We follow Polish immigrants
Rev. Monsignor Ireneusz Skubis talks to Bishop Colm O'Reilly of Ardagh and Clonmacnois about the Polish immigration in Ireland.
Msgr Ireneusz Skubis: - You have visited Poland for the first time. What is the aim of your visit?
Bishop Colm O'Reilly: - Since we have many Poles in our Irish diocese I am curious what the country they come from looks like. As a shepherd of the particular Church I am obliged to minister to my faithful and that includes the Polish people who have arrived in Ireland to earn money or to stay for good. So it is important to me to understand them.
- As we can see you feel responsible for these people before God ...
- I am trying to. Fr Marek Kosciolek from Poland helps me. He has been in our parish for almost a year. We also expect lay people to help us in the parish life. We all are trying to help one another since we act in the Christian spirit and we must share our duties, which John Paul II used to emphasize so much. I think that if the Polish people are away from their homes we will act together.
- What is the task of Fr Marek in your pastoral ministry?
- We especially need Fr Marek to fulfil his priestly duties. Our priests do not know Polish and the language barrier makes it impossible for them to do these duties. So a priest with the language is extremely valuable. Knowledge of the language, culture, needs and expectations of people is very important so that with time the Polish people feel more and more secure living among us, they feel more at home and become part of the Irish life.
- Your Excellency, what do you think of the Polish people?
- Through their hard work the Poles contribute to the economic development of Ireland. When employed they do their best to earn honestly their living although they often do hard physical work. My attitude towards the Polish people is very positive.
- Do the Polish people give examples of vivid faith to the Irish?
- The Poles are sincere people who testify to their faith, which can be seen during the most important holidays of the Church: at Easter or Christmas when their presence in the cathedral where I celebrate Mass is very significant. If the Poles did not come they would be considerably fewer people at church. The Poles have their own religious customs, which differ from ours, but they enrich our experience of faith. Our past experience tells us that people coming from various nationalities and cultures have brought a new dimension to our faith. I think that the Polish people will leave some heritage, examples of vivid faith that will make our faith richer in the future.
- Our Catholicism is rather traditional. Can you connect the traditional Irish Catholicism with the Polish one?
- I think we can. Ireland and Poland have similar history. The more I get to know the Polish history the more I realise that our nations have had similar experiences, namely the more you suffer because of your faith, the stronger your faith is. Today life seems to be easier since people have a lot of money and economy is thriving. Consequently, our faith has been endangered as never before. I think that both the Irish and the Polish have proven that they are resistant to repression and are not afraid of facing challenges. We have the spirit of determination in common, and generally speaking, we have many other things in common, more than we think we do. They are differences in religious practices but there are many similarities. I think that with time both communities and cultures will be more united in common practice of living faith. This is my hope.
- One can see some divergent tendencies in Europe. Some think immigrants like Polish people should preserve their own religious and national identity whereas others think that new comers should integrate with the local people.
- In this respect Ireland has had two different experiences. My fellow countrymen immigrated to our neighbours: Great Britain and the United States because of hunger and deceases. Those who immigrated to the United States encountered many cultures, without losing their own identity. The Irish who immigrated to England tried to keep together and did not integrate with the local people. They attended their own churches and supported their communities. The memory that the British had been our persecutors in the past did not let us be part of their lives whereas we saw America as an independent country. I hope we will follow the American model with time. I would not like the Polish community feel isolated and separated from our community, and I do hope that we will support each other.
- Today the situation is that most Poles who leave for Ireland stay there for some time as immigration 'for bread'. That's why we are thankful to Irish bishops for accepting Polish priests who help to minister the Polish people there.
- The local Church in a given country has many pastoral possibilities through parish care for inhabitants of the given areas, regardless of their background. The biggest responsibility falls on the bishops. So we are extremely thankful for the support we receive from Polish dioceses and for the assistance of the Polish priests.
- What does the problem of religious vocations look like in Ireland?
- We have seen a decrease of vocations recently. But we hope that this will change as far as priestly ministry is concerned. We also expect laymen to collaborate with us.
- 'Niedziela' is a national Catholic weekly in Poland and it tries to follow the Polish people who have immigrated. We send 'Niedziela' to Ireland, too. Do you give this action your blessing?
- Of course, I do, and I think we will support this initiative. Based on my own experiences I know that when someone is away any form of contact is very needed. Although there are various means of communication, for instance mobile phones, people need the support of the community. Family is one thing but people need to maintain contacts with larger society. I think that your work is very important and I will always support it wholeheartedly.