Interviews

Zbigniew Jan Czendlik: I cannot imagine life without hope

Published: 12. 7. 2021
Author: Šárka Jansová
Photo: Photo archives of Zbigniew Czendlik
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“Wherever you end up going during the summer, God will always be with you in your travels. His grandest temple is nature itself,” says the catholic priest Zbigniew Jan Czendlik, who plans to spend his summer days home in Lanškroun.

Before we start talking about the summer and travelling – a year ago during our interview you were a bearer of news from “up above”. You anticipated that covid will not be over by the end of summer and it ended up being true. We are just now emerging from a rough period of autumn and winter... What impact do you feel this has had on people?

I was mostly trying to feel for the people who live in condominiums and who had to stay isolated in their homes. They didn’t even have a yard where they could go outside without a mask. That had to be very mentally draining. I felt most sorry for the children, though, and especially the teenagers and young adults. Those years are the ones that stick out as the happiest time of my life. The time of first dates, first kisses. It is sad that young people are being deprived of this.

We’ve mainly been focusing on our physical health this past year, but what about our psyche?

A healthy person has to be mentally healthy as well, there is no dividing the two. I am afraid that once the covid pandemic passes, we will be left facing a mental pandemic instead where mental illness will start surfacing en masse. And I expect this “pandemic” to last much longer. A mountain climbing analogy comes to mind: A climber ascending an eight-thousander in the Himalayas sees his sherpa stop at the seventy-five hundred mark and asks him why. The sherpa says, “I have to wait for my soul to catch up.”

Do you feel that the moment when we will have to wait for our souls to catch up is upon us, or at least fast approaching?

Yes, I feel that we will be physically healthy but our souls will have a lot of catching up to do. It will take some getting used to all the things going back to normal, including reopened restaurants, theaters, shops, and churches. When a person is done fasting, they can’t stuff themselves full of food right after either. And I think we will feel the impact on an economic and social level as well as in terms of relationships and spirituality.

How did you experience the pandemic in your home town of Lanškroun?

I created a sort of bubble that I lived in alongside my friends and loved ones. I did not cut myself off from my roots, and I skirted the edge of abiding by the regulations. I tried to live a healthy spiritual life as well. Through that I helped those who came into contact with me.

The spring brought new hope along with it, don’t you think?

The spring brought Easter and Easter brought hope for everyone.  I’m not saying that everything will be good from here on out because nobody really knows what the future will bring, whether the virus will again spread further during autumn. One thing is certain, however, after night comes day, after winter spring and summer, and after the storm, the sun shines again. These are the laws of nature, and they confirm the fact that nothing lasts forever and everything has its beginning and end. I cannot imagine a life without hope.

The summer is coming. What are your memories of the summer holidays as a child and vacationing with your parents?

I was a boy from a Polish village, and we never really went anywhere for the holidays with my parents. The summer was a time of harvest and working the fields. My parents raised me to put work first, second, and third. That’s why I hate laziness. We must not mistake laziness for rest, however, as that is something we all need. We would normally rest during the winter months as that is when nature also rests. We humans have turned things around now, and we take rest during the summer, the time of growth and harvest.

Did I notice correctly that you do not like using the word vacation (Translator’s note: The word in Czech is “dovolená”, evoking the feeling of being allowed time off work by somebody else), but rather prefer to use time off or the holidays?

Yes, that is spot on. I do not like the word vacation. Its true meaning is misleading. It should not be about somebody else allowing us to get rest. Even the Ten Commandments say, “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” It is in fact our duty to rest. That sounds nice, doesn’t it? So this “vacation” as we call the time off for rest is actually a kind of God-given holiday... (laughs)

Do you prefer taking time off in the winter?

That is true. Summer vacation feels like paying for discomfort. Travelling costs money, it’s hot and swarming with sweaty people everywhere. I have to stay in a hotel where I can’t get a proper night’s sleep, because I am bothered by mosquitoes all night and I miss my pillow. And the thing that tops it all off is being served a warm beer. I feel that a week off in the winter more than makes up for two weeks off during the summer.

But you’ve travelled to exotic lands, beyond some people’s wildest dreams. What places have you seen?

I have been on two big journeys in my life, to Malaysia and Mauritius, and I never plan to go so far again as I can’t stand being on a plane longer than three hours. I have very fond memories of the island of Mauritius, to which I endured a flight of twelve hours. It is said to have no venomous animals – and I felt like the people weren’t so “venomous” either. I enjoyed the delightful atmosphere of the place and ate exquisite foods. I truly like to get to know people through their cuisine. One Sunday, I took a taxi into town to visit a church and I was rather surprised to see that the taxi driver had rosary beads hanging off his rearview mirror and a Buddha figure on the dashboard. “Are you Christian or Hindu?” I asked him. And he answered, “I am a Christian, the Buddha is for good luck.” On the way back I had a different driver, but he had the very same set up in his car – rosary beads on the rearview mirror and a Buddha on the dashboard. This time my question as to his faith was met with, “I am Hindu, the rosary beads are for good luck.” That’s when I realized that they are very well hedged, the Mauritians. We don’t really know who “the one above” is rooting for, seeing as he’s just the one. Therefore, I would be happy for Christians, Hindus, and even Muslims to get along in peace. I wish it were possible.

What was it like in their church?

It was great, nobody worried about mass being half an hour late. When the pastor came, he greeted everyone individually, the altar servers were ebony women, and I finally felt like a missionary… (laughs)

And how was Malaysia?

I had a similar experience over there. People live in “longhouses” – a kind of elongated multigenerational home – and every family has its own little chapel. It is another place where Muslims and Christians live alongside one another in peace. That’s what vacation is for, to keep an eye out for interesting things to learn in different places.

You’re probably not the kind of tourist who will spend the whole day on a beach.

Not at all, I have to keep busy. I was accompanied by my golfer friends on both of these trips, I couldn’t just stay on the beach.

How do you plan to spend the summer holidays with God this year?

There is plenty of work in the church at our parish. There are weddings to officiate, children to baptise. I will be spending the summer in Lanškroun, it’s a beautiful place. As a pastor, there is an issue – who do you actually take your vacation with. I don’t want to go alone, and it’s hard for me to endure an extended period of time with a group of friends or even a single one. I am a dominant person, I do not like to adjust and conform, but that’s something you absolutely have to do when you’re travelling with someone.

What is your message to those similar to you, who may set out on a journey on their own?

Wherever we are, be it at home, in the forest, by a lake, even in faraway mountains, or on a beach by the sea, God is always with us. Us being with him is another matter, but He is there without a doubt.

CV BOX

Zbigniew Jan Czendlik (born September 6, 1964, in Brenna, Poland) is a Roman Catholic priest of Polish descent working in Czechia, and the dean of Lanškroun. He is incardinated in the Katowice archdiocese.

He has two brothers and a sister who is a nun and cares for the chronically ill in Dortmund.

#He studied the faculty of theology in Katowice and Warsaw, and he was ordained as a priest in 1989. Three years later he was sent to Czechia to serve as the vicar in Náchod and as a remote administrator of the parish of Studnice.

Since 1993 he’s been the vicar, and later church administrator in Lanškroun as well as remote administrator to the Luková and Žichlínek parishes.

n 2005 he launched a children’s home in Žichlínek. He was named a dean in 2008.

He appeared on the TV shows “Bolkoviny”, “Krásný ztráty”, “Uvolněte se, prosím” and “Máme rádi Česko”. He is the host of the show “Uchem jehly” on ČT1 as well as the radio show “Jak to vidí” on the ČRo Dvojka radio station. He takes an active part in charity and community service projects intended to help seniors and handicapped children.

#He is the benefactor of a dog shelter as well as an active sportsman who plays football, golf, tennis, and goes skiing regularly.

Zibi and sport

Zibi, as his friends call him, is a passionate fan of football and the team Viktoria Pilsen. “If I were a fan of Sparta or Slavia, I would have half the nation standing against me. This way there’s no trouble,” laughs. When he was younger, he played as a right midfielder in an amateur league in his native Poland. He is very fond of amateur football. Even as a vicar he used to play in Lanškroun, but some of the older parishioners were shocked by the dignified pastor chasing a ball and being shouted obscenities at during a game. Lately, he’s fallen in love with golf. “Golf is a drug for me. I’m not very good, though. I play ‘Godly golf’. God, the ball’s in the water! God, now it’s in the trees!”


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