If God did not exist we would not live

Piotr Chmielinski

Day by day, for a thousand years

The day in Tyniec begins early. At 5.30 a.m. the Benedictine monks are woken up by a shrilling sound of the bell. They have half an hour to wash and dress. Then they go to church where they stand in the stalls and at 6.00 they begin singing the matins - the Morning Prayer of the Church. Just after the prayer the conventual Mass begins. All religious priests concelebrate it. After Mass they have some time for personal prayer. Some Benedictines silently adore the Blessed Sacrament; others read the Holy Scriptures in their cells. At 7.30 breakfast is served in the refectory. Many products, for example dairy or poultry, come from their small farm. Work begins after breakfast. The Benedictines carry out pastoral ministry, do research work and run a publishing house. They do many jobs in the monastery, on the farm and in the garden. All work is broken at 12.50 when the monks gather again at church for noon prayer. Then they go in procession to the refectory. Their lunch begins and ends with a prayer and reading of some fragment of the Constitutions of St Benedict. During the meal a lector reads some interesting and useful book.
At 3.00 p.m. they say the vespers at church and afterwards they return to work. At 8.30 they eat supper and an hour later they gather at church for the Liturgy of the Hours. Before 9.00 they go to their cells but it does not mean they go to bed at once. Many monks work and pray. And this is day after day, for almost one thousand years. Since the Abbey in Tyniec, in the outskirts of Krakow, is one of the oldest monasteries in Poland. And although every order has its specific characteristic and charism the life of Polish orders looks much the same. Time is divided into prayer, work, apostleship and rest. One can hardly overestimate the value of religious life. It is like one Dominican nun said, 'We are the living proof that God exists. If God did not exist we would not live'.
In Poland there are about 40,000 religious men and women. There is a decrease of women's vocations. In case of men's vocations the situation is diversified. There are communities that enjoy an increase of vocations and there are some that have fewer and fewer candidates. Some have the same number of vocations.

Women's orders and congregations

'At present there are about 2,700 fewer nuns than in 1990. This is first of all because many nuns who had been born before the war died and the number of vocations decreases gradually', says Sister Danuta Wrobel, vice-president of the Council of Superiors of Women's Orders in Poland.
The Council has gathered the following data: the biggest women's order in Poland is the Congregation of Grey Sisters of St Elizabeth. They have 1,225 nuns. The second biggest order is the Servants of Starowies - 1,084 nuns and the third order is the Daughters of Charity of St Vincent de Paul - 1,040 women. Other large congregations include: Sisters of Nazareth, Felician Sisters and Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary. The fact that the number of nuns in Poland is decreasing does not mean that their contribution into the pastoral work of the Church is going out. Their work is changing but is not over. 'The political-social changes of the 1980s opened new possibilities for the nuns to return to their activities, which in accord with their charism. The situation was different in the times of the Polish People's Republic when sisters were fired and had to leave the centres and houses they had been running, and they got involved, regardless of their charism, mainly in parish work', Sister Wrobel said.
The contemplative orders have also had fewer vocations. 'In the last three years there was a definite decrease of enclosed vocations. This is a very alarming symptom', Sister Jolanta Olech, President of the Council of Superiors of Women's Orders in Poland.
In Poland there are 81 contemplative orders, with 1,410 sisters belonging to 14 religious families. The greatest number of nuns is in the Carmelite Nuns Discalced: 461 sisters live in 27 convents. The second biggest order is the Bernardine Nuns - 195 sisters and the third one is the Clares Nuns - 163 sisters.
The call of the contemplative nuns is first of all prayer, which is about 7 hours a day. During the remaining time sisters work for their living. They the consecrated wafers of the mass, embroider liturgical robes and translate books.

Men's orders and congregations

In Poland there are 56 institutes of consecrated life. According to the data of the Conference of the Superiors of Men's Orders in Poland there are over 13,000 religious men. The biggest orders are: Franciscans, Franciscans Conventual, Salesians, Pallotines, Jesuits, Capuchins and Divine Word Missionaries. The leading orders are also the Priests of the Society of Christ, Redemptorists, Dominicans, Pauline Fathers and Carmelites Discalced.
Monks, apart from praying and aiming at holiness in various ways, which depends on their charism, proclaim the Good News. Most orders say that their main charism is education and youth ministry. Orders run sanctuaries and retreat centres where they preach, conduct retreat courses, hear confessions and act as spiritual directors. This refers especially to the Jesuits, Paulines, Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites Discalced, Salvatorians and Capuchins. In turn the Brothers Hospitallers, Albertines and Camillians help the sick, homeless and poor.
Another important aspect of the activities of men's orders is the media and publishing houses. These are the areas of activities of the Pallottines, Redemptorists, Paulists, Jesuits, Dominicans and Franciscans Conventual. For example, let us mention Radio Maryja run by the Redemptorists and the Dominican monthly 'W drodze' [On the way]. In turn the Jesuits prepare the Catholic programmes on the public television and radio. Many orders have their own publishing houses. The biggest ones are: the Jesuit WAM, the Pallottine 'Apostolicum' and 'Edycja Swietego Pawla' [Edition of St Paul] run by the Paulists.
Some orders have specialised in students' ministry. It is the Dominicans and Jesuits that work with students. But this ministry is also carried out by the Carmelite Discalced, Franciscans, Missionaries, Redemptorists and Pallottines.
All communities focus on the signs of the time and face them in accord with their charism. For example the Jesuits have concluded that the present situation demands a more and more close collaboration with laymen and openness to the needs of the universal Church. 'We would like to learn to relate faith to the action for justice to a much greater extent. Social apostleship, for instance, the problems of the unemployed, is a constant challenge for us', says Fr Dariusz Kowalczyk SJ, Provincial of the Jesuits.

"Niedziela" 5/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl