Let us help restore hope
Rev. Msgr. Ireneusz Skubis talks to Rev. Msgr. Marian Subocz, director of Caritas Polska about helping people who were affected by floods.
Rev. Msgr. Ireneusz Skubis: – We are witnessing a great disaster. We can watch pictures of floods: flooded farms, houses sliding down from slopes, helpless people crying. We recollect the pictures of bombarded cities. How has Caritas Polska reacted?
Rev. Msgr. Marian Subocz: – Indeed, it is a big tragedy that has touched 15 dioceses in Poland. Caritas employees went to those places at once, when the flood began. I visited six dioceses and saw how big the losses were and how much people suffered. They lost their houses, places of work; farmers lost cattle and fields were flooded – the only source of their income. When we show our solidarity, when we try to help them this disaster will be soothed somehow.
The help of Caritas Polska has two stages. The first one is a short-term help: transport of mineral water, food, bed sheets and the most necessary means. And the second one is a long-term help because these people, mainly sick, disabled, retired or families with many children, the poor, helpless, will not manage to rebuild their houses, which were destroyed, or their farms on their own.
– How many houses – in your opinion – how many people, how many hectares have been affected by this disaster? Have you got some concrete picture of the tragedy?
– On the basis of the data sent to us by the directors of the Caritas offices in the flood-affected dioceses we can say that ca. 20,000 flats have been damaged – some less and some more depending on how long they were flooded; ca. 70,000 people were left without any place to live; ca. 400,000 hectares are under water. We must also remember that in some dioceses, e.g. in the diocese of Sandomierz, water has remained for three weeks and damages will be huge there.
– What priority help will people receive? What do they need most? How can we help them?
– All people need first help, short-term, i.e. most necessary things because people often left their houses in a hurry. As far as the long-term help is concerned, as I have already mentioned, we first of all want to help the sick, the disabled, multi-children families, those who cannot rebuild their houses themselves. We cannot replace and do not replace the state since its role is of key character. But based on collaboration, joint activities, we are trying to help those who need help urgently and in some sense we unburden the state.
How can we help? There are various forms. The simplest and fastest is the charity SMS – call 72052 and write POMAGAM [I help]. It costs 2.44 zloty and it has given us ca. 5 million zloty. We have also opened bank accounts, which can be found at our website www.caritas.pl. But first of all, we wholeheartedly appeal to all companies that have got construction materials: when water flows down and the flooded flats are cleaned they need to be renovated or rebuilt. It is known that they will need more money. If the companies could give construction materials… Moreover, it is important to care for the children of the flood-stricken families because they have lost everything and we need to provide school fittings. Schools need to be rebuilt, too. We should organise vacations for those children since they have experienced terrible traumas, perhaps bigger than adults. Besides, through the diocesan offices of Caritas you can offer clothes – we especially appeal to companies producing clothes because we need new clothes. These people cannot be blamed for this tragedy and we cannot give them something we do not need, some old clothes we want to get rid of.
– Are the activities of Caritas more effective and better co-ordinated with other institutions that can help, taking into account the experiences from the flood in 1997 and the last year’s disasters?
– Certainly, conclusions have been drawn from the previous floods, for instance that Caritas has always some means at its disposal and they can be distributed at once. We have also started our own SMS service. We have also asked Caritas Europa and Caritas Internationalis for help and now we have invited the charity help director in Brussels Mr Harald Happel who will participate in the conference of Caritas directors from the flood-stricken dioceses and will visit these dioceses to see the situation and discuss what help can be offered. We mean the long-term help, mainly help to rebuild the flood-stricken houses. But I would like to stress one thing that many companies felt responsible for others and immediately offered their help. Let me mention the mobile telephone companies: Plus, Orange, Era, Play, Heyah, Sami Swoi, which responded to our request at once, starting charity SMS services.
– Do these companies have to pay VAT?
– This VAT is 0.44 zloty. We have just been informed that those organisations that have charity SMS will get the paid VAT back. I hope that the situation will be better since non-governmental and charity organisations can act quicker, without any procedures, without unnecessary bureaucracy and we can give concrete help at once. But state institutions are often obliged to certain procedures. Many companies offered us their help. For instance, Carrefour Polska assigned 160,000 euro to buy washcloths and driers – we have bought them. Polpharma offered medicaments for 1,300,000 zloty; Biedronka gave ca. 70,000 zloty and together with Tesco allowed food collections in their shops. Help was offered by POLOmarket – 40 contractors, Stella Pack SA, Quickpack Polska, Nutricia Polska, Castorama, Sokolow SA and Zaklady Miesne Jaroslaw (food cans), Kärcher Ltd., Wedel, Globol Polska, Ltd. (chemical products) and others. We sent ca. 300 transports with food, detergents and water.
– And what about the farmers who have no fodder for their cattle?
– As far as I know ‘Niedziela’ has proposed some partner help – family helps family. You can contact the Caritas director of the given diocese – the addresses can be found at www.caritas.pl. But school can help school, farmer or a group of farmers can care for those flood-affected ones. So it is good that we can mention that and appeal for partnership.
– And what about the people who have nowhere to sleep and live? Can they only rely on their families or are there more possibilities to receive help?
– Certainly, the local authorities organise such help as well as Caritas. Visiting the Caritas office in Sandomierz I saw the families who were affected by floods. But of course, the office cannot help all of them. The office organised meals for them and also for the firemen and soldiers.
– The Holy Father Benedict XVI sent money, too...
– Yes, he did. It is great joy that the Holy Father remembered us and through the Pontifical Council ‘Cor Unum’ sent 50,000 euro for the victims of the floods. The money will be given to those who need it most urgently. In some sense it is a gesture of courage and thanksgiving for companies and people of good will who have been involved in this help and also an encouragement to all people not to leave those in need. Speaking about solidarity – today we should show solidarity as never before – John Paul II stressed that solidarity meant ‘bear one another’s burdens’ (see Galatians 6:2). Some part of our society is in such a difficult situation that must bear this burden again, but it is not their fault. This was the case of the Diocese of Czestochowa that experienced a hurricane. And so it is now. Some dioceses have to cope with the third flood – the same people who rebuilt their houses and have not paid their loans yet, have been affected again by flood. Moreover, the landslides in Lanckorona, in the Diocese of Krakow or the Diocese of Tarnow. We should organise help for those people since solidarity is to share God’s gifts that give us life. Then we are a community, a community of people but we also have contact with Lord God who created this good for us. And for us, believers, the greatest gift of God is the Eucharist from which we can draw strength. We must save people in this evangelical spirit, too.
– What is your collaboration with the state and other institutions like?
– Caritas is an institution of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, a charity organisation. We co-operate with all institutions that want to help, regardless of the background and religion of victims. Anyone that is in a difficult situation is most important. We appeal to the state to offer some reliefs and we ask for bigger imagination of the state officials concerning extraordinary matters, including immediate implementation of some products, e.g. baking bread. Because we cannot give flour to people who have no electricity and cannot produce anything. That’s why we appeal for bigger imagination. Generally speaking, the collaboration is good. We are receiving aid from abroad. We have received over 80,000 euros and over 6,000 dollars from donors from Western Europe (the Polish immigrants).
– Recently you have been to Madrid and had the chance to present our problems in the European forum…
– It was the conference of the national Caritas directors. They all assured me that they would help. They expressed their compassion and I think that the fruit of the visit was the trip of the director of Caritas Europa, about which I have already mentioned.
– I think that the important thing is to emphasise ordinary human solidarity – Polish, national and European.
– Definitely. Since we depend on one another. We live in community. Like in the family: child depends on its parents while growing and maturing because parents work for children, help them and later parents depend on their children in some way because when they are old, sick and infirm, they need their help. We all are one family. And I also think that the Polish bishops’ letter to all parishes and dioceses to organise help for the flood-stricken was in the spirit of such a community. Collections were organised, the funds are coming and when we receive them we will distribute them in a fair way.
– The Apostolic Nuncio to Haiti has just visited Poland. Did he mention the question of help for this region, which was stricken by the terrible earthquake in January?
– As Caritas Polska we try to help our citizens but we are present abroad, too. We invited the Nuncio to Haiti to pay a three day visit to Poland to discuss three fundamental projects, conducted by Caritas Polska in Haiti. They concern schools. We must remember that in Haiti illiteracy is very big. Education gives people some chance. Therefore, we are building three schools: for 1,700 children, for 1,500 teenagers and a boarding school for 500 pupils. These are big projects but they can be realised thanks to the generosity of our nation. One should remember that if we are victims we receive help from others. But if others are victims we must open ourselves and help them. This is what people’s solidarity is about: to support and bear the burdens together because then it is easier and first of all, people regain hope. And without hope man cannot do anything. Helping those in need is restoring hope.
– Will Caritas realise some concrete projects for the flood-stricken in Poland, which will be long-term projects?
– Yes, it will. Such projects are being prepared now. We will discuss them with the directors of Caritas offices in the affected areas. We mean help to rebuild houses, help for farmers and children from these regions. Our projects will be realised when we receive financial means. We must remember one thing: these people need a long-tern help, sometimes help for several years. Such help has been realised through parish Caritas teams, which are 4,800 in Poland and through diocesan teams – 44, and naturally, in unity with Caritas Polska.
– The readers of ‘Niedziela’ are surely anxious about churches, cathedrals and cemeteries in the flood-stricken areas.
– This is also a big problem. Being in the Diocese of Sandomierz I saw the pictures of this tragedy from an amphibian for three hours. There is an area which is now a lake – 17 x 30 km. Houses, cemeteries, churches, chapels under water. I feel sorry for the priests who must deal with such situations since their parishioners have also lost everything. That’s why we must remember to support those parish priests whose churches were flooded. I saw the same pictures in the Diocese of Tarnow. There was a very poor village that was affected by three floods: water raised 2.5 m high and all pews and church equipments, the sacristy and liturgical vessels were destroyed. These are big losses. Besides individual people the Church has experienced losses and we must think of helping the parish priests who must rebuild their churches and cemeteries.
– I can assure you that ‘Niedziela’ will support all Caritas proposals and inform about them. Since people can help when they know what is needed and how to help in the best way.
– I thank ‘Niedziela’ very much and I also thank all the media for their kindness, openness and help. Thanks to the media one can inform those who have been stricken and those who can offer help. I would like to thank all those who offered money during the collections as well as individually (over 7 million zloty so far), those who sent things to the diocesan Caritas offices and Caritas Polska. I want to thank the companies that offered immediate help. There is one best word to express this gratitude: May God repay you! And the greatest joy will be a smiling child or a smiling man who is standing in front of his damaged house and can see that he is not alone, that someone offers him a helpful hand.