Building bridges

Fr Ireneusz Skubis talks to Fr Janusz Lipski and Fr Aleksander Ozog about their pastoral ministries in America and Great Britain.

Fr Ireneusz Skubis: - I want to welcome our guests cordially. They are Fr Janusz Lipski from New York and Fr Aleksander Ozog from London. Both are priests of the Archdiocese of Lublin. Could you tell us a few words about yourselves? Where are you working now and what do your missions look like?

Fr Janusz Lipski: - I have worked in New York for nine years, in St Jadwiga's parish on Long Island; its parish priest is Reverend Monsignor Edward Wawerski, who also comes from the Archdiocese of Lublin. Before that I ministered to the Polish community in Montreal, Canada, for nine years as well, from 1989. My present parish is 105 years old, was founded by the Polish immigrants who had come to the United States.

- I see that it is a Polish parish...

- This parish belongs to the Polish community, American-Polish filial church. Two out of eight Sunday Masses are celebrated in Polish, the rest in English.

Fr. Aleksander Ozog: I have lived in London for 17 years; I am working with the Polish immigrants. This is a unique Polish community: families of the soldiers who remained here after World War II. They understand patriotism in a very practical way. Every parish means a church, club, school and various groups who are characterised by love for Polishness. At the moment I am the parish priest at Merciful Jesus Church, Croydon-Crystal Palace in London. The parish has existed for 57 years, it was created by the Polish immigrants. Currently, the situation is changing slightly; we have got a new wave of Polish immigration, young people who come here to improve their material status. Many say that they will return to Poland, many will stay for sure. But they are using what the earlier Polish immigrants have built, so they use the churches and all that the Church can give to people, especially the young ones, i.e. sacramental services: young people often prepare to enter into marriage, they want to go to confession, etc.

- I had the opportunity to visit your parish. Indeed, the parish is very nice, many parishioners are very zealous, involved in the parish life, appreciating their Polish origin, referring to the Polish traditions. But something new begins, new people are coming...

- We remember your stay with us very well... At the beginning we were surprised how many Poles decided to look for jobs in London. We tried to help them, e.g. by organising lessons of English since many Poles came with no knowledge of the local language, which made them face serious problems. Those who knew the language, at least some basics, could find a job more easily and they did much better. Naturally, we helped them take part in the liturgy in a fuller way, e.g. young people can attend the Mass that is celebrated in the evening, and they are wonderfully involved in the liturgy. The young people have brought the experiences of various religious groups from Poland. I am very glad that so many young Poles can organise their lives to attend services although many of them work on Sundays, which creates additional difficulty. We try to combine all these things, help them so that they will not fall into depression because of the hardships of living in another country.

- I see that you are happy because of these new, friendly and very dynamic young Catholics...

- Of course, I am. They have renewed the parish. For a longer period I was the youngest Pole at various meetings. At the moment there are very many young families, young married couples. For example, our Saturday school has 270 pupils now and before it had 120. Young people are willing to come to the Church and meet the needs with kindness. Because of the wave of young Poles to the parish we are expecting another priest and we had to provide accommodation for him. After the evening Mass I asked whether somebody would help me, for some small pay: we were not prepared to offer high wages. Several young people volunteered to work for free and even they delivered some building materials. I am impressed by such an attitude. However, one must see certain problems, too. Currently, it is hard to speak about them, but for instance there is the problem of living, which requires deeper ministry.

- Now I want to ask Fr Janusz. How do you find the Polish community in America, the community that has the traditions of the 20th century and also certain symptoms of the 21st century?

Fr. Janusz Lipski: - The old Polish community has been undoubtedly connected with the parish very much. This is also true of the Americans of Polish background, born in the U.S.A., who are related to their parishes, created by their fathers or grandfathers. Whereas the younger Polish immigrants, who came in the 1980s, or the later ones, have been less involved in the parishes, many a time only occasionally. Since these are communities formed from members of the whole Polish community and from all over Poland. Because of that our ministry is more difficult since that Polish community has not always been close to the Church. Life in the United States, constant work, daily cares sometimes make many people or families forget religious and moral values. However, we have Polish Saturday schools with many pupils and many young people are involved in the life of the Church. There are Polish priests who are eager to minister and who understand that apart from strengthening people's faith they need to maintain the Polish culture, language, and they try to do that in their pastoral ministry.

- What do you think is the standard of living of the Polish community in New York?

- One must admit that the Polish community is fairly dynamic. The young Polish immigrants are educated, they know languages, many a time have wonderful professions, and thanks to that they are doing well and can work effectively in the United States. Some have their own businesses, which function quite well in this territory. These are people who are also very involved in the Polish matters: we can see them create Polish organisations that help Polish immigrants in various difficulties. It is not perhaps seen on a wide scale, nevertheless one can feel it in the social life of the Polish community in America.

- And there are priests who help to build bridges between the homeland and the reality of the immigrants' new country...

- Of course, a lot depends on the priests' involvement. At the moment we have enough young Polish priests who minister to the Polish immigrants and truly contribute to enriching the Polish culture and strengthening Polishness in the United States.

- It is often said that one can learn patriotism, love for one's country, when one leaves for America and observes churches packed with people on national holidays or observes patriotic meetings. I think that you are a good witness to confirm that.

- Yes, I am and I can confirm that. Please pay attention to the famous parade of Polishness, which occurs annually, on the first Sunday of October in Manhattan, in the Fifth Avenue, and which is presided by the Polish American Congress, and which is usually welcomed by the Cardinal of New York. Thousands of Poles take part in it: children, youth, organisations, and parishes. I have participated in it several times. This is an expression of adherence to the Polish culture, to our history, religion and faith, which priests maintain. This is also an expression of the unity of the Polish community, community that we create with the faithful in parishes and Polish organisations existing in the state of New York.

- A symbol of patriotism is also the knowledge of the language. What does the knowledge of Polish look like in the Polish community?

- It depends on particular families who bring up their children. If parents want to teach Polish language and culture to their children they have such a possibility given by the state and the Church. The so-called Polish Saturday schools are organised in parishes and numerous children attend them. In the district of Long Island we have such Polish Saturday schools in almost every parish. I admire many families who do not only observe Polish traditions in their homes but also do their best to teach Polish to their children, which constitutes the Polish culture and adherence to the Polish spirit. Naturally, there are many families that want somehow to be alienated from the Polish spirit and they neglect these matters to a large extent. But generally speaking the Polish immigrants express their adherence to the Polish tradition, faith and Polish community through participation in the liturgy, cultural meetings, historical anniversaries or national holidays.

- Father Aleksander, being in London I also noticed that the older Polish immigrants are characterised by extraordinary patriotism. You can feel Poland there...

Fr A.O.: - Yes, you can. Although I think that today the situation is somewhat different in this respect, other forms of living change the attitude a little. We have also young immigrants at the traditional patriotic meetings since the children of these Poles are connected with the parish through the school. In England there are about 100 Polish churches where Poles gather on Sundays. Quite a number of young people from Poland attend Catholic services in English churches. I think that it is also a manifestation of one's adherence to religiousness and patriotism although it may have a different form. One can observe intense activities of Poles in the media: many Polish weeklies are published in London. They are sponsored from various sources but they contain a lot of information that helps Poles organise themselves. They also contain information about our Sunday meetings, Holy Masses in every church.

- We send our 'Niedziela' to your parish, too. How is it received?

- Naturally 'Niedziela' is received with kindness although as I have already mentioned there are lots of weeklies, especially in London the number of weeklies is extraordinary. One must continuously popularise 'Niedziela' as a Catholic paper and extremely important paper to maintain the patriotic and religious identity of Poles. We receive ca. 15 copies of 'Niedziela'. I notice that some families look forward to receiving it, for them it is a very important element of formation.

- And how does 'Niedziela' influence the life of the Polish community in America? I must say that our Chicago edition is going to embrace all America and will be entitled 'Niedziela Amerykanska' [American Sunday]. What is your opinion on publishing 'Niedziela' for the Polish immigrants?

Fr.J.L: - I think that this conversation will contribute to our collaboration in distributing 'Niedziela', which is actually the only truly Catholic paper known in America to a wide extent. The American edition of 'Niedziela' originated in Chicago where its editorial board is located. And we have distributed the national edition in New York. Now we should become more active to spread this weekly, which is so essential to our culture and faith. Undoubtedly, the Polish community does not always understand the significance of Catholic papers. Our hard work is needed here. And we will do that.

- You are celebrating your 40th anniversaries of priesthood. You have come to Jasna Gora on this occasion and have had your retreats and prayers. What were your intentions and thoughts that you have brought to Our Lady of Czestochowa?

Fr A.O: - I came to Jasna Gora to express through Mary my love and gratitude for Lord God. Therefore, the motto of my stay at Jasna Gora and the motto of my thanksgiving to Lord God for the years of my priesthood is the words of Ps 118, 'You are my God, I give you thanks, I extol you, my God'. This is the fundamental feature of the Polish religiousness, especially of our priesthood: we come to Mary with all our serious matters; she was given to us as our Mother, 'Do whatever he tells you.' These words accompany my life. Of course, the jubilee is also a time to look back and make some summaries. I recall the first parishes where I worked, and I recall those extraordinary periods of work like my missionary ministry in Zambia or my 17 years of work among the Polish immigrants. So in this general experience and thanksgiving to Lord God there is also a request directed to God that he would accept all that I have done during those years, accept as my work under his and the Holy Spirit's command, and I ask God to continue blessing my priesthood.

Fr. J.L: - For each of us the 40th anniversary of priesthood is undoubtedly connected with many achievements. The jubilee lets us entrust these years to Mary so that she passes these efforts of our priestly ministry to her Son. This is also an expression of gratitude to Lord God for the gift of priesthood. For this reason we have met here, in the house of the Mother, where we co-celebrated Mass and attended a special Appeal of Jasna Gora conducted by our fellows priests from the class. We want to ask God for further blessing for us and our colleagues doing various jobs in parishes both in Poland and other ends of the world.

- We wish you and your class numerous God's graces, strength, health and all the best in our activities. May our Lady and Queen of Jasna Gora lavishly bless you. We thank you that our weekly can host in your parishes, and please remember us every week. Through our media we want to support your activities wherever you serve Poles. God bless!

"Niedziela" 37/2007

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