GUARDIANS OF THE POLISH IDENTITY
Fr. Ireneusz Skubiś talks with Fr. Ryszard Sztylka – a rector of the Polish Catholic Mission of the countries of Benelux and Fr. Aleksander Doniec, a pastor, working on this area, about worries and hopes of Polish emigrants
Fr. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ: - It is said that countries of Beneloux are famous from wealth. How Long do Priest Rector been there and how do Priest feel in his work and perceive Your presence there, as well as the presence of the Church through your person?
FR. RYSZARD SZTYLKA: - I have been in the West for 36 years, and as a rector of the Polish Catholic Mission, I have worked there for 13 years. I started work in Brussels, later I left for Charleroia, and after two years I worked in Holland, where I was for four years, and later I was again called to work in Belgium. The Polish Church in Belgium is the biggest community of the Polish Diaspora. However, I am not sure whether today we can speak about the community of the Polish Diaspora, because we are rather dealing with the immigration community. There is not the so-called old Polish Diaspora which remained in this country in the post-war period, whereas, as it concerns the new Polish Diaspora, which arrived after the year 1989, or in the 90s of the last century, it is a community which is constantly changing, arrives and leaves. These are people who come here to earn their living, because the situation in Poland is difficult and there are not better perspectives. Some people will stay here longer, and others only for some time, they want to earn money and leave. It is generally connected with pastoral problems, because in the situation when most families are parted, because somebody stayed in Poland, and another person works here, somehow their relations are gradually disappearing, both in their marriage, and in family. It often results in marriage divorces, and even the collapse of whole families. If there are children, they are suffering the most here. We speak about them – Euro-orphans. Here, in this context, the requests for the statement about invalidity of the marriage are symptomatic. There are many of them, these processes are still going on, some of them reach their result, some of them don’t.
– I have been a defender of the marriage knot for 40 years in the Bishopric Court and I know that the great pain of pastoral ministry in the world is the fact that married couples are getting divorced. Do Priest – I am addressing the question to Fr. Aleksander Doniec – as a pastor of the Polish Diaspora, also meet with these problems?
– FR. ALEKSANDER DONIEC: - I have been here only for two years, so I do not have enough knowledge about it yet, but I see that there are very few young married couples, who build their home together here or arrange their life according to God’s teaching.80 per cent who use the sacramental ministry are men coming here only to work, and living in workers’ hotels.
– What kind of people do Priest Rector perform ministry among?
– On the area of Brussels, and its nearby areas, the community of the Polish Diaspora consists of about 25-26 thousand people. The specific feature of the community is the fact that in majority it comes from the parts of Northern and Southern-Eastern Poland, and these are people who are strongly and traditionally related to faith. Therefore, they are present in the Church and the matter of sacraments, tradition, Catholic rituals, retreats, pastoral experiencing around our missions is very important for them. We, priests, can rely on them. We can also rely on their material help in the mission, if necessary. They perfectly cooperate with our pastoral staff, and willingly participate in pilgrimages – for nearly 65 years, we have organised traditional pilgrimages: in Spring to Our Lady of Flammang and in Autumn to Our Lady of the Poor in Walońska part.
– Do Priest Rector visit Polish families?
– Yes, I do. That’s true that it is not my domain like in the case of a parish priest or a vicar, but I willingly accept such an invitation. In this way I become enriched and I can appreciate their effort. They occupy their life with their parting with the country, so it is important to appreciate their work.
– And what meetings of Fr. Aleksander with people look like?
– Those who are on contracts, work for the whole week. Practically one can meet them only on Sunday at the Holy Mass. Similarly it concerns young married couples – they do not even have time for their social life. One can meet with an invitation from them, visit this or that house, only on Friday or Saturday. Whereas, the most beautiful example, which Poles give to the Belgians, is the presence of children in the church. There is also a little noise accompanying it, but it is the factor which makes the Holy Mass with the participation of Poles different. There are not young people in divine services celebrated for the Belgians, but there are only elderly people. So, if Poles can delight with something, they can be glad that there are young married couples with their children in prams or in their arms in the church, that this is a lively Church, which does not die.
– Priest Rector, what do you talk with people about, whom you visit and what issues do you touch on together with them?
– The main issue is work. Those who work here, appreciate this work very much and care about it. Whereas those, who are unemployed, are doomed to looking for it. They often ask me for help or intervention. In the rectory, every Monday, we display a board with offers of various kinds of work. Poles use it. Another issue is always our Homeland, and here, the nostalgia for the country is, undoubtedly, visible. Next, the issue of upbringing children and young people. They must attend the Flemish school, so, there are conflicts, sometimes also the positive ones among young people but parents are afraid that their children might give in to some negative examples, which happen in Belgium schools. Here, for example, I must mention drugs, young people of various kinds of excesses who have influence on our children.
– The new ‘gender’ ideology is destroying the previous civilizational base. The terms ‘father’ or ‘mother’ are replaced by the terms ‘carer 1’ or ‘carer 2’. Do these trends exist also in the consciousness of the family here?
– This issue appears all the time, although it is not as essential as in the Belgium families. However, our Polish compatriots put a pressure on the value of family, mother and father. We are glad about it, however, people are afraid that these trends from outside may touch their families. Sometimes they feel helpless about it, saying: what will I do with my son or daughter who are 17 or 18 years old and can me tell: mum, I have a different point of view now and I think in a different way. Parents are afraid that one day, their children may lose their identity acquired at home. Indeed, this issue undoubtedly appears.
– Priest Aleksander, what about men, Polish physical workers, can one notice reflection on Poland, family, work or policy in the country among them? Do they talk with Priest about the issues?
– Yes. I always stand outside the church before the Holy Mass and after it and talk with these men. It is an occasion to hear what they have to say. Undoubtedly, all of them love Homeland and they miss their homeland. After all, they arrived here not for pleasure, but only to provide good life conditions to their families. For example, one of them has seven children and was unemployed in Poland. Here he works on contract and is glad that can earn for living for his family. Certainly, discontent with the economic situation in Poland is high. People feel resentment because they would prefer to work and live in Poland.
– And how do Priest Rector perceive Poles here and their opinions about the situation in the country?
– The problem is difficult. Undoubtedly, it is seen that the situation in Poland is not good. Poles who have emigrated, do not see any chance for themselves in Homeland for a good life. They complain because many of them are highly educated but here, colloquially speaking, they hold a broom in their hands. Many of them keep away from political issues, saying that they are not interested them, and they have already settled down here, in the West. Unfortunately, most of them address their bitter comments against politicians in the government and parliamentarians.
– Rector of the Polish Catholic Mission is, in fact, a position equal to the bishopric one, and the quality of pastoral ministry among Poles on a particular area depends on the rector of the Polish Catholic Mission. Is the pastoral ministry which you are running here, effective in life? Does it teach us to be Christians?
– Undoubtedly, yes. I must say that our priests are fervent and hard-working. They care about fulfilling their pastoral ministry in our Polish community in such a way, so that it would result in the fully-percent attendance of people to the Holy Mass on Sunday. We run the pastoral ministry according to the Polish Church. We organize retreats in the annual cycle. In bigger places, these practices are always organised, in smaller ones – they are for one or two days, in Advent and the Great Lent. Priests work with the youth and children within the catechesis. In Brussels we have 1500 children at schools, who learn catechesis in Polish. The staff of sisters is full, and the quality of the catechesis is good. If I was to compare a young man from a Belgium school with a man from our Polish school, I would say that, undoubtedly, the Polish catechesis is deeper and stronger. We can rely on these children and, later, the youth, because they are well-prepared for Christian life. They will surely bring something into their life, and it will bear fruits through their deeds. The spiritual and pastoral work is not in vain. I must say that, in this respect, priests are responsible and courageous.
We care about implementing the directives of the Polish church. As a rector, I present them to priests at meetings, which we have twice a year: in spring and summer, and I care about implementing them in life.
– Priest Aleksander, would the present of a Catholic newspaper be recommendable in the pastoral ministry among the Polish Diaspora?
– I think so. Here, in Brussels, ‘Gość Niedzielny’ is widespread. Where I perform my pastoral ministry, there has not been any Polish newspaper so far, therefore I edit a parish bulletin with readings and fragments of homilies or a message of the Episcopate, so that believers would find out about them. These are free newspapers, xero-copied and with the purpose of taking them home. But I must state that I do not see any enthusiasm, maybe about 50 people per 300 take them home, despite of encouragement. Poles do not have the Holy Scripture here, come to work and it is recommendable to look at the Gospel more attentively. However…….Anyway, we must keep trying, we are not released from the duty of evangelization.
– And do Priest Rector see pastoral assistance in Polish Catholic newspapers, for example, ‘Niedziela’?
– Surely, I do. I have only one objection: our faithful are afraid of any long newspaper, because it forces them to concentrate on it, and they are not willing to study it after work. Whereas I would rather see a permanent appendix to the Catholic weekly about the situation here, because it is interesting for people. On our area we have good examples of parish bulletins which we print. They are not in all the centres, but they are in the centre of Fr. Aleksander and mine in Lumburg. These are weekly or quarter magazines which touch on all the issues on a particular area. They also include a program of pastoral work, meetings for the nearest semester. It would be good is such an annex with the issues from here was enclosed to the Catholic weekly.