- Associated Press - Sunday, October 30, 2016

ANDERSON, S.C. (AP) - Father Marek Sotek grew up watching Disney cartoons and thinking of America as the “land of Coca-Cola.”

As a child in Poland, his view of America was what he and the other neighborhood children could see on television - in shows and commercials. It was a sharp contrast, he said, to his country, where a communist government kept everything, including the food at local grocery stores, strictly rationed.

“Sometimes, there was almost nothing in the grocery store,” Sotek said. “It was always my dream to come to the United States.”

The government has changed in Poland since his childhood. But now in his 40s, Sotek said he loves his new home. Sotek, who stands 6 feet 4 inches, is a fan of basketball, Clint Eastwood, “Forrest Gump” and the American people.

On June 1, he became the new priest at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Anderson.

“In New York, people would dedicate their lunch hour to the mass. That’s what really caught me - to see the zeal of the people,” Sotek said. “The people really brought me here. Here, people are much more friendly and they take their religious life more seriously. That is what made me want to come.”

He grew up in the Diocese of Poznan, Poland. His parents still live there.

And in Poland, about 90 percent of the population is Catholic. He said in his hometown of about 3,000 people, they have one church. In contrast, the town he just moved from, Kingstree, S.C., had about 3,000 people and about 10 different churches.

For 13 years, he has worked as a priest. And his older brother is also a Catholic priest, Sotek said.

“Our middle brother is the normal one,” he said, with a laugh. “He’s married with two kids.”

There was never a question for Sotek about what he was to do as he grew up. He said he felt God calling him into ministry even as a child when he served as an altar boy at his church. “Deep inside, I knew this was my call, but I didn’t share this with anybody.”

When his older brother, Andrzej, went into seminary, Sotek said he thought that maybe the call to the priesthood was for his brother, and not for him. Sotek was about 14 years old when his brother began attending seminary.

“I thought when he started seminary, that meant I didn’t have to be a priest,” Sotek said. “And, at first, I was perfectly happy. But when I would date, it felt like something was wrong. I felt as if I was running away from what God was calling me to do. I could not gain any peace.”

Then, he remembered that some of Jesus’ disciples, like Peter and Andrew and John and James, were brothers.

So at 23 years old, Sotek enrolled in seminary. Six years later, at 29 years old, he was ordained.

“At seminary, suddenly, I had this peace,” Sotek said. “I felt like I was in the right place.”

Sotek studied in Poland and in Rome and then finally fulfilled his dream of traveling to America.

He has been traveling to the United States since 2003. For a while, Sotek served the Catholic Church in Poland, like his older brother still does.

But by 2012, Sotek moved to America. From 2012 until 2014, he served three different parishes in New York, including churches in the Bronx and on Staten Island. Since 2014, he has served the Catholic Church’s Diocese of Charleston, which covers the state of South Carolina.

All these years later, Sotek said he has no regrets in following that call into ministry and making his new home here in South Carolina.

He said he was in New York City during the blackout in 2003, and he moved to the church on Staten Island around the time that Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast coast. He said 20 families in the parish he served lost their homes in the storm.

And in Kingstree, S.C., he saw the beauty of the rural landscape, but also the effect of poverty.

In it all, Sotek said he has always been impressed with the kindness of people.

“I remember in the blackout that hit New York City, seeing people organize themselves and helping each other,” Sotek said. “There is this crust of arrogance but there is this love underneath. People were so helpful. This really amazed me.”

___

Information from: Anderson Independent-Mail, https://www.andersonsc.com


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