Polish rural communities A.D. 2011

Rev. Msgr. Ireneusz Skubis talks to Bishop Edward Bialoglowski, Polish Bishops’ Conference delegate for the Pastoral Care of Farmers.

REV. IRENEUSZ SKUBIS: – Excellency, you have begun the function of the Episcopal delegate for the Pastoral Care of Farmers. Congratulations and wishes that you may do your best fulfilling this task that is so important to Poland. We have met just before the planned farmers’ pilgrimage to Jasna Gora. I want to refer to the times when numerous Polish rural folk immigrated to America and Polish priests accompanied their parishioners, too. Then believers had great confidence in their priests. Is the situation similar today?

BISHOP EDWARD BIALOGLOWSKI: – I think so but there are exceptions for sure. One must notice that at the turn of the 19th and the 20th centuries this confidence resulted from the fact that the priest was the only man in the rural environment that was a leader in the religious and social sphere. He was educated and often knew foreign languages. Accompanying the faithful he was their spiritual protector and a kind of manager. Those who immigrated wanted to earn money and invest it here, in their families, their own village as well as in the parish they left. They most frequently returned to Poland to spend the rest of their lives here. Today priests from the Diocese of Rzeszow have not got farms and that’s why their contacts with their parishioners are often limited only to the pastoral sphere, unless they have social charismas and try to help farmers who accept their ideas.

– But besides the pastoral care there are other matters – educational, marital, etc. Don’t people ask their parish priest about these matters?

– Of course, the faithful in rural parishes address their priests for help and council and sometimes ask for interventions. The marital or family problems are reflected in pastoral care and praised be God for that. Seeking motivation of life young people, who do not always accept their places in the rural area or agriculture, talk to their priests who can help form their thinking.

– Nowadays earning migration is a very important pastoral problem. What does it look like in the Diocese of Rzeszow?

– Earning migration in the region of Podkarpacie is a meaningful problem. Every week I sign several licences for the sacrament of marriage in the home parish – licences come from various countries: Spain, France, Italy, Germany and – the biggest number from England. It often happens that people go abroad and get married there. They try to live there and sometimes they decide to return home. There are many situations that when they leave they plan to stay abroad although it is not simple. But the situation is more complicated when a wife or a husband leaves and stays abroad for a longer period. Unfortunately, it can lead to a breakdown of the marriage and defects in the family. Especially pupils attending gymnasia need their parents’ presence, and their grandparents cannot replace parents, and many a time grandparents need care themselves and so problems accumulate. Undoubtedly, the lack of jobs does not only concern rural population, and it is very painful.

– Does the rural population notice the role of parishes in their spiritual formation today? I mean religious, cultural needs, various forms to activate believers...

– I think that sometimes a rural parish succeeds in more pastoral activities than an urban parish. First of all, our villages are traditionally Catholic and the religious tradition plays an important role, e.g., prayers. Consider the rosary apostleship: when a mother or a grandmother drops her place is taken by a daughter or daughter-in-law, and the father’s place is taken by a son or son-in-law. But the formation conducted by the priest needn’t be connected strictly with prayers; it can embrace various problems, including the problems of the rural environment. It can serve to enlarge the horizons of thinking and the views of contemporary countrymen, but not only that.
Another important point is Catholicism that wants to carry love not only in the spiritual way but also in the material way. I mean the Caritas teams that do know the problems of the old, the lonely, families with multiple children or those having painful experiences or coping with addictions. Polish countrymen give good testimonies of readiness to help those affected by floods, fires or in our region – to families struggling with landslides when the local authorities refuse support because they lack suitable regulations. Caritas and charity teams mobilise people to help those affected by fateful incidents.
One should also notice that good kind-hearted farmers support our seminars by delivering grain, potatoes, vegetables and fruit. Soup kitchens for the poor are also based on the involvement of farmers who can share with those in need although their own profits are not big. And we should be thankful for that.
There is also the problem of using Catholic media in the rural area. Here the situation is more difficult. Like a considerable part of our society countrymen watch television without reflecting whether the TV images are true or whether the media many a time are harmful. I think we have still a lot to do in this field. It also seems that people’s universities, presenting the social Catholic teaching, which were very active in the past, have become almost invisible. They are functioning in some places but people are not interested in them, which is certainly a problem.

– You are touching upon the very important problem of readership, parish libraries, cultural life, especially in the rural environment. It is a problem of social development. It is said that people read very little. Your Excellency, do you think that our countrymen are doomed to what is close to nihilism and can they overcome it?

– One can and should lift oneself out of it, with the help of people of good will. There are various forms of cultural activities and one should thank many priests who are very active in this field, e.g., by involving teachers who can do a lot in this field. There are parishes where the organist is a teacher of music in the local school and at the same time the organist runs a girls’ choir or a church choir for adults. He can discern talents and help them develop. There are parishes where teachers of the Polish language prepare lectors to read in church services. One can see theatre circles that stage plays 2-3 times a year: Easter plays, Marian performances or Nativity plays, and these are fantastical things. Certainly, not every priest can do all these things but here, in the region of Podkarpacie, villages are relatively small and there is a priest in every village. Consequently, it is hard for him ‘to move heaven and Earth.’ But if he finds lay collaborators that many a time get involved in these activities disinterestedly the rural environment is revived.
Similarly, there are numerous parish and youth movements, organising various contests, e.g., reading books or press. Some teachers of religious instruction ask their pupils in gymnasia or high schools to make short reports based on the Catholic press within the framework of lessons once a week. This task evokes interest. Naturally, the whole class will not be excited about it at once but it is sufficient if some pupils become interested in it. Many parishes have libraries but very few people borrow books. I think that one can do more in this field through the creativity of active units of the Catholic Action.

– We know that there are numerous small villages that cannot afford to run a school – the last bastion to develop culture in small environments. Certainly, we face the problem of collaboration between the parish and the school.

– This collaboration varies. Generally, when the news spreads that the local school is to be closed parishioners storm their parish priest or even the bishop to do something about it. Some priests quote the late Bishop Mieczyslaw Jaworski who was famous for his humorous statements, ‘If there are more children, the school will not fall apart.’ And I think that every ruling party wants to reform the system of education, which is a mistake. It also seems to me that if there are too few children in our good villages – three or five in a class – we need two teachers to run a three-or four-grade school instead of transporting children in winter in private minibuses to some school that is ca. 10 km away. Then pupils will go to a new school. Nevertheless, schools are very important places. In the past people said that when a priest became a parish priest he would ask whether there were a church, school, shop and bus stop in his new parish. Today there is a church, but no bus stop since buses have been replaced by minibuses, the school is closed, the shop is mobile – twice a week – and the village becomes a hamlet. This is an important problem.
But if on the one hand, the school building was to form children (perhaps the village will make some effort and have more families and children) and on the other hand, it could be a culture-formation centre, which could have, e.g., a meeting hall where people gather and spend some time together watching a film, reading something or discussing, I think such a solution would be very good in some situations.

– What does the Polish average village look like? What do parish priests think about it? What are the threats?

– The Polish countrymen watch the same TV programmes as the inhabitants of cities. They listen to similar programmes, read the same press, which often does not help but can harm. Undoubtedly, a considerable number of countrymen live in an honest and noble way; they are pious and patriotic. But the problem is that the rural population is getting old and is decreasing. There are no successors to continue work in farms. There are no leaders who could mobilise people to various activities so that living in the country may be attractive and people will stop leaving it. Although the stability of rural families is bigger than city families the increasing number of divorces is a problem. There are no doubts that in the country there are people who deprive the poor of their last penny because alcohol is the only happiness for the poor fellows. One should also realise that when a girl or a boy leaves his/her village they often fall prey to life that contradicts God’s principles and respect for oneself, and they often waste their future. From the pastoral perspective, in the Diocese of Rzeszow, which is rural-urban, more candidates for the priesthood come from the rural population although it happens that some seminar classes have more vocations from cities.

– What should be the direction of young people’s education and pastoral ministry of priests so that they could form mature people, taking into consideration the principles of the Gospel in their lives and listening to the voice of the Church?

– In the rural environment one should revive feasts connected with farmers’ work, commencing with the ceremony of the blessing the herbs on the Feast of the Assumption, in Poland called Our Lady of the Herbs, or the blessing of grains on the Feast of the Holy Virgin of Sowing, and other feasts present in the tradition, for instance the periodic celebrations: days of prayer for good harvests, penance or imploring processions – the liturgical aspect. The presence of the faithful is satisfactory, at least in our region. Certainly, we can also see the danger of secularization of the Sunday celebration – many people replace the traditional festivity, resting, spending time with the family with their participation in stock exchange or shopping in molls, which causes that in fact there are no celebrations, no spiritual mobilisation to become involved in daily honest work.
The Holy Father Benedict XVI often suggests that the key is the constant deepening of the awareness of faith, which is expressed in the liturgy and attitude towards life. That’s why there is the necessity to return to catechism lessons. Various dioceses do that differently. It seems to me that we can more frequently observe a considerable ‘shallowing’ of the understanding of faith and morality. It is hard to realise any plan of renewal without reviving faith and without motivation to moral life.

– Is the task of reviving faith only for priests or for e.g., those involved in the Catholic Action, Caritas or the Association of Catholic Youth?

– The missionary Church has worked out good methods of evangelisation. Namely, a missionary is the catechist of catechists. Catechists conduct evangelisation and liturgical activities, which they can do, when the missionary is absent. Our pastoral ministry should stress the formation of such groups and giving evangelisation tasks not only to leaders but to whole communities. For example, some say, sometimes as a reproach, that there were retreats, pilgrimages, festivals but they did not yield the fruit of strengthened, mature religious attitudes, that perhaps there was too much admiration and too few concrete things. Mobilising various groups we should stress the responsibility for the formation. And naturally, it begins in the family. It is the spouses and parents that are the first educators of young generations.

– What is the religiosity of contemporary rural families?

– Most Polish families living in villages are traditionally religious, i.e., they have received the sacrament of marriage and have children but follow the modern model: 2+1, 2+2; when the pattern is 2+3 the radio or television describe it as a multi-children family. Certainly, there is concern for the sacrament of baptism, children’s preparation to First Confession and Communion; unfortunately, the concern is smaller at confirmation and almost absent in preparation to the sacrament of matrimony. That’s why, unfortunately, it also happens in the rural population that young people live together in the bride’s or bridegroom’s house and their parents accept it, claiming that we live in such times and nothing can be done. And it is contrary to the Gospel.

– Your Excellency, do you think that the traditional model of pastoral work in the Polish rural population, with the priest as the centre of the rural parish, is sufficient?

– We should still recollect the Gospel about the good householder who brings out from his storeroom new things as well as old. Certainly, there are many values in the tradition of our faith, practices, principles that Polish families, especially the countrymen, follow. At the same time, a priest must have his eyes wide open and instead of only waiting for the communiqués from the curia he seeks ways to renew faith, deepen it and try to involve others. Today one cannot work on his own.

– In the Archdiocese of Lodz there is the parish of Gomulin with 2,000 believers. Every week 370 copies of ‘Niedziela’ are distributed there. The parish priest Msgr. Marian Wiewiorowski has based his pastoral work on ‘Niedziela’ which serves evangelisation. He has ca. 40 distributors who bring the weekly to each house. Even a boy confined to a wheelchair distributes four copies. The local school with its headmaster has also been involved. Reading ‘Niedziela’ makes the faithful know perfectly well the teaching of the Holy Father and bishops; they know the teaching concerning the way of education, morality, defence of life. What do you think of our proposal of ‘Niedziela’ directed to some priests to try to base their parish ministries, the formation of their parishioners’ awareness on the Catholic press?

– Apostles always change the reality and bring concrete things. Such a model may not be instilled in every parish. But pastoral work based on concrete things seems easier and more effective. And that’s why one should wish all of us the ability to mobilise apostles for our contemporary pastoral work.

– I also mean the diocesan radio, present in almost each diocese and very effective since it is easier to use its contents – one should only encourage people to listen to this radio. Therefore, we have means to exert the Catholic influence – the radio, television, press – that can be of great pastoral help, also among the Polish countrymen...

– Yes, the media are very important today, the more that this year we are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the martyr’s death of St Maximilian Kolbe – the contemporary apostle of the media who thought that through building a mature faith and Gospel mentality one could change people and the reality.

"Niedziela" 36/2011

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