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In the name of The Divine Mercy, Fr. Leszek is a man who keeps many balls in the air.

Why Are the Marians Pulling for the Packers?

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"There have been so many wonderful stories of people supporting us," says Fr. Leszek. Children in Kibeho bear witness to that as they settle in for studies at their new primary school.

By Felix Carroll (Jan 29, 2011)
Nope, the Marian Fathers' missionary in Rwanda wouldn't have a clue what to do if you called him into a huddle and said, "Blue, weak-side slant, option left, on three."

But who cares anyway?

Here's a better suggestion: Call him into a huddle and say, "Here's $100,000 toward feeding the poorest of the poor." He'd smack his hands together, line up, and go deep — executing an immaculate reception in the name of the Immaculate Conception.

In short, Fr. Leszek Czelusniak, MIC, is pulling for the Green Bay Packers to win the Super Bowl on Feb. 6.

In a series of generous contributions to a series of merciful initiatives led by Fr. Leszek, the Green Bay Packers football team and head coach Mike McCarthy partnered in August to make a $100,000 donation to train Rwandans in bread baking and small-business skills, a project begun with the friendship of Fr. Leszek and Ron Schoenfeld, founder of the Seven Loaves Project, a non-profit organization in Wisconsin.

The initiative "is very inspiring, and its mission will help many people by providing enduring skills," said the Super Bowl-bound coach Mr. McCarthy.

The flagship bakery will be built at CANA Marian Formation Center in Kibeho, Rwanda. The bakery will serve the duel purpose of providing bread as well as Communion hosts for the region.

'The Will of God'
The bakery isn't the only cause for celebration for the Marians' Rwandan mission.

Five-hundred children — children who could have easily become lost in a land still slouching toward modernity, where securing the staples of survival often requires trodding crooked miles — can now call themselves full-time schoolchildren, the future hope for Rwanda where genocide in 1994 left 1 million dead and many more wounded and displaced.

Packers outside linebacker Brady Poppinga and his wife, Brooke, were the first from the Packers organization to make a donation. They donated the funds to build the bathroom for the school. Although the Poppingas are not Catholic, they generously support educational initiatives in developing nations around the world.

The children lined up outside their new brick building in the village of Kibeho on opening day last August. Looking on with a huge grin was Fr. Leszek, who spearheaded the school project and many other initiatives to bring basic necessities — bread, water, education, and faith — to the people of this central African nation.

One genocide survivor refers to him as "an angel sent to Kibeho," but Fr. Leszek — equally bashful and resolute — steers all praise to God.

"We try to find the will of God," he says. "That is our main work."

'Where the Needs are Greatest'
The abridged biography of Fr. Leszek (pronounced "lay-shek") is this: He's a Polish native who studied architecture. Because he follows the Marian maxim of serving "where the needs are greatest," he's a man who makes things happen in the places they need to happen. In addition to the primary school and the bakery, he's also raising funds to bring potable water to Kibeho by connecting the village to a water main a mile away and building a dormitory for the new school's teachers.

He's also building the CANA Marian Formation Center, a project blessed by Pope John Paul II in 2004. The center has a chapel, residence, and a pilgrim guest house. Father Leszek is expanding the center for conferences and pilgrimages to Kibeho, site of the first Church-approved Marian apparitions in Africa.

At the urging of Bishop Augustin Misago, of Gikongoro, Rwanda, the Marians have built a presence in Kibeho to help insure the pilgrims there receive sound teachings about Mary to avoid any misinterpretation of the apparitions. The Marians have already helped many to understand Mary's central message in Kibeho, which is one of prayer, penance, fasting, conversion, reconciliation, the importance of the Rosary of the Seven Sorrows, and preparation for the return of Jesus.

"There has been so much violence — this country has been so traumatized," says Fr. Leszek. "We still see terrible wounds that affect people, especially the youth. But we also see a real hunger for God."

The new school, which the Marians have turned over to the local diocese, is named for Blessed Stanislaus Papczynski, the 17th century Polish firebrand who founded the Marian Congregation. Providing education has been a main ministry since the Congregation's earliest days.

"The school makes sense to people in Kibeho in every way. It is faith and love in action," said Immaculee Ilibagiza, an author, speaker, and Rwandan genocide survivor. Father Leszek and Immaculee have traveled the United States and abroad to draw attention to needs in Rwanda and the spiritual significance of Kibeho, which they hope becomes the "Lourdes of Africa."

Proving that God Listens
Despite its spiritual significance, Kibeho remains poverty-stricken.

"You know, when missionaries move to a poor place like that and you tell them to pray and yet their poverty remains and there is no change, it makes the people question the importance of faith," Immaculee says. "They think, 'Why pray to God, who doesn't listen to our cries?'

"The school of Fr. Leszek came to rescue them, to ease their pain, as an answer to their prayers," Immaculee says. "And through that, people of Kibeho see God who loves them. That school is a sign of hope, truly a great gift, a fruit of Our Lady's visits to Kibeho."

The school's opening day was beautiful, Fr. Leszek says. "The children danced. The children sang. People came who have many different backgrounds — religious and political. This is a simple building, but it's something really beautiful in a place where people have nothing."

Father Leszek says the key to rebuilding Rwanda is prayer, first and foremost. And prayers have been plentiful, from people who seek to prove in Rwanda how evil can be overcome by good. Financial funding has come from Marian Helpers throughout the United States and Poland. Barnstorming throughout North America, Fr. Leszek and Immaculee have also inspired new benefactors who hitherto had no connection with the Marians or Rwanda.

"There have been so many wonderful stories of people supporting us," Fr. Leszek says.

For instance, Kate Lesnar, a 15-year old from Worthington, Minn., held a golf fundraiser last summer and collected $10,000, which paid for the school's water system. A high school in Green Bay raised funds to install the school's sports fields. A 10-year-old boy in Minnesota spent two years saving his money to buy himself a $400 video game system. He gave his savings for the new school instead.

A Meal for Thousands, Food for Thought
The Green Bay Packers' donation came about after the NFL organization learned of Mr. Schoenfeld's humanitarian trip to Rwanda in 2009. During that trip, the restaurateur prepared a meal for 4,000 villagers and took a tour of the Marians' CANA center where Fr. Leszek told him that villagers receive bread only about once a year, or not at all.

Mr. Schoenfeld formed the Seven Loaves Project vowing to create wood-fired bread ovens — in other words, ovens that wouldn't require electricity — to produce naturally leavened products using local grains. The focus will include development of small-business and vocational skills for Rwandans.

"I think the bakery, the school, these things are really just the will of God," Fr. Leszek says. "And through the prayer and gifts of good Christian people who help us, this is becoming a reality. But it's really through the prayers."

The Packers play the Pittsburgh Steelers in the Super Bowl on Feb. 6.

Go Packers.

Go Rwanda.

Go Fr. Leszek, one of God's most valuable players on the front line of mercy.

For more information about the Marians' mission in Rwanda, please visit kibeho.org. To help the Marians in Kibeho, please contact Ellen Miller, director of Special Gifts, by calling 800-671-2020 or emailing helpers@marian.org.If calling from outside the U.S.A. or Canada, please call 413-298-1303.

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Mary - Jan 29, 2011

I'm from Pittsburgh will be cheering for the homewtown team (the Steelers) in the Super Bowl, but I am very happy to see this article and wish it would make it to public/secular news media. People, and especially our youth, need to see that members of the professional sport teams can and should care for our less fortunate brothers and sisters. The Confirmation candidates of our parish are collecting for the "Souper Bowl" at the Masses celebrated during super bowl weekend - let's hope the response to that collection will be more enthusiastic than the cheers of the Packers and Steelers fans put together!

Jim Mac - Jan 31, 2011

What an awesome story ! I placed a 20 dollar bet on the Steelers in August in Vegas at 15:1, now I hope the Packers win and if they do, I'm going to make a point of sending the amount I would have won on Pitt out to the Marians !

joey from PA - Feb 1, 2011

I, too, am a Steelers fan, being born in Pittsburgh and a resident of PA. But I am a bigger fan of the Marians and their work. Blessings to the Packer franchise for their generosity. And if the Steelers win, may they find it in their hearts to follow the lead of a generous team that knows how to give to our brothers and sisters in need.

Jo Stevens - Feb 1, 2011

I am from Pgh and I want the Steeler's to win. I admire coach McCarthy for he is one of our local kids that went to Boyle High School. He mirrors what we do in our community and in my heart I like him and want to cheer him on but I am faithful to our Steeler's.

NFL HELP IN THE USA - Feb 1, 2011

If all teams and actors would help our people frist and then others. We need help here.

bmary1603 - Feb 1, 2011

I didnt know exactly who I wanted to win the Super Bowl. Even after living in Green Bay quite a few years ago. Now I know GO PACKERS!!!!!!!!!! Watch out Pittsburgh they just may have heaven on their side

Barb - Feb 1, 2011

All I can say is..... GO PACK!! We are all Green Bay Fans in my house! God Bless each and every one of them.

George - Feb 1, 2011

If I were a betting man, I'd place my money on the Packers. How can they lose with the Blessed Mother on their side?

Sam - Feb 1, 2011

It is wonderful that the Marian's are praying for the Packers--This must be said though--Pittsburgh is an exceptional city of FAITH and there are quite a few religious orders who pray for the STEELERS. Regardless of the out come of the 'Super Bowl' this charitable cause will win--Pittsburghers will 'kick in' to make sure it happens! Especially the Rooneys! Glory to God in the Highest! Let it be a great and clean contest- -May the BLACK & GOLD prevail! Eternal Father, please smile apon your servant TROY and his companions!

Joe - Feb 1, 2011

If I'm not mistaken, the Rooney Family who own the Steelers are devout Catholics too. Looks like an especially great Super Bowl for the Catholic Community.

Br. Brent - Feb 1, 2011

Great story. Sounds like God is on the Pack's side, I guess that settles it...and packers have cooler jerseys, and the humblest team in all the NFL. Humility wins! Go Pack!

Brooke Poppinga wife of GBP #51 - Feb 1, 2011

When Packers win, we'll be sending more funds Fr. Lesek! Thanks for all you do and for my first introduction to Africa! We love those kids!

KC - Feb 1, 2011

Marians are fans of Vikings and Patriots, of Redskins and Colts, of Steelers and Eagles, of Packers and Rams. We know well each other so when watching together we know when to subdue our natural cheer. Are all the Marians pulling for the Packers – in some ways yes but not on account of the game. I‘ve enjoyed and have been a fan of both teams from way back – eras of Vince Lombardi and Franco Harris. I’d wish that both teams would win – but I know that’s not possible. They can only play well, provide us fans with excitement, maybe drama, and joy, and one team will win. May then the best team win this earthly game. But may both teams win the eternal quest and wear the ring of glory. This will happen we all know, when we replace in our hearts selfishness and indifference with tender care and love for others, when amidst our own struggles we strive to run the race remembering that only Love when shared brings happiness and joy, fulfillment and hope. The Packers’ coach helps us to see the way. For this we are grateful to him. May the One whose infinite love, tender mercy and care for us knows no bounds be our Way and our Guide to Eternal Joy.

MariaHija - Feb 1, 2011

God bless the Packers, especially the Poppingas and Coach McCarthy. It will be an honor to cheer for them on Sunday.

maggie - Feb 1, 2011

i am a steeler fan but will not be too disappointed if the Packers win. They are on God's side. Of course the Steelers have Polamalu who is on God's side.

maggie - Feb 1, 2011

i am a steeler fan but will not be too disappointed if the Packers win. They are on God's side. Of course the Steelers have Polamalu who is on God's side.

Joe Risi - Feb 2, 2011

I found a Divine Mercy Chaplet on the ground by "chance". Shortly after, I was diagnosed with Hep-C. My wife and I started praying the chaplet and several months later, UCLA Medical center told me that the disease had disappeared. As a result, we started to work with the Marians to spread this devotion. I met Fr. Leszek and we got involved with the building projects in Rwanda. I have been there and stayed at Cana and cannot encourage people enough to give generously to this organization. Fr. Leszek truly has been the MVP in Rwanda.

Motria - Feb 2, 2011

Yes, it is important to remember Our Lady of Kibeho's message to pray the Rosary of Seven Sorrows. Blessed Mother will let you know, in a special, way how greatful she is.

steeler fan - Feb 4, 2011

I'm sorry everyone, but I just read another article about a parish in Green Bay that will be CANCELLING the 6:30 pm mass because of the Super Bowl. The mass always comes first! There'll have to be some retribution for that. 27-20 STEELERS.

barb from Minn. - Feb 5, 2011

It was such a Blessing to stay at the CANA center in Kabeho Nov. 2011. One afternoon we played soccer with the local youth. Yes, most kids were wearing "Packer" jerseys. They won. I'll be cheering on the "Packers"!

Nurse Marie - Feb 6, 2011

Wow...what a game-Go PACKERS!!! We are all very thankful for what they are doing for the Marian mission in Rwanda.

Lori - Feb 6, 2011

Well The Packers did it.... YIPEE!!!!!!!!!!!! What a Game....