'Every man is precious to me'
Fr Henryk Zielinski is interviewing Archbishop Leszek Glodz, Major General, former Field Bishop of the Polish Army, and the new Bishop of the Diocese of Warszawa-Praga.
Archbishop Leszek Glodz
Archbishop Leszek Slawoj Glodz: - I suppose you could say it was not only hard graft but also fossil and ashes. I had to build the whole structure of the Field Ordinariate, i.e. a network of parishes and pastoral centers.
At first priests had to be recruited to the Ordinariate. I asked bishops and superiors of religious congregations to send their priests to this ministry. They had to be young, open to a different form of pastoral work that they were used to. The response of the Church was favorable and I could gather a sufficient number of priests in a short time.
While the Field Ordinariate was being organized many political and mental barriers had to be overcome because the army ministry did not exist in the mentality of the army men or in the mentality of the whole society. People knew where the Warsaw garrison church was but I had to make great efforts and co-operate with the media in order to make people aware that the church was the Field Cathedral.
Restoring the normal state of affairs, which we have now, I faced misunderstanding, aversion and attacks, especially from those circles that were hostile to the Church and which did not understand the sense of the ministry or did not know what it was, and did not want to give their consent. Therefore, I experienced some fierceness for years. Those attacks were not from military circles but from politicians or media. Coming from Rome to independent Poland in 1991, as the Field Bishop, I never thought that I would encounter such barriers and difficulties.
There were problems when we published a prayer book for the army. We were asked how much it cost. There were charges against us that soldiers participated in a pilgrimage. Some were surprised that chaplains were promoted like all other officers. Another accusation was that we broke civil rights because it could have happened that a Protestant soldier serving in the Representative Choir of the Polish Army would have been forced to sing during Catholic services. These were absurd matters. And we had to explain everything and make people understand these matters.
- What does the Field Ordinariate look like after 14 years?
- At present we have 70 parishes and 117 independent pastoral centers. There are 190 priests in the Field Ordinariate, including 15 priests whom I ordained and promoted to the first officer's rank. Because of that we could organize pastoral ministry not only in parishes but also in all army universities, hospitals and sanatoriums. Our chaplains accompany Polish soldiers in the NATO peace operations 'SFOR' in Bosnia and in international forces 'KFOR' in Kosovo, in the UN missions in Lebanon and Syria, as well in the mission in Iraq and in the Representatives of the Polish Army within the NATO structures in Brussels.
In comparison with other European Field Ordinariates we have our own vocations. This is the effect of the chaplains' work and their contacts with soldiers. Among 28 seminarians there are also officers, having completed military higher education. We train them in the Higher Metropolitan Seminary in Warsaw in order to ensure them access to libraries, contacts with good lecturers and growth in a large group of candidates for priesthood. Specific elements of formation are needed, of course, taking into account the future ministry of the alumni. These include, for example, a pastoral practice in garrison churches and additional military training. Despite these slight differences our alumni get along well with other seminarians. One can refer to the fact that one seminarian of the Field Ordinariate has been recently elected senior leader in the whole seminary.
- On 26 August 2004 the Holy Father gave you the Diocese of Warszawa-Praga. Which of the experiences you gained in the military uniform do you consider most valuable in the light of your new duties?
- The bishop's ministry is similar in all places; it only concerns a different environment. Coming from the Field Diocese to the Warszawa-Praga Diocese I will have a completely different structure and I will face new pastoral challenges. This is the fundamental difference.
I used to work mainly with laymen and young people for the last 14 years. For the army is a structurally young community. The oldest general is 60 years old. Everything is systematized and ordered. That also required some inner organization, some personal features.
I do not mean that I am going to transfer the military order to a civil diocese but I think that some forms of those foundations will be seen in my ministry. I have been simply trained that way.
- But your contacts with the laymen, for example with journalists who were under your pastoral care, on behalf of the Polish Episcopate, were very warm. One could see that in the meetings on the Day of Social Means of Communication or in your letters read in funerals of people who were close to us. To which extent was it a matter of your nature and of your adjustment to the uniform you wore?
- Perhaps both, a little bit of this and a little bit of that. One had to adjust because this is a requirement in the army.
I have never been hard-faced by nature. Another person has always been very precious to me. No matter what his profession is, what education he has got and what responsibility he has taken on in his job. I have had the easiest contacts with simple common people. I understand farmers best because I was born in the country. And now I need to be a Warsaw citizen - Warsawer. It is not that difficult because I spent the majority of my adult life in big metropolises: in Paris, Rome and now in Warsaw. These experiences let me claim that people are much the same everywhere.
As far as my hard hand is concerned, it is good that such an opinion existed. It was quite true because half of my ministry in the Field Ordinariate required co-ordination, being daily with all chaplains. I knew I could not close myself in my residence but I had to be in the training ground and in the parishes and I had to visit our missions abroad. There is no garrison I did not get to know as a field bishop.
- So referring to the words of John Paul II in his book 'Rise, Let Us Be Going' you have the tendency to govern or to listen?
- In running a diocese one should always listen, try to understand. It is some challenge. First of all, I would not like anybody feel lonely in my diocese, I would not like anyone feel that nobody cares for him. In the first place it refers to the clergy, my presbyters, both those priests who retired after hard work and live in pensioners' houses or as residents in parishes, and the young priests. I want them to know that there is a shepherd, a fellow brother. This promitto, which priests say during their ordination, goes, in my opinion, in both ways. It does not only show a priest's commitment to the bishop. I feel that commitment when I take the hands ready to serve. But there should be some commitment of the bishop towards the priest, towards his brother in priesthood, with whom I make the effort to shepherd the sheep. If we are to measure the pastoral successes nowadays, we should apply first of all the measures of the priests' work: their efforts, hardships, humiliation and service. I would like to understand the promitto in this way. And taking this word I would like to sketch the pastoral programme for priests. It does not mean that I give up brotherly correction. It is important that admonitions should be spoken in time and they should not be severe.
- During his stay in the Diocese of Warszawa-Praga the Holy Father reminded us of the duty to remember the Battle of Warsaw, called 'the miracle over the Vistula'. This event was especially close to you as the former Field Bishop. Do you see any special tasks for yourself in this?
- Yes, because the Polish Army Day celebrated on 15 August is connected with Radzymin and Ossov, with Fr Ignacy Skorupka, with all the ethos expressed in the motto: 'God - Honour -Fatherland'. It reminds us of the help of the Mother of God in the battle of Warsaw, of her protection over Poland and the whole Christian Europe. I had several occasions to celebrate the anniversary in Radzymin. Now it will be an additional commitment to make this event and these places better known to people, as signs of the protection of the Mother of God. Thus I am looking forward to preparing the coronation of the image of the Patroness of the diocese - the Victorious Mother of God.
- And will your military experience help?
- Certainly. Moreover, I am also a chaplain of the veterans of the war and scouts. We will bridge generations of soldiers of the interwar Poland and the scout youth. And again history has formed a circle. For in 1991, when I was given the Field Ordinariate Bishop Kazimierz Romaniuk gave me the crosier - the gift of army chaplains for my predecessor, Stanislaw Gall, the first Field Bishop of the Polish Army. Bishop Romaniuk did it as a good reflex of the heart and I am very grateful to him for that. This crosier symbolizes the continuation of the army ministry. And now when I am taking over the diocese from Bishop Romaniuk I see that there was some good prophesy in that gift.
- Do you have some other dreams referring to the Diocese of Warszawa-Praga?
- Recently General Rozmus, whose interview was broadcasted by Radio Station III, has said that every soldier will speak about me 'our bishop'. This is the best summary of my work. I appreciate very much when soldiers speak about me using these words. Although I was nominated the Field Bishop 14 years ago, I had to word hard for the word 'our'. I would like to have 'our bishop' in the Diocese of Warszawa-Praga'.
- Thank you very much for your interview.