When we suffer we look for things that give us comfort and strength. When Sister Johnice Rzadkiewicz, CSSF, visited her terminally ill brother, Jack, she gave him comfort and strength with a small wooden cross.
Sister Johnice visited her brother often sometimes bringing Jack Holy Communion. Sometimes Jack would be angry or anxious. When Jack would feel this way he wouldn't feel like talking to his older sister. Sister Johnice wanted to find a way that she could relate to her brother. She found that she could relate to him in silence. "I would just go to accompany him and be with him. I was present to him," she said. After some reflection Sister Johnice thought that if Jack needed someone to talk to and needed security that she would give him a wooden cross.
When she gave him the cross, Sister Johnice told her brother that there are times that they cannot converse because Sister Johnice didn't know the words. She said, "I know someone who will accept anything you say and accept you as you are, and that's Jesus."
Every time Sister Johnice visited Jack he would have the cross nearby or in his hands. He told his sister that the cross was his security and that it teaches him that in his journey he is not alone.
Jack found that holding the cross he could talk to someone who understood him. Someone who cries with him, who prays with him and forgives him.
Jack passed away holding the small wooden cross his sister had given him. "That gave me such power in my life thinking, if my brother was lonely and sad and dying and he was frustrated. If that could bring him the security and the love and the opportunity to speak to Jesus, maybe I need to be meeting with people, listening to their stories and giving them the opportunity to have a cross."
While on a Franciscan pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 2016, the experience convinced Sister Johnice that God was speaking to her about the cross and that she should share it with more people. Sister Johnice is known in the Diocese of Buffalo as the director of the Response to Love Center located on the East Side of Buffalo. People come to her when they are in need or crisis.
Sister Johnice knows that the Response to Love Center is well established. People are in place to run the many services that the center offers. Having these people taking responsibility for those services frees up Sister Johnice to invite people into her office and tell their story to her. She believes that is what the Church is called to do. "We need to stop. We need to give time and we need to let people tell story," Sister Johnice said. She believes that the Church is the vehicle to bring people who are broken, lost, addicted or lonely, closer to Jesus. "If it is through a wooden cross, that's the way I choose to go," she said.
Sister Johnice not only carried the wooden cross through the streets of Jerusalem to Mount Cavalry, she carried her small wooden crosses in her pocket. As she made her way through the narrow streets of the city, following in the footsteps of Jesus, participating in the stations of the cross, Sister Johnice prayed, "Jesus, I'm carrying your cross. But I know that we're carrying this cross together." She asked that the small wooden crosses in her pocket be a reminder, to those that receive one, that Jesus carries the cross with them.
Shortly after returning home from the Holy Land, a woman came to see Sister Johnice. The woman was discouraged because of a heart condition. The woman knew that her son was frightened by the condition too. Sister Johnice told the woman, "You know what. I have something that can help you. Take this cross and hold it. Whenever you feel the need to speak, hold it in your hands." Sister Johnice then gave the woman one of the crosses she brought back from Jerusalem. Sometime later the woman was admitted to the hospital. Feeling frightened and anxious her son brought her the small wooden cross Sister Johnice had given her. The woman calmed down upon receiving the cross from her son.
This became a mission for Sister Johnice. To meet with people who are in need and who need to feel the presence of Jesus as they journey through life. "Each one of us is on a journey. We don't know where it's taking us. We're on a pathway and we have to be open to where we are being led," she said.
Since then Sister Johnice has met with countless people, from all walks of life, who have turned to the power of the cross. "When I hear their story, they walk out with a wooden cross," she said.
"This is a powerful sacramental that people walk with in their lives," Sister Johnice said. The crosses bring about the awareness of Jesus in your life. The small wooden crosses have become a legacy. This legacy comes from her brother, Jack. Sister Johnice thought that she should have been teaching her brother, but in fact it was he who taught her. She said, "He gave me a powerful message before he died. That was the greatest gift I could have received."
Sister Johnice acquires the small olivewood crosss from the Holy Land. Over 200 crosses have been blessed and given out. Anyone is welcome to receive a cross if they are willing to come and pray with Sister Johnice. "It offers compassion and hope for the journey and each one of us is on a journey," she said.