr. Anthony Bus, Pastor of the Parish of St. Stanislaus in Chicago. It was an 18 foot, bronze statue of the Merciful Jesus.
2. In 2005, I met our main benefactor, Joseph Risi from the United States, which was the start of a wonderful friendship.Through his powerful help along with another generous benefactor, Andy Puzder, we built many holy things in our Center including the main chapel of Our Lady, Mother of the Word, the Convent of St. Gabriel for our apostolic (active) Annonciade Sisters, and beautiful walking Stations of the Cross. We also finally got connected to the main water system and purchased a bigger generator in order to support all of our new buildings! All of this, and many other projects, were accomplished over the past 13 years. Both Joe and Andy are still involved and continue to help us with new projects at the Cana Center.
3. While building this Center in 2005, we also started working on various other projects, such as education and health, to help improve the local community. There was a primary school nearby that had been destroyed during the genocide. I proposed that we rebuild this school, and we did! This was made possible through the contribution of many good people! I must specifically mention Mrs. Słodzinka, who helped to establish the Watoto (children of Africa) Foundation, which financed the majority of the construction of this school. Also, after hurricane Katrina, with the help of Immaculée Ilibagiza and Angelle Albright, I preached in two different places in the U.S. and received a great gift for the school. I was also helped a lot by the Catholic Women’s Organization from North Dakota, and Trinity Lutheran School in Michigan. I am very grateful for all of the benefactors who made donations for this school, which was completed in 2010. Together, we built this school, which today, has 800 kids and is a great school.
4. In 2006, I started working in cooperation with the Marian Fathers from the U.S., which was a big blessing. I also started to travel and preach a lot in the United States. I am so grateful to Ellen Miller and how she helped to put me in contact with places where I could preach and how she helped to arrange my travel. She was a tremendous help in making my many mission appeals and it was a very spiritual and successful time. It was during these travels that I also first met Immaculée Ilibagiza while she was promoting her book, Left to tell, and we still work together to this day. She has given many nice donations for the school (as mentioned above), and also for the stations of the rosary, for the confessionals and numerous other projects. Additionally, I met many different people through her who are now our great benefactors. For example, our amazing architect, Henry Fitzgibbon, who, when I asked him to help me design some buildings said, “If Mary asks me something, I can never say no.” He has consecrated so many hours of his time to work with me to design this Cana Center. He has also helped with financial donations. I am so grateful to him, his wife, their wonderful children and even their dog Clay!
5. I am so grateful for two important organizations that we have collaborated with: the Seven Loaves Project through JR from Green Bay, WI and All Day FORE Africa through Kathy and Kate Lesnar with their large team from Worthington, MN. Through their tremendous help, we have built a Bakery, a Health Center, a Dormitory for teachers, and construction for the new All Day FORE Africa Children’s Academy is currently under way! We are so happy to continue working together with these incredible people and their organizations for new projects.
6. I must mention how thankful I am for the cloistered Annonciade Nuns from Thiais, France (near Paris) who have given us donations numerous times. Their powerful intercessory prayer has also moved mountains for our projects!
7. I am grateful for the help of our brethren from the Marian Congregation at the Shrine of Lichen in Poland.
Also, when we had our jubilee year in 2009, during which we celebrated 25 years of our Mission in Rwanda, we received a large donation from our Marian Polish Province of Divine Providence in Warsaw.
8. We can never forget our many spiritual benefactors who pray for our work or who offer the Mass for us. We can also never forget the innocent and heartfelt donations of school children. In addition, many people have helped us by coming to volunteer at our Center. For example, we have received many blessings from FOCUS Missionaries from the U.S. who bring donations and who have helped with many of our different ministries such as painting and teaching/education.
9. I am grateful for many parishes and pastors who have helped us to fundraise by allowing us to do mission appeals. A few of these include Fr. John McHale, Pastor of St. Patrick’s in White Haven, PA, Fr. Jim Callahan from Worthington, MN, Fr. Jarek Gamrot from Washington DC, and Fr. Michael Russo from Our Lady of Fatima in Lafayette, LA.
10. I am also very thankful to Bishop David and the Parish of Kenosha, WI who adopted us as their sister parish. We are so grateful for their donations. We would also like to extend our thanks to the Marian parishes from Darien, IL, and Plano, IL where we preached mission appeals.
11. We are grateful for the Czachorowski Company (a Polish egg company) and their main director, Andrew Czachorowski and his friends and family who have faithfully helped us over the years.
12. There are so many more people to thank! In this last section, I would like to thank in a special way: Dr. Tomasz Stys and his family from Sioux Falls, SD, Kristine Rich and her family from California, Larry Tokarski from Portland, OR and Rachel Spoon from Louisiana for their generous donations. We would also like to thank Eric Kacou from the Ivory Coast for his financial support for the Crèche (nativity scene) in our Center, Cathy Keiley for the statue of St. John Paul II and the bell of St. Stanislaus, Donna Wiederkehr from Memphis, TN for the statues of Padre Pio and Our Lady of Kibeho, and Amy Polasky from Wisconsin for the Hall of the Shroud of Turin and confessionals. We thank Annie Karto, a talented Christian singer from Florida, for her participation in our mission through her music. And finally we are so grateful to Brian Thatcher from Tampa, FL who has helped with fundraising and who helped to ship the huge statue of Jesus to Kibeho, Fr. Donald Calloway, MIC, for his cooperation in preaching mission appeals, and Drew Mariani from relevant radio in Green Bay for helping us to spread the message of Our Lady of Kibeho and for broadcasting to so many people about the important work we are doing here.
In closing, from the beginning of our Cana Center, we have celebrated Mass every Saturday for all of our benefactors, both financial and spiritual, both living and deceased, in thanksgiving for them and to ask for blessings for their lives, their loved ones and their projects. We are planning to put plaques to honor all of our benefactors on a wall near the statue of the Merciful Jesus in the near future!
Finally, looking back over all the years and the innumerable graces we have received, it is very easy to have missed telling the story about a particular gift or grace. Please forgive us if you weren’t mentioned by name, if you have any stories or names you would like to see on this page, please contact us so we can add them!
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