Over seven thousand Christians around the world were killed for their faith in Jesus in 2015 alone. More than one hundred million fell victim to persecution. Martyrdom is not an entry in the encyclopedia of the history of the Church; it is an everyday reality – also, and perhaps especially, in our times.
"I want to serve the Lord in the Order as a priest, in my country or on missions, wherever God calls me; I want to imitate St. Francis and Blessed Maximilian Kolbe” – wrote 21-year-old Zbigniew Strzałkowski in his admission application to the order. Also studying philosophy and theology in the Krakow seminary on ul. Franciszkańska for six years was Michał Tomaszek.
They met again on a mission trip in Pariacoto, Peru. The parish consisted of dozens of villages. Some were situated over 4,000 meters above sea level and could only be reached by foot or on horseback. They tirelessly helped those in need, especially when a drought ravaged the countryside and a cholera epidemic broke out. The religious imported medicines and food and Fr. Zbigniew treated the sick. They also began the construction of roads and sewers, and decided to bring electricity to the homes of the poor. They did all of this for everyone, without exception; and those who wanted to grow in faith, they served as priests, confessors, and preachers. Through music and singing, Fr. Michael drew many young people to the Church.
However, the Polish religious caught the attention of Maoist terrorists of the Shining Path. They accused them of suppressing peoples’ revolutionary enthusiasm and cooperating with imperialists. That is: they were distributing packages sent by Caritas USA. Despite the threats, the Franciscans did not leave those whom they decided to serve. In the evening of 9 August 1991, they were kidnapped and killed by gunshots to the back of the head. The guerrillas left a warning note near the dead bodies that read: "This is how imperialist bootlickers die."
The relics of blesseds Zbigniew and Michał are venerated not only in Peru, but also in Krakow’s St. Francis Church. It was here that their religious path to sainthood began.