BY THE 28-kilometre mark, Father Michal Gitner was suffering from cramps in both legs, but he endured the pain, bit his lips and kept going. Stride-by-stride, in a never ending series of left-right, left-right, he ran, on and on, toward the 42-kilometre finish line.
Father Michal had run marathons before, but those were during his younger days. Now, going on 49 in a few weeks, it was quite different. But run he must; it’s an obligation he could not fail to keep.

At the finish line was 11-year-old Matthew Tay waiting with his parents, Karen and John Tay. Father Michal had befriended Matthew, a parishioner of Church of St. Francis of Assisi, where he was assistant priest. Matthew had been very ill with acute myeloid leukaemia and Father Michal visited him regularly at the National University Hospital.
As he struggled on, Father Michal remembered too the donors who had pledged $25,000 on his run. He thought of the people of Myanmar for whose benefit the $25,000 was to be used. He was in Myanmar when Cyclone Nargis roared through the Irrawady delta killing thousands and devastating the lives of 2.5 million. “It was not pleasant,” he recalled.
How could he stop running now? So on and on he ran, one painful stride after another.

THE IDEA OF running the marathon had been conceived in July 2008. Collections were then being made in the archdiocese for the victims of the Myanmar disaster.
Father Michal thought of doing something for them but to do more than just ask people for money for them. “I should be in pain too, or at least some sort of discomfort,” the Polish-born Australian priest said to himself.
“Give till it hurts, right?” he would later explain to people who asked him why he did what he did.

Seeing Matthew in great pain at the hospital and recalling the suffering of the children in Myanmar, an idea came to Father Michal one day. Would Matthew like to do something for the other children suffering like him, Father Michal asked him.
“Yes,” Matthew replied.

So Father Michal explained to Matthew the idea of running the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2008 on Matthew’s behalf to raise funds for the children in Myanmar.
The race was on Dec 7. He started training in July, constantly reminding himself that the race would be run “on behalf of Matthew, for the children of Myanmar”.

FATHER MICHAL COMPLETED the 42-kilometre race in three hours, 34 minutes and 20 seconds. Not bad for a 49-year old.
He was sore for two days after the race but thought it was great, anyway.
When asked if he would do it again this year, Father Michal replied, “If I have a cause, yes. For my ego, no. I’m thinking of doing something different but we’ll see. There are always different needs.” 

THE PALLOTINES

FATHER MICHAL ARRIVED in Singapore in November 2007. He assisted at St. Joseph Church (Bukit Timah) before being transferred to Church of St. Francis of Assisi to replace Father David Thexeira who died on Dec 13, 2007.

Father Michal belongs to the Pallotines order. Its Italian founder, Vincent Pallotti (1795-1850), believed in the empowerment of lay people in the life of the Church, almost a hundred years before this practice was highlighted by Pope John XXIII at the Second Vatican Council. Vincent Pallotti was canonised during the same council.

The Pallotines have established links with the Church in Myanmar. One of their projects is helping the Myanmar people to go to Australia to study, because, Father Michal said, "education is key to the future for everyone, especially the children".

He was born and raised in Communist-controlled Poland, and he well understands what tyranny is like, and this enables him to feel a special empathy for Myanmar, which is suffering political repression and poverty. - Joyce Gan, TheCatholicNews

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