This past Sunday 40 children from the Human Development Foundation’s Mercy Centre attended Mass at Assumption Cathedral in Bangkok. It isn’t unusual for these former street children, who are raised in the Buddhist religion of their mothers and grandmothers, to join in a Christian ceremony. Their home at the Mercy Centre, founded by Father Joe, is a religious house; and the Mercy children are brought up to respect all religions.
But this was a particularly special ceremony for these poor slum children. Following Mass, Father Joe received a replica of the holy icon of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa on behalf of his children, and all slum children in Klong Toey, as a symbol of protection, joy, and love.
The holy icon was presented as a gift to the children from the Polish Embassy of Thailand, represented by First Counsellor, Dr. Zygmant Langer, and blessed by Msgr. Marek Zalewski, Deputy Head of Mission Apostolic Nunciature, before the children carried the icon from the Cathedral to its new home in Mercy Centre. (Please see our Photo Gallery.)The image of this icon, known as the Black Madonna, is both Poland’s holiest relic and one of the country’s national symbols. (An estimated 4.5 million pilgrims from 70 countries visited the actual icon in the Jansa Gora Sanctuary in Czestochowa, Poland in 2009.)
The painting displays a traditional composition well known in icons of Eastern Orthodoxy. The Virgin Mary is shown as the “Hodegetria” (“One Who Shows the Way”). She directs attention away from herself, gesturing with her right hand toward Jesus as the source of salvation. In turn the child extends his right hand toward the viewer in blessing while holding a book of gospels in his left hand.
At the presentation ceremony, Mr. Langer stated that the gift to the children was in recognition of Father Maier’s “four-decade commitment to the protection and education of the poorest children from the slums in Thailand.” In addition, Mr. Langer thanked Father Joe and the Human Development Foundation for honoring a hero of Poland, Janusz Korczak, by naming their school for street children after him
Janusz Korczak was a Polish-Jewish educator, pediatrician, and orphanage director who introduced progressive orphanages into Poland, trained teachers in what is now called moral education, and pioneered the legal rights of children everywhere. In 1942, when his Jewish orphanage was removed to the Warsaw Ghetto, Korczak refused an offer of help for his own safety. Months later, Janusz Korczak and his children walked together in quiet dignity to the train bound for the Treblinka extermination camp, where they perished.
The Janusz Korczak School of SE Asia serves the orphans and street children of Thailand who have no place to go to school and no place to learn and play with other children.
Msgr. Marik, in blessing the icon, asked that the spirit of the Virgin Mary look over the poor children of Klong Toey and protect and bless them in life.
In receiving the icon on behalf of his children, Fr. Joe said, “There is no greater honor than serving and protecting orphans and slum children."