‘Niedziela’ – an assistant to parish priest, auxiliary to the metropolitan…
Fr Marek Luczak talks to Rev. Msgr. Ireneusz Skubis, the editor-in-chief of ‘Niedziela,’ on the 30th anniversary of the reactivation of the weekly and the 50th anniversary of his priesthood.
Fr Marek Luczak: – Let us imagine a situation: you are a parish priest and reading the parish notices you must say a few words on the latest issue of ‘Niedziela’ to encourage the faithful to read it. What do you say?
Rev. Msgr. Ireneusz Skubis: – It is important that you have read something from this issue or at least looked at it. Then we can propose something interesting to our parishioners. For example, the issue of ‘Niedziela’ edited on 12 June was attractive and interesting. I was especially interested in the interview with Fr Jacek Maria Norkowski, a Dominican, entitled ‘A beating heart corpse.’ This topic is interesting because it concerns the organ transplantation, which is important today. Another, different and extremely essential aspect of this problem has been shown in the article and I was impressed with it. Perhaps one should tell people from the pulpit that such a text was published. By the way, you can find many interesting texts in every issue about which you should inform your parishioners. And it is not advertising but a pastoral obligation.
– I can see a wider problem. Bishop Teodor Kubina wanted ‘Niedziela’ to be an assistant to the parish priest and an auxiliary to the bishop...
– Here we have the important issue of preparation to pastoral work through the media. This problem has not been described as some official document or instruction for the Church in Poland. Today people are living in the world of media; living by what they watch on television, hear on the radio or what they can read in the press.
The Catholic press is part of the whole media system. Those who read, e.g. ‘Niedziela’ most often read other dailies, weeklies, watch TV. But ‘Niedziela’ may be the only Catholic weekly reaching people and then, together with the priest’s work, there is a possibility to create a people’s Christian option. Then we can really struggle for souls in the sense that those who watch TV, and today all people have access to it, do not rather read papers. If a Catholic paper ‘comes’ to some home we have a bigger chance to influence people. First of all, we are independent; we have no foreign owner controlling us and that’s why we do not act as the owner dictates. We have the ecclesiastical, Polish and objective option. And if Bishop Kubina spoke about ‘Niedziela’ as an extra priest helping the parish priest it is indeed a sensible matter. What does an assistant to the parish priest do? He assists to the parish priest in the pastoral work. He is educated and so is the parish priest. Perhaps he is less experienced but has a lot to say. He has read a lot, he knows theology and the social teaching of the Church. And he helps in the pastoral ministry. Similarly, a Catholic weekly is such an assistant to realise pastoral plans. Parish priests should realise that they alone cannot do everything; they simply have not enough time. When I look over the particular issues of ‘Niedziela’ I can see how much content it has. Nobody in the parish can gather such large materials we prepare every week. If someone has several dozen wise people it is great. Let us see how many people work at universities: professors, scientists, assistants, doctors: they all compose some dose of knowledge at their places and pass it to people. A newspaper is such a university, created by an editorial board and collaborators. Therefore, Bishop Kubina was right, speaking about ‘Niedziela’ as an assistant and auxiliary – excellent pastoral helpers. One should notice this help.
Transmitting the programme of the Church is a great pastoral task. In the parish of Gomulin, the Archdiocese of Lodz, the parish priest Rev. Msgr. Marian Wiewiorkowski has based his pastoral work on ‘Niedziela.’ There all parishioners read ‘Niedziela’ and help distribute it. They are interested in what the weekly writes about; they discuss the themes and transmit them to one another and they realise them in their lives. Other Polish parishes do the same.
– Is there the awareness in the Church that we play in the same team? The ecclesiastical instructions are not sufficient if we lack basic awareness that we serve for the same cause in which the Catholic paper is a shield against the enemies of the Gospel.
– I want to refer to a certain event. It was in 2010 – the Year for Priests. The Polish diocesan and religious priests made a pilgrimage to Jasna Gora. I saw priests in the cathedral and then they went in a solemn procession towards Jasna Gora, stopping in front of the Jasna Gora Summit. We made some calculations. In Poland there are ca. 30,000 priests and in the pilgrimage there were ca. 3,000, which is only 10%. I was astonished but many people applauded seeing so many priests together. I asked myself where these 27,000 priests were. They did not come. The involvement of priests in the life of the Church should be strong. Unfortunately, we lose some matters in Poland. So many people are dedicated to one matter! Many political parties have not got such a potential. Politicians have families, interests, problems and they lead various kinds of life. But priests are ordained for one pastoral purpose. So if we fail in so many things we must ask about the quality of our work.
When we speak about the media that play an enormous role in the life of contemporary people we deal with a crucial point: if we ignore the media in our pastoral work we fail at once. Moreover, priests often forget about solidarity in their work as if we did not realise that we played in one team.
– You are stressing the problem of priests and the hierarchical Church but I would like to talk about the faithful, our Readers. One can see the approach to readership, which does not only embrace articles but also the Word of God. Don’t you think that the catechetical programmes speak too little about the Catholic media? If the examinations of conscience lack the question, ‘Do I read Catholic press?… I mean the moral aspect.
– We should begin in major seminaries, which have programmes of education and we should see how many hours these programmes assign for the media. If seminarians do not have even some outline of the problem they do not know what it is about. Then they go to parishes and will be still ignorant about that. That’s why we should begin with a pastoral programme for clergy. Moreover, we have the matter of laity. They are in various Catholic movements and associations, e.g., the Catholic Action, but they are not very often aware what the Catholic media are. I was astonished to see the events before the presidential elections. One of the candidates, especially in the first election campaign, began presenting a programme that was decidedly atheistic and promoting atheism. And so many people followed him… How can one evaluate the society that is said to be Catholic and that votes for an atheist? I was even more appalled to see that two candidates who were the ultimate alternatives for voters began making eyes at that atheist so that he would support them and thus they would win his electorate. They ignored the fact that this man strongly supported the idea of abandoning Christianity and choosing ‘Zapaterism’ – the option prevailing in Spain nowadays. It disturbed nobody. I was sad that two Catholics – presidential candidates – behaved like that. I think that we should notice whom we vote for. People know it if they have certain education, when they learn what the Church teaches and what the Catholic social teaching says about this matter.
In issue 24 of ‘Niedziela’ (12 June 2010) we published the document of the Apostolic See concerning homosexual marriages. It speaks very concretely how the MPs and politicians should behave in this matter. The Pope signed the document – then he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. It is a clear stand of the Church that does not remain silent but always speaks in matters concerning man’s conscience and we should hear the voice of the Church. I do not know whether priests are fully aware of the significance of the Catholic media in believers’ lives…
– We have touched a very important theme since apart from the pastoral perspective we have the social-political perspective. Ethics touches every field of people’s lives and evokes another question, ‘How can ‘Niedziela’ respond to the accusation of politicking?
– It is very easy to make such an accusation because the borderline between politics and social teaching of the Church is very small. For instance, many a time some people speak that priests or bishops are ‘brainwashed by PiS.’ But they do not see the coincident elements here: when one speaks about patriotism, homeland, culture, social teaching. Some political parties are close to the Christian option.. They have the right to say that they are close with the Church. But it does not mean that I am not to proclaim the Catholic social teaching because my views are similar to the programme of PiS!
Blessed John Paul II loved Poland with its history, culture. He even shed tears when recollecting some anniversaries. Did the Holy Father participate in politics? Perhaps in the general dimension he did but he was not part of politicking. He was a patriot. Lord Jesus also cried seeing Jerusalem and he was not involved in politics.
It is worth paying attention to the statement of Benedict XVI in Warsaw when he spoke about priests who were allegedly involved in politics. He said that priests did not have to be specialists in politics. I understand that statement that I do not really have to be a specialist in politics but as an ordinary man I can express my opinion. Let us, priests, be ordinary men and citizens.
– And what about if a priest as a shepherd must present his opinion when ethics is threatened in politics?
– I think that both priests and bishops have such an obligation. Today people say: you must not put your hand in politics, you must not speak about various political movements and then you regret that suddenly some act contrary to the natural law or God’s law has been passed in the Parliament. We know what role a divorce plays in the life of the family or children. But some claim that we should recognise divorces and try to make that happen. Nobody counts tears. There are many problems connected with abortion – killing unborn babies. People speak about voting for life but at the same time those who are take decisions behave indifferently towards these matters since atheists control the mass media and have huge money. Christianity has not got them and we lose. I spoke about losing priests. It also happens because some papers close their mouths and the journalists are very loud. Radio Maryja is only an exception in the millions of voices that cry against the teaching of the Church. That’s why we have the label of a bad radio station. As Christians, as Catholics, we should be sober enough to know what is what, what the proportions of our activities are and the proportions of the atheists’ activities are. We are not simply poor. If in the Catholic country all Catholic weeklies have the circulation of 500,000 and the colourful press has ca. 70 million copies, how can we compare? The Polish nation should wake up.
– Because pastoral work and social matters coincide one can see clearly, taking the example of Catholic weeklies in Poland, that they differ in forms and contents or provenance. Is it natural or should we fear that?
– We cannot be the same. Each paper has the right to choose its image. ‘Niedziela’ will not be ‘Tygodnik Powszechny’ and the latter will not be the former and the same applies to ‘Gosc Niedzielny’ or other titles. Each title has the right to its identity. And it is positive since every man, having the Catholic option, can look for his/her own paper. However, Catholics should read some Catholic papers. The worst thing is when they do not read anything or when they look for the so-called colourful press and they do not deepen their intellectual and spiritual lives, for which the Catholic press cares.
I would also like to refer to the parish press because there are many titles that have their own zeal and background and parishes want to have their papers reach families. But it is worth noticing that these papers only inform and have no big journalists’ support. We have professional journalists and our staff cares for a good editorial level of the paper. But of course, we must pay taxes, buy paper and pay for printing. No companies, collaborating with the colourful or leftist press, support us financially. I think that every Catholic should know that and should discern the news about the parish life from the formation made possible with the help of a Catholic paper. Bishops, priests and laity should take that into account.
– From the perspective of 30 years what is the biggest success and the biggest failure of ‘Niedziela?’
– I have never thought of ‘Niedziela’ in the category of success. Its return in 1981 was a success. When 30 years ago I attempted to reactivate ‘Niedziela’ nobody in the communist offices asked me what ‘Niedziela’ was. The activities of the nation that wanted the weekly, that sent thousands of letters to the state offices, were successful.
After 28 years of silence ‘Niedziela’ returned to the Polish press market. And it was the biggest success. Then the late Fr Stanislaw Tkocz, the editor-in-chief of ‘Gosc Niedzielny,’ helped us and we began our work with him. I am grateful to him for his advice given with great prudence, knowledge and competence. The awareness that we exist is our first success. The other may be that we have never yielded to the censors’ pressure that suggested not marking their interventions in the texts. We have been faithful to all that has been important to the Church and Homeland.
The development of the weekly came next, and the increase of its circulation can be also called a success. It was connected with bishops’ and priests’ enthusiasm, which I cannot, unfortunately, see today. That enthusiasm showed us that success was possible where enthusiasm existed.
As for failures, one might stress the enthusiasm I mentioned. I would use the comparison: when we drive a car with flat tyres, we are in a difficult situation since no one can drive such a car at full speed. I would like the tyres of the car, that is ‘Niedziela,’ have the air again. I trust it will happen since now many good things are happening in Poland and in people’s awareness. We can really succeed and go forward. Good and the truth will always be in demand.