Being a Polish missionary in Scandinavia

Rev. Msgr. Ireneusz Skubis talks to Fr Leszek Kapusta, CSsR, a Redemptorist working in Denmark.

Rev. Msgr Ireneusz Skubis: – You have been realising your priesthood in special missions...

Fr Leszek Kapusta, CSsR: – For over 23 years I worked mostly in South America; I worked 15 years in Bolivia. I finished my studies in moral theology in Madrid. For almost five years I have been working in Copenhagen, Denmark, at first ministering among Spanish-speaking people and for three years working with Poles.

– What is the Polish community like in Denmark and how have you been working with them?

– Denmark is relatively close to us because we are neighbours through the Baltic Sea and that’s why there are numerous Polish people there. They came to Denmark in various times: at the end of the 18th century and at the beginning of the 21st century; after World War II, during the ‘Solidarity’ times; the recent Polish immigrants came to work here. Today there are over 20,000 Poles in Denmark, most of them living in Copenhagen and in the vicinity as well as in other big cities like Odense or Aalborg. This is my first ministry among the Polish people and I am satisfied with this work very much.

– What are the Poles who come to church in Denmark?

– The old Polish community is firmly connected with the Church, according to the saying, ‘A Pole is a Catholic.’ Sometimes those Poles have been ‘Danish’ – entered this atmosphere, mixed with the Danish society. But the present wave of Polish immigration is diversified. Many young people are connected with the Church. Before they leave for Denmark they look for pastoral centres in the Internet. They call us, ask for some church, Mass. But there are many young people who come here only to work and church attendance is not so important to them. Besides those pious believers they are also people who seek material help, who find it difficult to function in the Danish society.

– Do you feel you are needed?

– Yes, I do. Perhaps there are no so many people who would like to talk – although some do come to me – but almost always before Mass people want to go to confession. Parents with children come to religious instruction lessons, often making a sacrifice since they must drive 70 or even 100 km to have their child attend the religious instruction lessons. Similarly young people. Last year I organised a premarital course for over 50 couples. Although only three of them got married in Copenhagen and the rest in Poland but the very fact of attendance in this course gives joy: young people do not forget God but want to keep their faith.

– What does the structure of the Danish pastoral ministry in the Catholic Church look like?

– There is only one diocese in Copenhagen, one bishop Czeslaw Kozon, who has a Polish background, although there is also Bishop emeritus Hans Ludwig Martensen. The diocese has several parishes. There are also filial churches with territorial parishes. And there is pastoral ministry for foreigners, for 11 nationalities who usually have their chaplains. There are no personal parishes as there are in Germany. It makes pastoral ministry difficult a little since, for example, the Polish Catholic Mission is a well-organised centre, functioning as a parish but it has no parish rights. We depend directly on the bishopric both in pastoral and economic activities, but we are in St Anne’s parish in Copenhagen.

– Is the co-operation with the Danish bishop and the Danish diocese good?

– Yes, it is. Our collaboration with the local bishop is very good. As I mentioned he has a Polish origin; he speaks Polish and is eager to celebrate Mass for the Polish community. But the collaboration with other priests from the Danish Church is not always good. Some are very friendly towards foreigners, including Poles, but some dislike them. The present parish priest in St Anne’s Church is Polish and has a friendly attitude towards the Polish community and our relationships are very good…

– Denmark is a Protestant country. What are your impressions about this religion and what about its pastoral practices?

– Like the other Scandinavian countries Denmark has been Protestant since the time of the reform ‘Cuius regio, eius religio’ (Whose realm, his religion) and Catholicism was forbidden for a long time. For over one hundred years the Catholic Church has had a free hand but the Protestant Church is the official Church. But the local Protestantism is not a matter of faith and spirit but a matter of culture. The Danish think that religion is part of their national culture and that’s why they are eager to pay the church tax, care for the restoration and maintenance of the Protestant churches, pastors, organists, etc., but they seldom go to church.

– And what does the moral life of the Danish look like – are they honest; how do the young people behave...

– The older Danish generations followed moral principles; everyone wanted to be honest, solid, diligent and responsible. The influence of the Protestant spirituality on daily life was very strong. One should follow the Christian principles and did not cling to material values. Whereas the new generations are not Danish but European – such young people are all over Europe – influenced by various trends, including the secular ones. Religion is not a big value for the young generations. Like the youth in other European countries young Danes ignore moral principles, e.g. premarital sex. In Denmark partner relationships, without the sacrament of matrimony, are popular, which of course contributes to numerous divorces. However, I want to repeat these patterns of behaviour are not Danish but they result from the neo-pagan European culture.

– What do you think of Europe from the Danish perspective? Has it got the chance to experience a Christian revival and return to the roots?

– The neo-pagan trend is clearly visible and it rejects the Christian roots. One can look at it with sadness and reflection, ‘Quo vadis, Europe’… Many things, especially those concerning moral or religious principles, are upside down. Please notice that today’s Europe is fighting against faith, especially the Catholic Church. Protestantism has given up whereas the Muslim religion, Islam, is growing in numbers and strength.
As far as the Christian revival in Europe is concerned I think that we should not be totally pessimistic because there are movements, associations, young people who want this Christian revival, who struggle for it. I think it is our hope in the future. It is hard to say whether there will be a universal revival of the Church in Europe but certainly these movements – the charismatic or youth movements or communities like Taize – will influence Christianity in Europe.

– You are a Redemptorist and as we know congregations have big roles to play, especially in those places where Paganism flourish. Does Europe need your activities?

– The main charisma of our Congregation is missions. I can say that in Bolivia, in South America, I enjoyed ministering because the people sought and needed priests whereas Danes are not interested in priests – perhaps Poles show bigger interests in the Church and they need priests. But in the Danish society priests are not needed. It is much harder for priests to work with such people who are secularised and not interested in spiritual matters. Priests are needed – as some Danes say – only to baptise and bury. Despite these things we cannot give up. We must sow in hard soil and hope that the seed of God’s word will yield fruit one day.

– What advice would you give to young Poles who consider going to work in Denmark?

– Not long ago it was quite easy to get a job in Denmark, both in cities and villages, in agriculture. But today because of the crisis there are fewer jobs and the unemployment is big. So young Poles who would like to go to Denmark or to Scandinavia should find some jobs in advance. When young immigrants arrive in Denmark. I think contacts with the Polish Catholic Mission can be useful because they will have support in religion and the people who speak their language, who belong to the same nation. I invite them and ask others to invite Poles to come to us because it is easier to live and work being together in such a national group, language and religious group.

"Niedziela" 29/2010

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