With prayer and might in the Upper Silesian Coal Basin
Rev. Msg Ireneusz Skubis talks to Bishop Grzegorz Kaszak of Sosnowiec.
REV. MSG IRENEUSZ SKUBIS: – Several months have passed since you assumed your pastoral duties in the Diocese of Sosnowiec. You must think of some plan of concrete pastoral work as the bishop of Zaglebie (the Upper Silesian Coal Basin). What direction will you take?
BISHOP GRZEGORZ KASZAK: – I began my ministry as the bishop of Sosnowiec in the year which Pope Benedict XVI announced as the Year for Priests. We know that it took place on 19 June 2009 on the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Because of that I still have a lot of pastoral reflections. The Holy Father suggests us to reread the priestly vocation in the year especially dedicated to Saint John Vianney. It is not by accident that Benedict XVI points to the Holy Curate of Ars. He wants us to notice that St John Vianney lived in the times of the French Revolution, which – as we know – made havoc in the Church and people’s awareness. Priests were persecuted, had to hide themselves and ministered sacraments secretly. John Vianney himself received his First Communion in a barn. Of course, a parish without his priest becomes empty. Fr Vianney used to say, ‘Leave a parish without a priest for 20 years and beasts will be worshipped.’ He was right. He arrived at Ars, a small village of 230 people, and what did he find there? Instead of going to church the peasants went to inns. Theft and deception were common and nobody was surprised. The local people were extremely indifferent to the matters of faith. They thought, ‘You as a priest can say what you wish and we have our own lives. There were even elements of hostility towards the person of Fr Vianney, but what struck most was their religious indifference. Fr Vianney suffered since he loved Lord Jesus and knew how much he had done for us and that he was ready to give his graces to people, but he faced such a wall of coldness, indifference and hatred there. We can see similar attitudes now although we are living in different times. What did Fr John Vianney do then? He chose a programme of asceticism, which we could summarise as: prayer and repentance. Thanks to that, in spite of the fact that he did not have great intellectual talents, he did not only change his parish completely but also contributed to the conversions of many French intellectuals of those times. However, we know that he spent even 16 hours in the confessional; many a time there were 300 people waiting to confess their sins. It was his example and God’s grace that brought conversions, and the inns were closed and people’s mentality was profoundly changed. Therefore, the first, very important step in my pastoral work is a fervent appeal to priests to follow the example of St John Vienney and become encouraged by his faith, especially if they work in difficult conditions and people’s attendance at Sunday Mass is low.
Today we often speak about poverty, crisis. Ars was also a very poor small parish. And we can see how much Fr Vianney did there. Among other things he found a school for poor children, which functioned very well in this little village. He was very sensitive to the needs of the poor. And this is also a sign for me that we, as the local Church in Sosnowiec, must do our best to help those in need. Another matter – in his letter inaugurating the Year for Priests Benedict XVI appeals to priests to notice a new spring that the Holy Spirit awakens in the Church through new movements and new ecclesiastical communities. For me this confirms what I said at the beginning of my work in the diocese: we must open ourselves to movements and associations in the Church – to those that have already been created and to the new ones. The number of priests decreases and the number of priestly vocations varies. Besides, a priest cannot reach everywhere. Therefore, we need many laymen involved in various activities in the Church.
– Now a question concerning concrete activities to increase the number of priestly vocations comes to my mind somehow automatically.
– Today the situation does not differ from that one during the times of Jesus. We remember that he remarked, ‘The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few…’ (Luke 10:2). And let us listen to his instruction. He, God Almighty himself, knowing everything including the future, said, ‘so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest’, which means, ‘pray, pray!’ And for me this is the first and fundamental task. I would like to make the diocese sensitive to the need of prayer for vocations. My late parish priest used to spend long hours praying for holy priestly and religious vocations in our community. And I am praying for them in my new Diocese of Sosnowiec. Every day I pray in the intention of vocations and I encourage all people to pray. I simply trust Lord Jesus. If he said so, if he gave us such a guideline, we should first pray in this intention. But an example of a good priest will always be important since examples draw others. In his letter the Holy Father also writes that he remembers his parish priest who worked zealously. He remembers him taking the last communion to dying people. See: the Pope who is over 80 says, ‘I remember my parish priest.’ These are very beautiful testimonies. We really have wonderful priests who worked in difficult conditions here in Zaglebie. I visit various parishes and learn: my predecessor has such difficulties – we all know how the communists managed to make our lives difficult, but that priest was dedicated to his work and was courageous facing the hardships. Such examples inspire and encourage us.
– You brought valuable experiences of family ministry in Rome. Are you going to apply them while making pastoral decisions in the Diocese of Sosnowiec?
– In Sosnowiec we have the Diocesan Help Centre for the Family and Life. The Centre has an adoption unit and helpline and all kinds of counselling. I would like to strengthen and develop this centre very much. At the same time, as I have already mentioned, as far as the family is concerned I would like to help poor families, e.g. through the Caritas circles. Caritas does wonderful work. I would like to meet the material needs of families, in particular families with many children who, unfortunately, suffered much during the crisis. I also dream of developing pro-life and family movements. Visiting various local churches in the world, together with Cardinal Alfonso Lopez Trujillo, who was the President of the Pontifical Council for the Family, and also travelling alone, I noticed that these movements were very strong and did a lot of good. Simply – one family helps another family, gives testimony, strengthens and enriches other families. And it seems that you can reach those who sometimes are away from the Church by good examples of strong Polish families.
– Nowadays people discuss the issue of in vitro fertilisation. What is your opinion on this matter?
– What we can see happening in the world is a big, very well-organised campaign financed through huge means. The aim is to separate procreation from the family. But the will of Lord God, the Creator of the universe, is different. He told the first parents Adam and Eve, ‘Be fertile and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it’ (Genesis 1:28). I want to emphasize. Lord God spoke those words to a married couple. He wanted life to be transmitted by the marital act. In a way he shared his creative power and defined the rights of the act of procreation. And he looks at what man is doing. He can see how he opposes him. I admire God’s patience. He bears our superiority and opposition towards his will. And I think that the discussion concerning the defence of life that is conducted in Poland and in the world is part of the big campaign against Lord God. I can see another step towards favouring society without God, opposing his wise eternal laws. What does the Church say? Since in vitro fertilisation is contrary to the will of Lord God one cannot support it. I zealously encourage all people of good will – this is not only a matter of the Church, this is a Polish matter – so that the Polish nation does not oppose God. Personally, I think that the consequences of this opposition will be tragic. We have already had big problems related to the artificial fertilisation that is conducted in Poland – we do not know what to do with the embryos that live in dangerous conditions, practically exposed to death and these are conceived human beings. These are tiny defenceless people! Some ask, ‘How can you help a childless couple who has the right to have a baby? Man belongs to Lord God and not to another man. He is only entrusted with this gift to develop it, bring a child up according to the mind of God. Therefore, I want to make a fervent appeal: ‘Forbid in vitro fertilisation, please!’ Indeed, it is difficult for me to support a son of the Church and the one that proposes something that contradicts Lord God. Some ask the question how to react when there will be only projects allowing the technique of artificial fertilisation. My reflection is as follows. On the basis of the Holy Scriptures and the statements of the Magisterium of the Church we know that this technique is a moral evil. We also know that some projects are more liberal than others. I suggest rejecting, eliminating the more liberal projects by proposing more restrictive ones. However, we would deal with the principle that could be summarised: overcome evil with evil. But we cannot find such a principle in the Bible. On the contrary, we must follow the principle ‘overcome evil with good.’ Therefore, it is not permissible to eliminate, limit or liquidate evil by lesser evil, which always remains evil. Hence I have the certainty that one must reject all projects, even the more restrictive ones, which aim at legalising the technique of in vitro fertilisation. That’s why, in the name of responsibility for our nation, I make my ardent appeal again.
– In Poland, also in Zaglebie, we face the problem of decreasing attendance at Sunday Mass. How are you going to cope with this problem in your diocese?
– I would like to refer to the example of St John Vianney who faced that problem, too. We know that he knelt and prayed long hours in front of the Tabernacle, that he mortified himself as well. Therefore, for me and all the priests of the Diocese of Sosnowiec it is a certain challenge. We must begin looking at ourselves. Besides, when I talk to people who rarely go to church – for a wedding, funeral or baptism – I can hear that what strikes them most is sermons. They focus on priest’s words, what he is to say. For me it is a sign that sermons or homilies should be well prepared not only concerning its content but fist of all, sermons should be preached with power. And here we again refer to the programme of St John Vianney who had prayed long hours before preaching and spoke such words that reached people’s hearts and transformed them.
– Your Excellency, Sosnowiec and Zaglebie have always zealously collaborated with ‘Niedziela’ and contributed to it both before and after the war. There were even inserts, e.g. for the parish of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary. Many old priests, who were appointed to the Diocese of Sosnowiec after the restructure of the Church in Poland, remember the wonderful relationships between ‘Niedziela’ and Zaglebie. ‘In a way ‘Niedziela’ belongs to Sosnowiec…
– I am extremely thankful for this work, for reliable information and that the weekly devotes so many pages to the problems of the local people; that it encourages them. Through your articles you try to help people who are living here. I also have my own ideas how to develop this collaboration. Since reading Catholic press is a very important element of formation. Being confused by the news that shapes our views I think that ‘Niedziela’ has important tasks to fulfil. The weekly plays a great role as far as deepening the truths of faith is concerned. It transmits the teaching of the Church and popularises the speeches of the Holy Father. Sometimes one must direct people, tell them that there is such a weekly as ‘Niedziela’, which shows various problems in the light of the Gospel, for example, what we have discussed – in vitro fertilisation. And I thank you for writing about this issue and for the fact, which I know, that you often face opposition.