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Murdered Polish missionary on way to beatification

03 May 2024

Alamy

The funeral service of Helena Kmieć, a Polish missionary killed in Bolivia, is held in February 2017 in Libiaz, Poland

The funeral service of Helena Kmieć, a Polish missionary killed in Bolivia, is held in February 2017 in Libiaz, Poland

THE Polish Church is opening a beatification process for a young lay missionary, Helena Kmieć, who was employed as Wizzair cabin crew after completing A levels in England. She was later stabbed to death during a bungled robbery while working with nuns in Bolivia.

“This has taken a great deal of preparation, with testimonies and recollections, but we’re very happy the Vatican has now approved the process, and we can already call her a servant of God,” the Church’s official postulator, or advocate, Fr Pawel Wróbel, explained.

“For young people especially, her example shows it’s possible, despite today’s many challenges, to find your place in the Church and share your God-given abilities and convictions with others. It isn’t necessary to withdraw from the world.”

The priest was speaking before the launch, on 10 May, of canonical inquiries that could lead to the eventual canonisation of Helena Kmieć (1991-2017), who was a boarder at Leweston School, Sherborne, on a two-year science scholarship, before joining the Polish Society of the Divine Saviour, popularly known as Salvatorians.

He told the Church Times that Kmieć had gained “happiness and fulfilment” from five years as a mission volunteer after discovering her “calling to spread the gospel”.

He said that she would be recognised for her “heroic virtues” rather than as a martyr, and a certified miracle would be required to confirm her sanctity and award her the title of “Blessed” as a prelude to her being proclaimed a saint.

Born in Krakow, Kmieć belonged to Poland’s Light-Life renewal movement, and became a noted singer and guitarist while completing an engineering degree at the Silesian University of Technology and working with the Hungarian-owned Wizzair airline.

Sent to Hungary in 2012 to teach children at a summer school, she later ministered to street children in Zambia, and to young people in Romania, and also co-organised the Church’s 2016 World Youth Day festival, in Poland.

Arriving at Cochabamba, in central Bolivia, in January 2017, Kmieć helped Polish Immaculate Conception nuns to complete work on a new orphanage, but was brutally murdered by an overnight intruder just 16 days into her mission.

The funeral and burial of the missionary, whose convicted killer was given a 30-year prison sentence without parole, was attended by 120 priests, as well as state and government officials, and led by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, a former secretary to Pope St John Paul II.

The beatification postulator, Fr Wrobel, said that Kmieć’s example of “saintliness at a young age” could be compared to that of Blessed Carlo Acutis (1991-2006), the London-born teenage computer evangelist beatified in October 2020 (News, 9 October 2020).

“Even in youth, both were expressive personalities, using their energies and talents in various ways for God and the Church,” the Salvatorian priest said.

“Although we hope this process can be carried out quickly, it must be handled carefully and thoroughly. But we are already receiving reports and accounts of graces received from her”.

The director of communications for Leweston School, Claire Worsley, said that Kmieć’s sixth-form place had been arranged by the Polish branch of United World Colleges, which works in more than 150 countries.

A new position of Chaplaincy Prefect had been created for her by the then chaplain and chair of governors, Canon Richard Meyer, with a special gown, which was still worn by the school sacristan.

“She’s remembered for having a huge impact on her year group, many of whom came back after her death and planted a tree in her memory,” Ms Worsley said.

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