Father Leon: God yanked me by the ear
Father Leon Knabit, a preacher, writer and television personality, who lives in the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec, is one of Poland?s best known monks. Those who watched his TV programs, ?Father Leon?s Invitation,? ?Salomon? and ?Credo,? appreciated his open-mindedness, frankness and humor. In 1998 he published his first book, ?Stairs to Heaven.? The next year he wrote the first section of the famous book ?Meetings With Uncle Karol.? The section dealt with his friendship with the Pope. He has also written many other books about spiritual subjects. And he has written two children?s books.
The Krakow Post: The abbey attracts a lot of tourists every year. Why?
Father Leon: Some come only to see another architectural treasure. The monastery, after all, has been open since 1044. People who are interested in history want to see what life in the abbey was like during the times of Boleslaw the Bold (11th Century), the Jagiellonian period (14th-16th centuries), the Swedish invasion (17th Century), the collapse of the Bar Confederation Bar Confedreation (18th Century), reconstruction, and the various wars. Monasteries like Tyniec?s also help people to think about who God is and who we are, Somebody once said: ? When I know who you are, everything makes sense.? Our day?s rhythm — prayer, mass, contemplation — is a yardstick that people can compare their lives to. It helps many people think about a sense of purpose. Recently, a television crew shot the vespers — our singing, our liturgical prayers — and a cameraman said afterward that he wanted to stay here.
Q. You came to the abbey for the first time in 1951 as a seminary student. What was it about the place that made you decide to become a monk?
A. Everything began with the Gregorian chant. It was God yanking me by the ear. At the Siedlce seminary, the students? chants had also touched a chord with me. When I heard them in Tyniec, they appealed to me, too. But, it wasn?t just the chants. I was thinking about what God wanted for me. Some signs showed that He wanted me to be a monk. The fact that I?m here now, at 77, confirms that it was a divine call.
Q. When does your day begin?
A. We get up at 05:30 and go to bed at 22:30. During the day there are four constants: morning prayer, Mass, vespers and evening prayer. And three meals. Because I?m thin, I also can eat between meals.
There isn?t a week when I don?t have some kind of meeting. Even though I preach a lot, fortunately, I don?t have to write sermons. I?m able to improvise. That?s important because sometimes I preach at 08:00 on Sunday, 09:00 on Monday and 10:00 on Tuesday. I can speak to both preschoolers and professors. Recently, I published two books for children.
When I was at an airport in Spain, I discovered a little girl watching me carefully. Finally she said: This is the same Father Leon who writes about a giraffe. (She had seen his photo on the book jacket.) By the way, some people point out that most priests say too little about animals. It makes me think that my next book should be about the question: Do animals have a soul?
Q. You have many duties as a monk. How do you find time to write?
A. Actually I have fewer duties than I used to. If you are 75 or older, the abbey views you as retired. That doesn?t mean I haven?t been working, though. In the last year, I had 60 meetings and 18 retreats. I write in my spare time.
Q. In the Alphabet, a book published in 2004, you wrote under the entry Krakow: ?A city that we wish from the bottom of our heart could make use of the fact that here lived a man for whom each brick and each stone was precious, and that could always remember his teaching: ?Never doubt, tire or get discouraged.? Does Krakow live the Pope?s message?
A. For sure, many people live this message literally. Saints are among us — they don?t doubt and they don?t get tired ? and they live beautiful lives. But some — God knows how many ? could benefit from living this message. Cardinal Macharski said after the Pope?s death: ?We cry because of the death of John Paul II but we shouldn?t forget that some time ago he cried for us.? (This was a reference to the Pope?s feelings about Communist oppression in the country.)
Q. Some people believe Krakow is a magic place because of its connection with the Pope. Do you agree?
A. I agree. I don?t want to disparage other cities and towns by the Vistula River, but Krakow is special. Maybe it?s different precisely because it was the city of Karol Wojtyla — John Paul II. For me each stone and brick here is precious. I have a map of Krakow, and on it I mark each street I?ve walked. Actually, I?ve walked all the streets of Old Krakow, something I?m very happy about. I always go with great delight wherever I am in Krakow.
Q. Which places in Krakow are the most magical for you?
A. Wawel, of course. The Market Square by night. In terms of places that are useful, the railway station. When I am there I always look at the Galleria Krakowska, which looks better at night than during the day.
Q. Which places besides the gallery would you include in a guide to Krakow?
A. First of all, I have to say that I know very little about Krakow from a tourism or historic perspective. I have no time for that. For a quarter of a century I have seen Kosciusko?s Hill from my window, and I haven?t been there. If I have a leave, I don?t sightsee in Krakow. I travel — even to the U.S. But in my guide I would propose this tour: I would start with Wawel Hill. Then I would go to St. Mary?s Church, Sukiennice, Barbakan and the Basilica of Graciousness. I would also recommend the suburbs of Bielany, Tyniec and Ojcow. And all the back streets of Old Krakow. It?s great to walk there, soaking up the atmosphere.
Q. How would you promote visits to Tyniec?
A. As the one and only Benedictine monastery in Poland. It has existed since 1044.Thanks to its work and prayers, set againt the backdrop of Gregorian chants, it is worthy of the Pope?s words: ?I owe much to Tyniec. Not only me, but the whole of Poland.? Our abbey was the last place the Pope visited during his last pilgrimage to Poland. We can say that the Pope said goodbye to Poland in Tyniec. There is a tradition that a city goes to the Vatican to express people?s thanks- it is called a return visit. John Paul II wrote in a letter that ?Tyniec paid me a return visit.?
Q. Do you have a motto?
A. I have two. One is that hope is bigger than concern. And the second is: Always with You. It means that God is always with me, and I?m trying to be both with God and with man.