BATH BEACH — Maksymilian Bak got a Lego set for his 10th birthday, and he was thrilled with the gift. But something else made him even happier.
He received a blessing from Father Jose Henriquez at 9 a.m. Mass at St. Finbar Church, Bath Beach, on Dec. 13. Fr. Henriquez and Deacon Anthony Favale also sprinkled him with Holy Water.
“It felt good — and really wet!” Maksymilian said.
As his family watched from their pew, young Maksymilian was called up to the area in front of the altar by Fr. Henriquez, the parish’s administrator. After bestowing the blessing, Fr. Henriquez explained that the boy had requested it. “He wanted to celebrate his birthday with all of you!” the priest said to parishioners.
“I was crying,” said Maksymilian’s mom, Joanna Bilmin.
Maksymilian’s real birthday was Dec. 10. The blessing took place on the Sunday closest to his birthday.
While Catholics request blessings for various reasons, it’s common for priests to be asked to bless religious medallions and rosary beads for parishioners — a birthday blessing is rare.
But Maksymilian wanted it. And so did his parents. “We believe it’s the right thing to do on our son’s birthday,” Bilmin said.
A birthday blessing has become a tradition for Maksymilian, a fifth-grader at P.S. 163. “I do it every year,” he said. Does he believe it brings him good luck? “Yes!” he said.
“It started when he was three years old,” said Bilmin. “We asked a priest to bless him, and we’ve been doing it ever since.”
In addition to playing with his Lego set, Maksymilian enjoys playing with his cat, Snowflake. He wants to be a veterinarian when he grows up.
Bilmin, who is originally from Poland, said that after Mass, Maksymilian made sure to call relatives in Poland to tell them about his big moment.
Church is an essential part of family life, said Bilmin, who added that she is grateful to live in the U.S. where she can freely practice religion. “I was born when the Communists were in power in Poland,” she explained.
When she was a little girl preparing for her first Holy Communion, neighbors urged her parents to sneak her into church rather than risk drawing attention. “My father said, ‘We’re not hiding you. You’re putting on that white dress, and we’re going to church.’ We were proud Catholics,” she said.