Abp Adam SZAL: The Ulma Family – a Sign of Times for the Modern World

The Ulma Family – a Sign of Times for the Modern World

Photo of Abp Adam SZAL

Abp Adam SZAL

Polish Roman Catholic clergyman, Doctor Theologiae, rector of the Higher Theological Seminary in Przemyśl in the years 1996-2001, auxiliary bishop of Przemyśl in the years 2000-2016, metropolitan of Przemyśl since 2016.

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.Questions have been arising in connection with the process of beatifying Józef and Wiktoria Ulma and their seven children. Why have the Polish family’s martyrdom or Christian standards of living not been remembered or referenced before? Why has the Church begun expressing care for the matter, and making efforts to beatify the Ulmas only several dozen years after their demise?

There are undoubtedly many answers. Some would allude to the historical, others to the geopolitical context. To a believer, claims of faith and the encouragement that flows from it to interpret the signs of times and seek providential guidance from the Lord Himself indisputably remain the most significant argument of all. God instructs, admonishes and inspires through events that merit “reading” in the context of salvation history that our current lives and the contemporary world are embedded in. Throughout the history of the world, God has not fallen silent. On the contrary: through events, persons and inspirations, He offers guidelines for the modern world, one which has in many ways descended into crisis. Even with no in-depth sociological analysis at hand, we cannot help but be aware of axiological confusion, the drama of families breaking apart or falling under the grip of addiction, the ever-increasing cultural and/or international conflicts, and the lack of respect for human life. Although difficult, is not impossible turning back from the path leading Western Europe to a crisis, if not decline. The world can be reborn through reflecting on family and assorted pedagogical, educational, and legal measures designed to renew it, and recognising it in multifaceted social discourse. Families based on the stable foundation of faith, hope and love hold the key to alleviation of contemporary problems.

One hundred years ago, aware of issues troubling the world he lived in, Polish saint Józef Sebastian Pelczar pointed to a momentous way of renewing the contemporaneous society: through the appreciation of families. In 1920, in a pastoral letter, he wrote that ‘the family is a living sanctuary, the first school of life; the family is one of the underpinnings of structures of society’. He further encouraged ‘all Catholic families to commit to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus in faith that should their commitment be true, effective and unyielding – that is, if all family members lead godly lives, duly observing divine and ecclesiastical laws and performing their duties, and especially if parents raise their children in the true Catholic faith – the Heart of Jesus shall grace them profusely, above all with succour in life struggles, consolation in suffering, care in orphanhood, hope in death and salvation in eternity’.


One may well presuppose that, as was customary in their day, images of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus and Immaculate Heart of Mary were displayed on the walls of Józef and Wiktoria Ulmas’ home. The family must have been flourishing in an ambiance of faith, hope and love. Following in the footsteps of Christ, His Heart open to all, these Servants of God took in their neighbours of Jewish nationality in their time of need. Stemmed from upbringing based on the evangelical motive of the Good Samaritan, their heroic deed led to dramatic consequences imposed upon them by Nazi occupants. Love sourced in the Heart of Christ won over worries and fear, rebirthing them into a ‘new life’. As revealed in the beatification process, both parents and their children employed commonly available measures proposed by the Catholic Church to live a pious life. The family was distinct for their habit of reading

During a general audience on November 28, 2018, Pope Francis spoke words of inspiration. “May that Family of Servants of God, that awaits beatification, become an example to all, of remaining faithful to God and His commandments, love of the neighbour, and respect for human dignity”. Living by the rules of Divine Revelation, observing Decalogue and following the commandment of loving thy neighbour opens the human heart, especially to the rejected, the disdained, and the sick.

Taking a look at the Ulma family, ‘the ordinary life saints’, we can interpret their lives as a sign of times and a specific message of hope for the contemporary world. Their lives, enriched with divine grace, imprinted with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and poise, (cf. Galatians 5:22-23), encourage us today to strive for realising the universal vocation for sainthood when following our life calling, however grey, average or stereotypical it may seem.

Ulma family are an inspiration for contemporary man to remain open to the community and to the role of a family defined as a union of man and woman, affirmed in the sacrament of marriage. They teach us openness and respect for life, always seen as a gift, however strenuous the historical or economic circumstances. Despite a war, difficult conditions and limited prospects for improving material status, Józef and Wiktoria Ulma made an effort to provide their children with decent living conditions, teaching them about work and deriving joy of life from what they have and can thus share with others. They were very much aware that earth is a nurturing mother, feeding them and others awaiting bread produced by Polish farmers. They held Polish land dear. Both spouses remained open to new social, religious and cultural initiatives, giving us an example and inspiration to engage in matters of the community we live in and in initiatives supporting our fellow citizens’ growth.

.In referencing God’s ‘words’ embedded in specific times and history, the Church – through the act of beatifying the Ulma family – wishes to read and convey the ‘voice’ of God, elucidated and inspiring us to reflect on our own families. It is with and through a family living to evangelical standards that genuine inner human transformation can occur, transforming work, social, and national communities in consequence. The family of the future beatified is a notable case in point.

Adam Szal

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