Holy Saturday in many British schools is extremely surprising for the natives. In the streets there appear crowds of Poles going to church to have food blessed. Our family tradition is not only noticeable there but is also sincerely admired.

Could Poles living abroad for various reasons enjoy a possibility of cultivating their own customs and traditions if it was not for special conditions for it? Luckily the modern societies understand the need of expressing one’s faith in one’s own language according to the native rite. After all it is mentioned by various documents of the Church. So, no wonder that we can see a lot of groups of our compatriots gathering in Polish churches all over Europe. They are looking not only spiritual or religious experiences there, but also a scarce sense of the community.

Polish Catholic Mission

Everything began after the failure of the November Uprising in 1831, Poles were looking for asylum in England for political and economical reasons, and also their dispersion made it impossible to organize the Polish church. After many attempts of various people, the sanctifying the first Polish church on the British Isles was on 30 October 1930. It was done also by cardinal August Hlond, the primate of Poland, in the presence of cardinal Francis Bourne.

When we speak about emigration of Poles, we often mean France – said prelate priest Stefan Wylężek, a rector of the Polish Catholic Mission in England and Wales. He has had a mission from recommendation of the Polish Episcopate since 2010. He received nomination from the Episcopate of England and Wales, to the request of Polish bishops.

That emigration is called big not only because of the number of Poles, but also because of their surnames – Fr. Wylężek notes and adds: -During the Second World War the Polish Church was one of very few or even the only free church in Europe, in which Poles could perform worship freely. Here, certainly, Polish soldiers used to celebrate religious and patriotic ceremonies. After all, the army of gen. Anders got there, so we had over 150 thousand soldiers. It was the time when a lot of people began their new life. Poles stayed not only there , but they also created a kind of Poland outside Poland. After all, there used to be a government, a university here, elections used to be organized here. Religious and social life was developing here. It was necessary to adjust soldiers to a new life, so temporary camps were set up here, where also chaplains were and they were supervised by archbishop Józef Gawlin. From the very beginning structures of the Church were created. Cardinals established the Polish Catholic Mission in England and Wales. When people were moving from camps to civic life, they also became members of the Polish Catholic Mission, entering its structures. Parishes, culture centres were created, Polish diaspora lived its Polish life here.

A piece of Homeland

Fr. Wylężek also notes evolution of the shape of the Polish emigration. As he emphasizes, it was different before the war, different after the war, and different after the year 1968 or 1981. – We must not forget the year 2004 in this context – he says. – It was when the British opened Poles the door to economic emigration. They opened an employment market to our compatriots. According to official data of British sources, there are 860 thousand of Poles here. But we know that there are more of us, as not everybody has been registered so we can even speak about a million – he adds.

Pastoral ministry on the Isles is not understood only as a cult. For priests working here, evangelization is, certainly, the most important, but the Polish Mission enjoys its independence. The rector appoints priests and vicars, sending first suitable information to the bishop of a diocese, where there is our institution and he gives jurisdiction.

At present in England and Wales there are 217 places where Poles meet together and Eucharist is celebrated for them – says the priest rector. – It is necessary to speak here about 92 parishes because some of them have their branches. Parish life is concentrated mainly on religious issues, but Christianity is wider. Every man lives something before and after liturgy. After all, we organize a lot of meetings, we try to meet the social needs of believers, we support pathological families. We have organized the Centre of Help to Family, a preparatory course for assistants of family counselling centres, we have counseling centres in our parishes, we run a charity and cultural activity within which we invite for special concerts.

Recently in the Mission there has appeared information that here about 220 thousand Poles live who did not reach the age of 18/ - It is a great pastoral challenge – says Fr. Wylężek. – It is necessary to reach this youth, give them the value of faith. We receive help from Saturday schools in it, we can be proud of having 130 such schools. Surely, there is more such places because not all of them are in the School Matrix. During only one year 23 thousand Poles arrived here- they are children born here in 2016. During my cadency we have recently had a record number of children getting prepared for the First Holy Communion. These are children born here and how attend English schools. And because people are dispersed and busy with work, not all parents are caring about religious upbringing. So, the Church is going to have a big space to utilize.

In the opinion of priest rector, integration is not based on the fact that a man forgets about his identity, his history and at once assimilates a language and culture of a foreign country. – Integration is when a man, being himself, joins various aspects of a life of a particular country. Poles also go to English churches but a different form of faith expression obliges there. Therefore, in many documents of the Church a lot is said about ethnical pastoral ministry. In some dioceses, for example, in the archdiocese of Westminster, that is, the London one, believers speak 100 languages. This is great richness and also a challenge.

The day devoted to Poles living on emigration may be an occasion for examination of conscience. Here there will be a different balance of the society and a different one of the Church. As far as we, as Poles, do not remember about millions of compatriots living on various geographical areas of the world, as the Church, we can be the calmest. When Poles appeared in countries of their emigration, at once they were followed by priests and structures and parishes were set up. Priests did not forget about their sheep.


„Niedziela” 18/2017

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