Touched by his story, Pope Francis later embraced Tomasz Komenda in Rome.
It’s an incredible story. In 2000, a 23-year-old Polish man, Tomasz Komenda, was accused of rape and murder of a young 15-year-old girl. Despite his denials, he was found guilty due to scientific “proof” — two experts confirmed that the teeth marks found on the victim’s body matched those belonging to Komenda.
Once in prison, the young man was in a veritable hell. Rapists were harassed, humiliated, and sometimes even tortured by their fellow inmates. And Komenda couldn’t rely on the prison guards to ensure some sort of protection and order. As he explained in an interview with a Polish TV show, they “looked away.”
His prayer to St. John Paul II
As he was unable to convince anyone of his innocence, the young man looked for help elsewhere. Although an unbeliever, he started praying to John Paul II. At the top of his bed, the Polish pope looked at him, smiling, in a photo given to him from his mother. “If you are a saint,” prayed Komenda, “You are in heaven with this girl. If you must take me up there, take me now. If I must be free, let me be free.”
Six months after this cry from the heart, a policeman knocked at his prison cell. He didn’t believe in this young man’s guilt and would help him prove his innocence. After a year of legal disputes Komenda was cleared. “The Holy Father heard me,” he shared joyously. And when he was released in mid-May, he immediately promised to go to Rome to thank John Paul II, at his tomb.
“Only those who keep their word are respected” claims a Polish proverb. And Komenda kept his word. Less than a month after his release from prison he was in St. Peter’s Basilica, surrounded by his mother and father, where he prayed privately in front of the altar where John Paul II is buried.
Pope Francis touched by his story
Komenda was unaware that his story had reached as far as the Vatican. The Papal Almoner, Archbishop Konrad Krajewski, who also happens to be Polish, had got wind of the story. The now freshly-appointed cardinal contacted the family and invited them to accompany him to St. Peter’s Square, where Pope Francis holds his general audience on Wednesdays.
Divine Providence has a way of doing things. The family got as far as the pontiff himself, and were asked to say a few words. Touched by what he heard, Francis spontaneously held Komenda in his arms for a long time. He then asked his photographer to take some photos of him with the young man.