Migration – pastoral challenge for the Church in Poland

Agnieszka Strzepka

They leave for a year, maximally for two years. After some time they prolong their stay for another year and yet another year because the countries of the European Union still seem to be their Promised Land and working there solves their material problems. They leave their families with sad hearts but they excuse themselves saying that they go there for their benefits. Although people can contact one another from every place in the world, after some time family ties become weak and loneliness whispers toxic solutions. Work fills one’s time so scrupulously that they forget about Sunday Mass and they lose their identity and early religious zeal. When they return, if they ever return, to Poland they are different people… Naturally, the scenario of Polish migrants’ need not be so miserable. Many Poles leave and return without losing anything of their righteousness and religiousness. However, the Catholic Church, caring for the whole human being, feels obliged to seek new ways to reach those who lose their identity, depart from the Church or even lose their faith in God. Polish migrants and their everyday problems have become a real and essential challenge for the Church in Poland.

Struggle for identity

Looking at the history of the Polish immigration one can notice that regardless of the epoch its aims have been the same. They are: to gain means for living (the so-called ‘for bread’ immigration), desire to be free during the times of the country’s slavery (political immigration) and immigration to have a better, more affluent life and self-fulfilment. However, new times bear new challenges. And although special responsibility for migrants falls on the local Church of a given country the Polish Church tries to guard the religious life of Polish communities. Since faith is inseparably connected with national identity and its loss can lead to the loss of the spirit and tradition of the nation. The priests working in Polish centres abroad, ministering to Polish migrants and their families, try to answer the questions that Poles ask: Do we lose something important while earning our living? Are we fulfilling ourselves? Do the compromises we take make havoc in our personalities? The assured space for dialogue helps one take decisions to choose good and true values.

Perspectives in the light of crises

The Holy Father Benedict XVI stresses that at present there exists a danger of separating faith in Christ from faith in the Church. This especially endangers immigrants. Since the lack of their homeland makes them leave the Church and at the same time they try to convince themselves that their faith in Christ has not changed. Their families in Poland can testify to Christ’s presence in the community of the Church and thus they can help them overcome this crisis. The crisis of truth also appears in the reality of immigrants’ lives. Facing the crisis one gets a proper perspective through intellectual and spiritual formation in the immigrants’ environments and the formation can inspire hearts to accept the truth about God’s love. Those who leave their country are seen as ‘lucky’. However, they often experience the drama of unfulfilled expectations and consequently, the crisis of hope ‘resulting from faith in Jesus Christ.’ The prayers of their relatives in the country and their spiritual support as well as the presence of priests among migrants can bring them rescue. Married couples and families, who have been separated or even marginalized when facing the realities of immigration, experience serious crises. Moreover, the consecrated people experience the crises of their priestly, religious or missionary vocations. In such cases love and service, following the example of Christ the Servant, seem to be the only right perspective.

Necessity of giving testimony

Noticing mass migrations in the contemporary world as well as religious and cultural pluralism that originate as their consequences, John Paul II said emphatically that in this reality Christians had to proclaim the message of the Gospel with a new strength. ‘The Christian community today must face situations that are basically different from what we know from the past. Undoubtedly, the phenomenon of mass migration, which can be sometimes accompanied by tragedies mowing people’s consciences, belongs to these situations. This phenomenon is a source of ethnic, cultural and religious pluralism, which generally characterises present-day national societies. Facing the reality of migration the Christian communities must urgently proclaim the message of the Gospel anew. That means that all people: priests, religious men and women as well as laity must get involved in pastoral ministry and give testimony of their lives.’ These words spoken by the Pope at the plenary assembly of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People in 2004, acquire a new meaning considering the task that the Polish Church has undertaken. Since her special care for migrants and their families is not expressed in conducting scientific disputes but rather in taking concrete activities, e.g. working out structures that will meet the present pastoral challenges.

The article has been written on the basis of talks delivered during the Academic Pastoral Lectures, which were held at the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin on 28-29 August 2008.

John Paul II’s guidelines to Poles abroad

1. Do not forget that God is the highest good and without him you will not understand yourself and you will not find the sense of your life.
2. Do not renounce the name of your nation and its historical experiences since they are its own roots, its wisdom, though it might be bitter, its reason to feel proud.
3. Remember that wherever life takes you, you always have the right to be a member of your national family till the end of your days.
4. Even in the worst circumstances when you change your environment and nationality do not renounce your faith and your forefathers’ tradition if you want your new brothers and your children not to deny you. Family, become a teacher and mother like the Church!
5. Respect your nation, spread his good name and do not let it be misused for political, nationalistic or any other purposes.
6. Do not let your family, nation be robbed, slandered and reviled by anyone.
7. Do not exalt yourself and your nation above its real virtues and above other nations; rather show others what is best in your nation.
8. Learn what is good in other nations and do not repeat their mistakes.
9. Remember that to have a family – nation is a great privilege resulting from the inherent human right and do not forget that ‘Homeland is a big collective obligation.’
10. Remember that you are a child of the nation whose Mother and Queen is Mary the Mother of God, ‘given as help and defence.’ Often repeat the prayer of Polish hearts, ‘I am with you, I remember, I keep vigil.’

"Niedziela" 37/2008

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