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Coming home

Irena Kalpas, Poland

Warsaw, February 6, 2011

Tags: Abandonment to God, June 26
During the War, 66 years ago, I was exiled from Poland with my family. Since then I had never been back to the part of Warsaw where I lived as a young girl, and I did not even know whether the house where I was born was still standing.

Irena Kalpas at home
Irena Kalpas at home
Until, on what for me was just an ordinary day, June 26, 2002 – the anniversary of St Josemaria’s death – I went back. And there I found something that changed my life, and the message about being holy in the middle of the world.

I didn’t know anything about St Josemaria; I had never even heard of him. But perhaps he knew me, and that was why he came to meet me in Filtrowa Street, Warsaw, at 11 in the morning on June 26, 2002. That was the moment I opened the gate into the front garden of the house from which, 58 years before (on August 11, 1944) I and my family were sent into exile in the middle of the war.

During all the years that followed, I had never been back to my old home – it was a world that had ended. The memory of my beloved family who had been killed was too painful. In my new post-war life, alone, I never once felt any inclination to go down that street. I only went there in my prayers.

Warsaw during the war
Warsaw during the war
But suddenly, without intending, planning, or foreseeing it, I walked down that street from one end to the other, and stopped in front of the entrance to our house. Then, as though in a dream – but it was totally real – someone invited me to come into the house. I went into the hall, our sitting-room, into the dining-room – though the arrangement was different – and suddenly I found myself in a beautiful chapel. I was really astonished, and I can now see clearly that it was a miracle – St Josemaria had brought me there. Otherwise I would never have met Opus Dei!

I cannot describe the impact made on me by the fact that there was now a chapel in what had once been our house. Exactly where the dining-room table had been, where my mother used to work with my aunt, who died tragically in a gas-chamber in the concentration camp: now there is an altar, where Jesus lives in the Tabernacle. And from a picture on the wall beside it smiles St Josemaria – such a kindly, intelligent smile! That first day, I learned that the house was now an Opus Dei center for university students.

Until then, June 26, 2002, I still knew nothing about St Josemaria. Just a few months after my discovery, I can boldly say that I already loved him and had absorbed his spirit.

A step forward
I think that St Josemaria not only brought me the grace of that wonderful discovery, but helped me to take a huge step forward in my number one world, meaning my inner life. I was so grateful to him that I felt a real need to learn about his life and the spirit of Opus Dei. I started reading a biography of him and getting to know his thinking and the things he wrote. His book Friends of God became my daily help.
Panoramic view of Warsaw
Panoramic view of Warsaw

I feel that St Josemaria is incredibly close to me in his way of thinking, his daily life and the straightforward way he talked to God. This really is a Work of God!

I have lived many years and been through times of great hardship, but I have always felt God’s protection, and the support of faith. And finally, my encounter with Opus Dei.

It was obviously St Josemaria who led me to my former home that day. From then on I began to receive Christian formation in the Work, and the next year God gave me the enormous grace of a vocation. I feel more strongly every day the need to pass on everything God has given me, to tell people what I have discovered, and the way I passed from a gray life to an intense relationship with God in my daily life.

From then till now
Little by little, steadily, until today, I have been getting to know the spirit of Opus Dei more and more deeply, plus the content of spiritual formation, the meaning of the practices of piety – which have become not an obligation but a real inner need. And my desire to talk about this divine path to other people, especially young people, grows stronger and stronger.

I began to experience deep joy because of my awareness of God’s presence with me throughout the day. When people ask me what attracted me most about the spirit of the Work, I can say unhesitatingly that it was the happiness of living with God every moment of our daily lives, in all the things we do, aiming at holiness simply, without anything dramatic or artificial. That’s how I live out the spirit of Opus Dei, and how I try to pass it on to the people I meet.

From the bottom of my soul I would like to sing and shout out: “People! Can’t you see how much God is giving you?!”

Now, in my old age, with no family ... I thank God and St Josemaria for helping to bring me into this great family.