People on the move

Rev. Msgr Ireneusz Skubis talks to Fr Wieslaw Wojcik, TChr, the director of the Institute for the Pastoral Care of Migrants, the national moderator of the Movement of the Apostleship of Migrants, connected with the Society of Christ Fathers to Polish Migrants.

Rev. Msgr Ireneusz Skubis: – The Year of St Paul – the travelling apostle and migrant – is over. Therefore, there were many occasions to reflect on people on the move, those who left their homes and settled somewhere in the world. For years the Society of Christ Fathers to Polish Migrants has cared for Poles abroad and 25 years ago the Society called into being the Institute for the Pastoral Care of Migrants. Please give us the circumstances of the establishment of this Institute and present its aims?

Fr Wieslaw Wojcik, TChr: – Yes, the Year of St Paul, who was a migrant and evangeliser of nations and cultures, has just been closed. During his apostolic travels he proclaimed the Gospel first in synagogues, favouring above all his countrymen living in the Diaspora, and when they rejected him he turned to pagans, becoming a real missionary of migrants. As the Holy Father Benedict XVI wrote in his message for the 95th Word Day of Migrants and Refugees the life and teaching of St Paul were completely submitted to his aim: that all people get to know and love Christ. This is also the task of my religious congregation – the Society of Christ to Polish Migrants, called into being 77 years ago by the Primate of Poland Cardinal August Hlond. ‘Polish souls are wasting away in exile’, cried the Founder and he wanted this special congregation of priests and brothers to accompany our countrymen abroad. And thus on 3 May 1984, following the consent of Poland’s Primate Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the spiritual tutor of Polish migrants, the Institute for the Pastoral Care of Migrants (IDE) was established. It was a hard time in Poland: the borders were closed, the activists of ‘Solidarity’ were interned, restrictions against those who went on strike and demanded freedom were introduced. Many Poles had to leave their homeland. They did it illegally, often leaving the closest families in very difficult financial situations. Therefore, the direct aim of the Institute was to train special staff, both lay and religious, to carry out pastoral care of migrants. Moreover, the Institute undertook a special task – to revive the mission of the Church in Poland concerning immigration and creating the Movement of the Apostleship of Migrants. As the documents of the Holy See state ‘the whole Church is for evangelisation of migrants’. Since every Christian is burdened with by the obligation to evangelise migrants, i.e. provide all kinds of religious, pastoral, cultural and social help.

– And what does the Institute do nowadays?

– During the last several months, when we created a website and invited the Missionary Sisters of Christ the King for Polonia to collaborate with us, we wanted to meet the needs of young Poles. Recently over two million people have left Poland, for seasonal jobs, studies, going without any contacts or taking their families with them in order to have better lives. Under the honorary patronage of Poland’s Primate, in collaboration with the rectors of the Polish Catholic Mission in Europe, we are collecting and updating our database about the pastoral care among Polish speaking migrants in the world. If you want to find a community of Poles praying in ca. 1,100 churches and chapels in the European countries, if you want to find a Polish diocesan or religious priest in various parts of the world, please look at the website of the Institute. We present the current events of Polonia; give the texts of prayers and catechesis for adults. We do it because we want to deepen the faith of our countrymen abroad. You can also send various prayer intentions to our e-mail address.

– For some time you have also been the moderator of the national Movement of the Apostleship of Migrants, run by the Society of Christ to Polish Migrants. It is a kind of universal apostleship without borders. What are the rules of this Movement?

– Our General Rev. Tomasz Sielicki, TChr, has entrusted me with the Movement of the Apostleship of Migrants. Its initiator and moderator for 23 years was Fr Dr. Jozef Bakalarz, TChr. It was him that created a network of prayer groups in Poland, making Catholic parish priests aware of the need of prayer for these parishioners that were abroad. The movement is not a religious organisation but an apostolic movement acting in the Church full of concern for migrants. This is apostolic leaven that is to penetrate all environments and church communities so that acting from inside it can contribute to the common mission of God’s people as far as migrants are concerned. This apostolic community of several thousands embraces various strata: priests, consecrated people, laymen, especially these families whose members stay abroad for some time. Our movement draws its spirituality from the charisma of the Missionary Sisters. I would like to emphasize that the real centre of the apostleship of migrants is and should be the parish. It is a reality abroad. Whereas it is little said about the missionary calling of the local parish. It is the home parish that under the leadership of the parish priest should accompany in various ways the parishioners who leave it. Many prayer groups in some parishes in Poland organise Masses in the intention of Polish migrants. When I was a parish priest in Lower Silesia I introduced a special service for those who were abroad on the last day of every month and those who were leaving I gave my blessing and a picture of Our Lady with a prayer book and address of the Polish Catholic Mission in the country they were going to work. Whole families came to pray for the relatives. We all are the witnesses of the fact that Polish families are painfully torn apart because of immigration. Even the Holy Father Benedict XVI stressed that three years ago during his visit to our country, ‘Today the Church in Poland faces an enormous pastoral challenge: how to care for the faithful who have left the country. The scourge of unemployment obliges many people to go abroad. It is a widespread and large-scale phenomenon. When families are divided in this way, when social links are broken, the Church cannot remain indifferent.’

– What is the range of influence of the Christ Fathers abroad? Which countries do they reach? How do they find Poles who should be under their pastoral care?

– The Christ Fathers have accompanied Polish migrants since the pre-war times. They do not only serve in the missionary field but also in the cultural and social fields. Faithful to its mission the Society of Christ publishes the monthly ‘Msza Swieta’ [Holy Mass] in large quantities and the bimonthly ‘Milujcie sie’ [Love one another] in several languages. Currently, the Christ Fathers work in Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Canada and the United States, in the Republic of Africa, France, Spain, Germany, Holland, Italy and Hungary, in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and Island. For 20 years we have helped the Catholic Church in Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan. 230 priests of our congregation work in these countries. And numerous priests in the country, including me, often support pastoral activities in the Polonia parishes. The cheap airlines make it much easier to reach these European cities where there are thousands of our countrymen. Churches are full, especially on Sundays and holidays, and it is young immigrants who seek support and closeness of God that gather for services, which brings joy to the priests. But we do realise that this is only a small percentage of our countrymen that attend Sunday services abroad. Numerous migrants work on Sundays. Sometimes they must do that. But it is good news that those who know the local language well attend the liturgy of the local parish churches. Local priests, e.g. in Great Britain, Italy or Switzerland, are glad to see Polish young people at Mass. This is a process of integration but to a large extent a beautiful testimony of life and Poles’ presence in the universal Church. Our countrymen abroad should remember that they must care for their faith to be strong and overcome some crisis or another. It is good that bishops in various countries, who are responsible for all believers and inhabitants in the territories of their dioceses, ask for Polish priests because many Poles have gone to work abroad and they should receive spiritual care.

– Where can Polish people living abroad look for information concerning Polish pastoral ministry? What kind of help can they count on?

– Pastoral care to Polish migrants has developed thanks to over 100 diocesan and religious priests. During the last months I visited the Christ Fathers and also other zealously working Polish priests in Sweden, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, France, Spain, England and Italy. One should emphasise priests’ openness towards countrymen who are often lost, who face the dilemma whether to return to their families or to wait until the crisis is over. Or perhaps change the environment and country. The language is always a barrier. Those who know foreign languages well are more certain, have better positions and better jobs. The tradition of the Polonia ministry has been over 100 years old. It has developed the so-called Polish Catholic Missions, e.g. in Germany, England, France. They function within the structures of the local Church. Its rectors and co-ordinators of pastoral ministry undertake various initiatives to encourage the present migrants who are often seasonal and do not adhere to the local Church and try to make them come to the Polish centres. The website of the Polish Catholic Mission gives contacts to the Polish-speaking pastoral centres, addresses and hours of Masses celebrated all over Europe. The one who seeks will find, using many means of information. I invite you to visit the website of the Institute of Pastoral Care to Migrants. Spiritual help plays the most essential and important role for priests working among Polish migrants. A Catholic church, parish or Polish pastoral ministry abroad is a centre of Polish social life at the same time. In such a church migrants, especially from the first generation, have found a part of Poland, and have become hosts again. Here they feel equal and not only worse, alien. This is extremely precious for people in the first stage of their migration way when they live in deep isolation and social degradation.

– Summer holiday has begun, which means that Poles leave to take seasonal jobs. What advise would you give to them so that they could survive safely and least painfully the period of separation from their families, so that they would not feel alienated and lonely and they would not get spiritually lost.

– When you are abroad you must remember about your spiritual life from which you cannot take a leave. I stress the importance of Sunday Mass as a meeting with God and in the community of the Church. Let us learn to rest one day a week. Resists the temptation to earn more money on the Lord’s Day. Moreover, staying in telephone contact or sending one SMS: ‘I miss you, I love you, you are important to me’ a day to your closest ones at home is very important. Let us remember that there are chapels at Polish airports and before the journey let us visit the Blessed Sacrament. Soon you can take folders about our Institute (with web site address) from there. Let us make the sign of the cross on a bus, train, car or plane. Let us not be ashamed of our faith. The Servant of God John Paul II asked Poles in the Benelux countries, ‘I desire and wish you, dear Countrymen, to constantly deepen the awareness of your heritage from where you come and which you carry. And also the awareness, readiness to give testimony of your identity, Christian identity, to all that over your one thousand old past has been as if invested in a special way in the history of Polish soul and found its expression there.’

– The present year is important for the Society of Christ Fathers because of the 25th anniversary of the Cardinal August Hlond Institute for the Pastoral Care to Migrants and the completion of the first, diocesan stage of the cause for beautification of the Servant of God Fr Ignacy Posadzy, the co-founder of the Society of Christ to Polish Migrants and the founder of the Missionary Sisters of Christ the King to Polonia. At the end of our conversation please tell our Readers about the new Mediator of migrants’ affairs…

– Fr Ignacy Posadzy can be rightly called a mediator of migrants’ affairs. As a seminarian, before the war, he was interested in Poles working temporarily abroad. He was greatly impressed by their problems and spiritual loneliness. He gathered these people, instructed them and celebrated services of God’s word for them. The final matter influencing his decision to dedicate himself to migrants was an article of a German priest writing about a dying Polish girl who wanted to confess her sins before death and she could not do it because she did not know the language. Then Fr Ignacy decided to become a priest and devote all his free time to these people. One can say that his resolution set the direction of Fr Ignacy’s activities for the rest of his life. Organising the Society of Christ to Polish Migrants, founded by Cardinal August Hlond, required from him much effort, dedication, courage and confidence in God. Our Co-Founder showed equal courage and confidence in Divine Providence when he founded the Missionary Sisters of Christ the King for Polonia during the times when the communist authorities forbade founding any new religious congregations. This year is exceptional for our sisters because their community, dedicated to work among Polish migrants, carrying Christ to them and teaching them to appreciate Polish culture and tradition, was founded exactly 50 years ago. In the year of their golden jubilee the sisters thank God for the development of their congregation embracing various forms of pastoral care of their countrymen in 11 countries. I encourage you to pray for these members of our families who have left. It is the prayer through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, imploring her that every family member who leaves homeland for some time will put confidence in her and dedicate his/her life to her.

Mary, Queen of Poland and Polonia,
To you we offer our Homeland and whole Polonia in the world.
Take every child of this land under your motherly coat
and lead it safely
on the way of truth and peace
to your Son Christ,
our Lord and King. Amen.

Instytut Duszpasterstwa Emigracyjnego
Panny Marii 4
60- 962 Poznan
tel./fax: +48 (0-61) 64-72-523

"Niedziela" 30/2009

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