Interview with Robert Swiderski
- Can you tell us about yourself and your background?
I was born in 1939 in a very beautiful village in Poland: Wegorzewo, “region of lakes”. I was born in a “normal” family. My mother was a teacher and my father was employed in a telecommunications company. An elder brother, sailor and a midwife sister. I am the younger, the younger. When I entered high school, I did not stay long and I went to a vocational school to learn a trade. A craft for the construction and repair of small wooden fishing boats. After school I started working in this craft of boat building. I did what I loved; Every boat I built was like my child. Then I entered the Air Force. That’s when I started drinking and fell into alcoholism. After a few years working in my hometown, I decided to go to work in Spain. This is where I acquired my credentials in the trade. After many months abroad, my country, my wife, my dog missed me very much. I drowned my lack in alcohol. I became highly dependent. I came back but I was drinking more and more. I returned to work in my hometown and my wife asked me to take care of the alcohol, that I take care of myself. She eventually left me. And I lost everything: family, home, work. I started living in a house for the homeless. I alternated periods of weaning and relapses, until 2015 when I managed to get by the Camillians. I found work: I am now crane operator. Today I am still a crane operator. It is a job with responsibilities, but I am doing very well and I know that in difficult times, I am not alone.
- How was the audience with the Pope?
When I started weaning myself, I started thinking about faith. Until then I turned my back on all faith, all spirituality, to God. When I was offered to participate in the Fratello pilgrimage, at first I hesitated and eventually I signed up. Preparing my testimony was a difficult and delicate thing at the same time. More the day of the hearing approached more I was worried, I was afraid that the emotion overwhelms me and prevents me to read my testimony. When Francis arrived in the hall Paul VI, the applause and the emotion took heart. Later when the Holy Father approached me, and shook my hand, I felt an incredible strength. It was the first time I felt such emotion, such a feeling. When I approached the microphone, I felt thousands of looks on me waiting for my testimony. When I finished reading my testimony, Francois approached me, shook my hand again, smiled and blessed me. When I write this I have tears running down my face. I understood how much Pope Francis had an immense heart and an immense love in him. I realized how incredible it is that I, a man from the street, had the honor of expressing myself in a few sentences, that I could write my testimony. I am honored that the Holy Father made several references in his speech to words I had spoken. I am proud that this response has gone all over the world. Little by little, we, the people of the street, are seen as human beings with our dreams, our dignity; Which no one can take back from us despite the various falls we have experienced in our lives.
- Has participation in Fratello changed anything in your life?
Yes ! Participating in Fratello’s pilgrimage has significantly changed my life. I have renewed with God. It was something I had not felt for a long time. I now know that dreams come true, big and small alike. I have reached a new stage in my life of abstinence: my life is now with God and faith in the heart. I would like to help people who are on the streets, people who need support, comfort, warmth. I would like to go to France because I would like to learn French, the language of Napoleon. Learning a language by practicing it in the country is the best of schools. It is a dream that I hope to achieve. Again, I thank everyone from Fratello, all the heroes whose names I do not know, for helping to realize the dream of all those pilgrims who came to Rome.