Fr Ireneusz Skubis talks to Bishop Ryszard Karpinski, who was the delegate of the Polish Conference of Bishops for Polish Immigrants for five years.
Fr Ireneusz Skubis: – You finished your five-year term as the delegate of the Polish Bishops’ Conference for Polish Immigrants. Please tell us first why you got interested in the problems of our immigrants? How did it all begin?
Bishop Ryszard Karpinski: – My studies in Rome, experiencing the Millennium in the Eternal City and in the USA, seeing the situation of Polish immigrants in various countries; then 14 years of work in the migration section in the Pontifical Commission for Migrants and Itinerant Peoples. I was responsible for that section. I dealt with the pastoral ministry of various nationalities. It was not only office work. I co-organised various meetings and congresses as well as on behalf of our office I took part in many gatherings, meetings and congresses organised by other bodies.
– And you had to say good-bye to Rome. Now I can understand better why you chose your motto ’Viatoribus fer auxilium’ (Help travellers). How did you manage to fulfil your motto in the Polish reality?
– In various ways. I shared my experiences of working in the Apostolic See in my homilies. Moreover, I was responsible for the Team of Help for the Church in the East. I was able to get to know better the situation of the Church and our fellow countrymen who lived there. On behalf of the Polish Bishops’ Conference I took part in various meetings, European or international congresses. I represented the Bishops’ Conference in the International Catholic Migration Commission, located in Geneva. I knew the problems of our migrants and their pastoral ministry was close to me. I belonged to the Bishops’ Conference Commission for the Polonia and Poles Abroad. I gave my opinions concerning the issues of our fellow countrymen living abroad during the plenary sessions of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. I also used my holiday or other trips to meet Polish communities. Thus I reached Ukraine, Romania or distant Uruguay.
– That’s why you became the delegate of the Polish Conference of Bishops for Polish immigrants on 2 May 2003. What did you think then?
– I thought that what I had treated as my personal hobby I would have to do in a more official way and on behalf of the whole Church in Poland. I knew I was to continue the great Polish pastoral ministry on the foundations of my honourable predecessors: Archbishop Gawlina, Cardinal Rubin and Archbishop Wesoly. Therefore, I wanted to get to know in loco the situation of the Polish pastoral ministry and I threw myself into travelling. I remember booking and buying 10 air tickets in the Polish Airlines Office on one day. Within the past five years I made 74 trips abroad. Some of them embraced two or three countries. And I visited the USA 17 times; we know that there is the biggest Polish community there; I visited Germany 13 times; I was 11 times in France, 9 – in Italy, 6 in Great Britain, 4 – in Switzerland, 3 – in Canada, twice in Spain, Ukraine, Belgium, Belarus, Austria, Ireland, Sweden and Holland; I also visited our communities in Luxemburg, Mexico, Greece, Israel, Russia, Romania, the Republic of South Africa, Australia, Hungary and Argentina.
– Besides getting to know their situations you had the chance to participate in various celebrations together with your fellow countrymen almost all over the world...
–Undoubtedly, I had the occasion to experience first the 25th anniversary of the pontificate of John Paul II, together with the Polish community. Then I experienced Poland’s accession to the EU, the death of the Holy Father and several other celebrations. I gave three homilies (in English and Polish) in St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York (last year Cardinal Egan presided over the liturgy). I preached once in French and Polish in Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris (the main celebrant was Cardinal Lustiger). I preached in Polish in Westminster Cathedral in London, I preached twice in St Agnes’ Cathedral in Rockville Centre, in the USA (in Polish), once in St Stephen’s Cathedral in Vienna (in Polish as well), once in the Our Lady of the Assumption Cathedral in Odessa, which was a sports hall not long time ago; I participated in the dedication of the cathedral of Jassy, Romania and taking that occasion I visited the Polish community in Bucharest and Romanian Bucovina as well as the dedication of the Divine Mercy Shrine in Keysborough in the suburb of Melbourne, Australia. I celebrated many Masses for our Polish communities in various churches in Chicago; I administered the sacrament of confirmation twice in Milwaukee, in the restored Polish parish. I celebrated Mass for Poles in Dublin for the first time (9 January 2005) – earlier Polish people had had their Mass in the hall of the Polish Social-Cultural Centre). I participated in two meetings of the PAPA (Polish-American Priests Association). I was in Vitebsk, Belarus, twice at the invitation of Bishop Wladyslaw Blina. I celebrated liturgy in the local cathedral and took part in the Eucharistic procession, which ended the Eucharistic Year in that diocese. I also visited Archbishop Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz in Moscow and Bishop Kazimierz Wielikosielec of Brest.
– These trips required various arrangements. You could not settle everything on the phone.
– Naturally, I often used the electronic mail, and I seldom used the fax. I limited my letters as much as possible but I registered 2,875 entries in my correspondence book. I usually sent a thematic letter for Christmas and Easter to the rectors of the Polish missions. Some priest, who had other important duties in the archdiocese, helped me for several hours a week.
– And what about your personal matters? We need priests for the ‘old’ immigration and for the new immigrants. You had to create new pastoral structures, for example in Ireland.
– These are usually the most difficult matters. To find appropriate people to given centres, to convince the hierarchy in the given country to help our Polish immigrants to confess their faith in their native language, preserving their own identity... But I gradually managed to do that. I could used my former Roman connections with many people who were responsible for immigrants’ ministries in various countries, my knowledge of the documents issued by the Apostolic See and the appeal of the Holy Father Benedict XVI in the Archcathedral in Warsaw as well as my frequent meetings with those who were responsible for the Polish pastoral missions in various countries.
– Your resignation is a little sudden and unexpected. Can you really withdraw from your active life in the field of immigrants’ ministry?
– All functions in the Polish Bishops’ Conference are given for a certain period, mostly for five years. I decided to use the occasion of the approaching end of my term and asked that it would not to be prolonged since I am approaching my retirement and you must take more care for your health, too. I will still be active as auxiliary bishop. I might have more time to write memoirs and share my rich experiences concerning the field of immigrants’ pastoral ministry.