'Niedziela' - God's gift

Milenia Kindziuk talks to Msgr Ireneusz Skubis, who has been the editor-in-chief of 'Niedziela' for 25 years.

Milenia Kindziuk: - 'Niedziela' will be published in a new format and layout soon. What will be the main changes?

Msgr Ireneusz Skubis: - The paper will be more attractive as far as its graphic layout is concerned: more photos, more colour, shorter texts but, hopefully, it will be more interesting and more concise.

- Why such changes?

- New times have come, and with them we face new challenges. For some time both laymen and clergy have told me that it would be better if 'Niedziela' had a smaller, handier format. Young readers demand that the paper has a modern graphic layout. We are fulfilling these desires. However, the scope of the paper will generally remain the same in order not to put off these readers who have got used to it. And the font remains the same, too.

- Readers are most important?

- Definitely so. I think that in its new format our weekly will be pleasant and friendly towards all readers. A proposal of a new layout was shown to one of the biggest French publishing houses and they gave a highly favourable opinion. It is a good sign.

- The change is being made when we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of the re-establishment of 'Niedziela'. So let us return to its beginnings. How did it happen that you undertook the task to renew and re-establish the paper in 1981?

- It was my bishop, Stefan Barela of Czestochowa, who entrusted me with this task. By the way, I learnt about it in some extraordinary circumstances.

- During the famous walk in the forest?

- Yes. I remember that day very well. It was the December of 1980. Christmas was approaching. Bishop Barela had just returned from a meeting of the Polish Bishops' Conference during which he presented the bishops the idea to re-establish 'Niedziela'. It seemed that it was a good time for that, 'Solidarity' had already been found. Then the bishop suggested going to the woods.

- He meant to be sure that the conversation would not be tapped, didn't he?

- Yes, a forest was such a place where there was no tapping at all. We went in our cassocks. We walked for about two hours. Fortunately, it did not snow and it was not very cold. Then Bishop Barela asked me to try to re-establish 'Niedziela'. We decided what to do step by step.

- Why was it you that was offered that function?

- Surely because I was working as the director of the publishing house of the Czestochowa Curia and I was the editor of 'Studia Teologiczne' [Theological Studies], and so I had some experience in publishing. And I had an excellent group of people ( my students from the pastoral centre, which I was running. I edited 'Monitor Koscielny' [Church Gazette] together with them; we prepared typescripts of John Paul II's texts.

- And what did you do after the conversation with Bishop Barela?

- I went to Katowice, to see Bishop Herbert Bednorz who was the chairman of the Episcopate Commission for Periodicals. But he spread his arms helplessly and said, 'But how can I help you?' Then some priest advised me to go to Fr Stanislaw Tkocz, to 'Gosc Niedzielny' [Sunday Visitor]. I did so. Fr Tkocz welcomed me very friendly and gave me some valuable advice.
Then I had to go to Warsaw, more and more often, even twice or three times a week. What was interesting, a police car usually followed me. The policemen stopped me, checked my documents and asked me to open the car boot. I visited various offices, had many talks, for example with Prof. Jerzy Ozdowski, Deputy Prime Minister of General Jaruzelski's government. It happened so that Ozdowski had been a professor at the Catholic University of Lublin and the Academy of Catholic Theology and he knew Bishop Barela. Thus he favoured the idea to re-establish 'Niedziela'. And we succeeded. On 5 March 1981 we received an official letter, which stated that 'Niedziela' could be re-established.

- But later you refused to publish Prof. Ozdowski's texts in 'Niedziela'...

- I had to do that. Ozdowski proposed to review Cardinal Jozef Glemp's book. It contained his sermons, which he had preached during the marshal law. But I did not agree to his proposal.

- Why?

- I thought that his name, associated with the communist government, should not appear in 'Niedziela'. Ozdowski was shocked and I felt stupid. When I told Bishop Barela about that he replied, 'How brave you are!'

- It was Stefan Kisielewski that wrote an article for the first issue of 'Niedziela' in 1981.

-There were sad circumstances connected with that article. We were just preparing our first issue, after 28 years. It was 28 May 1981. Early in the morning I went to Warsaw to settle the formalities of the distribution of 'Niedziela' by 'Ruch'. In Warsaw I learnt that Cardinal Wyszynski, Primate of Poland, had died during the previous night. Then I went to the well-known columnist and composer Stefan Kisielewski whom I knew well, and suggested that he wrote an article on the Primate. He accepted the proposal at once and sent his text the next day. We put it on the cover of 'Niedziela', next to a picture of the Primate. And the texts that welcomed us as a new evangelisation initiative, written by the Secretary of the Vatican State and by Bishop Barela of Czestochowa, were published at the back of 'Niedziela'.

- Who were the other columnists in the first issues of 'Niedziela'

- We had authors connected with 'Tygodnik Powszechny' [Universal Weekly], for instance Tadeusz Szyma from the Catholic University of Lublin, as well as some well-known Catholic writers and dissidents. I wanted to depend on people who were connected with the Church. I cared about the image of 'Niedziela' so that people could see it as an independent and transparent paper.

- Which meant?

- Unambiguous, transparent like the Church, and so based on clear theology, explicit moral principles and social teaching of the Church. Without blurring, without being entangled in strictly political reality. I wanted the paper to fulfil a pastoral role. In the Polish People's Republic it was difficult because of the activities of the secret services and other offices that aimed at destroying the Church and tried to get the Church involved in their activities.

- How many people prepared the first issue?

- About twenty.

- And who is still working?

- A few people, e.g. Lidia Dudkiewicz.

- Was the first issue sold?

- Yes. Actually, we did not have any returns. The same was in the next years. For example, I remember exactly the November issue of 1984 where we wrote about the death of Fr Popieluszko. The postman brought four returns out of 100,000 copies. That was a phenomenon; the fact that 'Niedziela' was received with such enthusiasm in Poland.

- And which articles were crucial and legendary during those 25 years?

- There were many crucial and important texts during those years. These texts will certainly include reports about papal pilgrimages to Poland, which at my request Fr Mieczyslaw Malinski wrote. The articles of Fr Prof. Wojciech Goralski about the concordat were also important; there were some others as well.
The texts that appeared in 'Niedziela' during those last 25 years can be divided into those written till 1989 when the censorship was active, and those ones after 1989, when censorship was abolished. Unfortunately, in that first period many interesting texts were censored. And the censor did his best to conceal his interference. But our editorial board decided not to hide the censor's interference. Sometimes there were funny stories.

- For instance?

- Once the Russian agency TASS wrote terrible rubbish about pilgrimages to Czestochowa. So I decided to quote it faithfully so that people would know about that. But the censor regarded it as provocation and did not allow the text to be published. So in fact he censored the Russian agency TASS! We laughed about that a lot.

- And after 1989?

- There were authors who wrote clear, 'sharp' articles. Even the Holy Father himself noticed some of them.

- Which ones?

- I would not like to talk about this in public although I must admit that I informed the authors of those articles about that.

- So John Paul II used to read 'Niedziela'?

- He surely looked it through. I remember that the Pope often asked me a lot of detailed questions. He enquired me about people of culture and about the way the paper functioned.

- What is the feeling: to be aware that Peter's Successor read the paper you managed?

- I was happy and proud of it. I treated this as a big responsibility.

- Where did you gather news about the universal Church?

- First of all, from the Vatican Radio. One person in our editorial board recorded the radio programmes and prepared a script. KAI and other Catholic information agencies did not exist, so work looked quite different than today. Similarly, the texts we had ordered were not sent by e-mail or fax, these did not exist, only... arrived by train! I remember that I went to the train station at 2.00 a.m. since the train from Lublin arrived at that time and the conductor gave me articles from KUL. I myself used to travel all over Poland to meet particular authors in order to collect their texts. Sometimes I went several thousand kilometres a month. Today it is hard to imagine such things.

- Then the editorial board drew people. 'Niedziela' became an important opinion-forming centre in Poland. Fr Popieluszko is said to have come here?

- Yes, he came in 1983. Lidia Dudkiewicz, my deputy, received him. He gave her a photo, which we still keep in our editorial board. Fr Jerzy also asked to help him receive an invitation to meet the Pope who was going to come to Poland.

- And other interesting people who visited 'Niedziela' during all those 25 years?

- Many, many names... Fir example, Cardinal Marty, Archbishop of Paris, or Cardinal Knig, who asked me to publish an important pronouncement in 'Niedziela', in which he explained his theses, well known in those times. Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the Primate of Poland, Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk, the Apostolic Nuncio, and many bishops visited us as well. Last year we had an interesting visit of some Jew from Argentina, who, as it turned out, was saved by Fr Antoni Marchewka, my immediate predecessor in 'Niedziela'. Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski visited us, too.

- 'Niedziela' has been known for its contacts with bishops. Can you tell us which bishops are best friends with 'Niedziela'?

- We have a very good contact with Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz who publishes his texts in 'Niedziela'. I am very grateful to him for this friendship, which has lasted for many years. The following bishops show us great kindness: Primate of Poland Cardinal Glemp, Cardinal Grocholewski, Archbishop Michalik, Bishop Karpinski, Bishop Malysiak, Bishop Rybak, Archbishop Pylak, Bishop Orszulik, Apostolic Nuncio Archbishop Kowalczyk, who dedicated our editorial office, Bishop Zawitkowski, our widely-read author, Bishop Dec. I also enjoy every contact with Cardinal Nagy. I must mention the friendship of Archbishop Nowak, Bishop Dlugosz or Bishop Watroba. The very fact that we have 20 diocesan editions, and from autumn even more, because the Krakow edition and Swidnica edition are being prepared - this is a sign that we have good contacts with diocesan bishops and that they trust us.

- Just so, how did it happen that diocesan editions of 'Niedziela' were created? Where did the idea come from?

- It originated in Lodz. Together with the local Bishop Adam Lepa we reached a conclusion that it would be good to initiate diocesan editions. Since national edition of 'Niedziela' presents general religious topics: speeches of the Pope, bishops, Bishops' Conferences, theological, pastoral, legal, historical, educational and cultural texts. Whereas the editions make it possible to give information about the life of the local Church. And this is their advantage. The Chicago edition is also a big achievement. It is very important that the American Polonia can find information about the Church in Poland.

- What was the biggest turning point in those last 25 years of activities of 'Niedziela'?

- I think that the death of John Paul II. It was obvious that the Holy Father was fading away and slowly passing to the Father's arms although his body was still with us on this earth, in spite of that we did not have a ready issue of 'Niedziela' for those circumstances. I myself did not fulfil my duties.

- What do you mean?

- I did not write an editorial concerning the Pope's death and I did not order to prepare the cover of the weekly, with the news that the Holy Father died. I just did not have the strength and courage to write the text or even to think of John Paul II in past terms. I seemed to me that that Pope would be with us forever, that it was impossible that he passed away. It was only during the night when the whole 'editing machine' started and with delay, we began preparing the issue of 'Niedziela', informing about the Pope's death. Only then did we change the cover.

- What is the role of 'Niedziela' on the media market today?

- The same as all Catholic papers: to proclaim the message of good and hope to contemporary man. A Catholic paper provides formation; helps people deepen their faith, helps them form conscience and let them understand the Church better. It is a school of prayer, a reflection on the world, life and oneself. Since the articles concern the most important human problems, which imposes an even bigger obligation on Catholic media in comparison with the secular ones.
Another important role is to inform readers about the life of the universal Church, paying special attention to the teaching of the Pope and bishops. And one more thing: Catholic press must be objective. Since if some papers represent interests of trade or national companies (for example, when the owners of Polish periodicals are Norwegians or Germans), it is harder to preserve objective views.

- You are talking about 'Niedziela' in the background of other Catholic papers. Does it mean that various papers can exist on the market?

- Of course, yes. I think there is really much room on the readers' market. The most important thing is that people want to read something. But only a small per cent of people read papers in Poland. And a true formation of man is done through Catholic press. That's why today the big task of the Church is to convince people that without reading Catholic press they cannot deepen their Christianity. Reading makes them reflect. And without reflection human psyche remains on the childish level.
A Catholic paper helps you find yourself in culture, makes you aware of your participation in it, lets you understand that man is not only a traveller who goes around the world but also participates in the matters of the world. As Cardinal Wojtyla put it, man is 'participans'.

- Have you met anyone who after having read some article in 'Niedziela' got converted or confessed his sins? Can one see real effects that 'Niedziela' makes people get closer to God?

- I know such cases. We receive letters that inform us about someone who has begun a new life and now regularly reads 'Niedziela'.

- Does such a change of attitude give you as a priest the greatest satisfaction?

- Yes. Since I do not treat my work as only a journalist's activity. This is also a priestly work, certain mission to fulfil.

- Have you not had any doubts for all those 25 years? Or have you had a desire to give up 'Niedziela' for pastoral work?

- Actually, I have. There was one moment when I came to my bishop and told him that I was leaving because I wanted to be an ordinary priest who went to people and preached sermons. Then the bishop looked at my eyes and said, 'And who preaches so many sermons that you preach through 'Niedziela'?' Then I understood that journalism in Catholic media was also a form of pastoral work; that I was a shepherd through the intention of the Church. And that made me stay in 'Niedziela'.

- Is 'Niedziela' the work of your life?

- What directs my life is mainly my priesthood.

- But you are fulfilling your priesthood in 'Niedziela'...

-Yes, and I value that very much. Similarly I valued my 16 years of being a student chaplain.

- You have stressed many times that the main Editress of 'Niedziela' is Mary. What is her role in your life?

- She has always been Someone Very Important to me. I learnt Marian piety in Niepokalanw. I was fascinated with Father Maximilian Kolbe who had a great devotion to Mary. And then the Primate of the Millennium and his attitude of confidence in the Mother of God. This has remained in me.

- How often do you kneel before the Miraculous Picture of our Lady at Jasna Gora?

- Relatively frequently. But I try to join the Jasna Gora Appeal daily at 9.00 p.m.

- And what prayer do you pray most willingly?

- I like breviary very much - this is the prayer without which I cannot imagine my life. I pray the Rosary, too. I also like to pray silently before the Blessed Sacrament.

- The chief of 'Niedziela' has time for that?

- I cannot imagine any action without prayer and spiritual life.

- How do you spend your free time?

- I visit my closest family, first of all my father who is 95 years old. I like reading when I have time. I like theological books and books about contemporary history and social politics.

- And which books do you re-read?

- Poetry of Cyprian Kamil Norwid. I am impressed by the depth of the thoughts of this great Romantic poet, poetry of concealments, dramatic pauses. He is the only theologian among poets. A master of the word.

- Do you feel you are happy?

- Very much.

- What gives you happiness?

- Fulfilment.

- Because you are editing 'Niedziela'?

- Yes, but looking at it through the prism of priesthood.

- What difficulties do you meet at work? What arouses the biggest anxiety?

- Above all I am anxious for people, my collaborators for whom I feel responsible. I think whether I manage to employ 180 people and give salary to each one. I also would like them be healthy and not afflicted by blows.

- Do you pray for your workers who are all over Poland?

- Yes, very often. I offer Mass for them. I think about them, I value them. These are wonderful people. Naturally, there are difficult situations, sad situations: someone lets you down, deceits you and betrays you. But such is life. Generally speaking, I meet truly wonderful people who can still surprise me. For example, recently somebody has given me a picture. When I unwrapped it, it was a portrait of my mother who had died lately. It was a shock for me. I was moved. I admit that this does not often happen to me. Then I thought: this is a grace that I am here. And through 'Niedziela' I can help so many readers. I regard it as the greatest gift from Lord God in my priestly life. Nothing better could have happened to me.

"Niedziela" 38/2006

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