Solidarity with the Church in the East
Fr. Inf. Ireneusz Skubiś talks with Fr. Leszek Kryża SChr - the director of an Aid Group Office for the Church in the East.
FR. INF. IRENEUSZ SKUIBIŚ: - We are celebrating XII Aid Day for the Church in the East this year. What is included in the term 'The Church in the East'?
FR. LESZEK KRYŻA SChr: - Our Group appeared when there employment opportunities in the East, in the countries of the former Soviet Union. It was an answer to the concrete signs of time. At that time we were called 'An Aid Church Group for the Catholics in the Soviet Union'. So the Church in the East is the Church in the countries of the former Soviet Union as far as the administrative and geographical section is concerned. And as a consequence of this name there is the whole social, cultural, historical, and spiritual context of mentality of people living there.
- Who is the addressee of our help?
- The help which is carried out on the Second Advent Sunday is supposed to reach Catholic churches in the East. We know very well that the majority of the faithful there are people of Polish origin. So, to much extent, this help reaches Poles or people of Polish origin living in the East - in different countries - where the Church is being reborn and starts to function. So, the addressee is the Catholic Church, which is highly concentrated on Poles living there and also opened to all the local residents who are Catholics.
- In the East there are countries in different conditions, concerning both life conditions of their citizens and the significance of religion. It is different in Lithuania where Poles are having big problems with the so called a modern Lithuanian country. A different situation is also in Latvia, Estonia and Ukraine or Russia. There are also such countries like Kazakhstan. So, how is it with the geography of the Church in the Eastern Europe?
- The situation of the Church in the East is very different; we must look at it through a prism of each country separately. Each country has got its specific character and legislation and consequently, help looks different because there are different needs. For example, there is not so much repair and building need in countries which belong to the European Union now but there are different needs. However, in countries which are struggling with so many material and living difficulties, these needs are still valid. There, churches are either regained or rebuilt anew. And aid is directed mainly there. The issue of help is very important for the Group, it is also important what can be realized thanks to the help and how we can help the Church there. And we are trying to share out this nationwide collection in this regard.
- Is it only the material help or are there any other forms of help?
- The first and the most important help which Poland gave to the Church in the East is a personal help: priests, nuns - there are over 1200 of them. Now we have to create facilities for their action and it is organized thanks to the collection of money. However, it is not only about money. The basic gift which is expected by them is our memory about prayer to God. They are aware that they can do very little without our support of our prayer. There are also other forms of help, for example, organizing trips for parish groups to Poland, holidays for children in their country or visits by volunteers who are going to help. A priest from Kirigstan has visited me recently and he told me that when young people as volunteers from Poland come in order to work there, they speak about God and give a testimony of their faith through their life; a natural pure testimony.
- The Polish parish is quite poor today; the poverty is increasing - despite what is said in media, Poles' life is hard. Surely, we will not manage to collect much money. What does this help look like when compared to the needs?
- At present 360 - 380 requests come to our office every year. We answer all of them positively but, certainly, not in 100 percents because we can not afford it. But we are also aware that we are one of the institutions which are trying to help the Church in the East. Also priests from the East come often to Poland and they organize collections of clothes, food, money in parishes, preach retreats, sermons, which also belongs to the forms of help. We must express our appreciation to those who can share with others despite their difficult material situation. I know that those who collect money, do it consciously and are sincerely grateful for every even the smallest gift. It is very valuable. A priest from Ukraine attended a meeting with me and he has a parish of 30 people. Maintaining the parish, not saying about any repairs or investments, is something difficult for him. He expressed his appreciation when speaking about everybody who sends him some money.
- How do priest director, make contacts with the Polish communities in the East?
- The contacts are of two kinds. The first ones are made through pastoral visits from the east in our office in Warsaw. I have been performing this function not for a long time (since June 2011) but many bishops and priests from the East have contacted us throughout this time. They tell us about their work, bring photos, films in order to show what everything looks like there. Another kind of contacts is when I go to them in order to see the effects of help which we give. They invite us very willingly and want to show what has been done thanks to our gifts. And I can confirm that in 100 per cents these gifts are used according to a request and purpose. It is, among the others, a house for single mothers, repairs of this or that church, building or repairs of a Presbytery, etc. Seeing the effects, I make sure that the money which we give is well-used. I am impressed by the attitudes of priests and nuns who get engaged in a difficult life on that area with solemnity and unusual eagerness.
- Is the financial help directed more towards institutions - a parish, diocese, convent - or the possibility of supporting poor families, children? Do you act according to a specific system?
- Our help gets to specific parish communities. Anyway, we are asked to help by dioceses, convent communities and specific parishes or organizations which act in these parishes, for example, the parish council or other groups or communities. Some of this money designed for material, building matters, gets to specific people, families in order to meet their needs, for example, through funding a kitchen for the poor and homeless who do not have their own house or the aforementioned house for single mothers or holidays for children. As far as the structure of this help is concerned, it must always go through a parish and be confirmed by a local bishop and which gives a certainty that money is really needed and gets where it should.
- Do Poles help willingly?
- I am aware that the collection on the Second Advent Sunday which is attended by Poles who answer social appeals is not the only one. And there is always an answer. Although we have a difficult situation, we can share with others. It is not only me but also missionaries, priests, who always collect something, think in this way. The range of this help can be various but we can absolutely share with others.
- Surely, you do not have more money, judging from the content of our purses…
- …but we are really glad about what we receive. People who visit us are glad because nobody will go away from us with empty hands, but people in need always receive specific material and financial help. We sometimes do common shopping (for example a cooker or sound equipment). And then they get spiritually and emotionally stronger. It is worth continuing it.
- Are there any cases that a parish in Poland has a partnering parish, for example, in Belarus or Russia, has a contact with it and can help it?
- There are such attempts but they are not completely successful. I tried to make a contact between two communities a few years ago: in Ukraine and in Belarus with Polish parishes or one of the Polonia communities. It effective for some time. But a lot depends on priests here whether they will continue the cooperation. Sometimes this cooperation was dying away. Certainly, it is a chance. I meet with such situations when priests from the East regularly come to the parish, preach sermons, help in the liturgical and pastoral action, for which they receive gifts. And it is somehow inscribed in the life of a specific parish community. It is not formally defined as a partnership among parishes - it is more a partnership with this or another specific priest - but gifts get where they are needed, and which is a concrete form of help. It is worth following. In my opinion a lot depends on those who lead communities here, that is, priests and the fact whether the help to the Church in the east will not recede into the background due to the enormous amount of work.
- Do priest Director have a defined geography of needs?
- We are trying to look at requests which come to us, in order to choose those which are the most urgent. For example, a request from Kazakhstan has come lately where a priest works and who has taken over an institution recently - a place where he is supposed to live and which is in a miserable state. Winter is coming, and the temperature in this country is -40 C. This is a situation which we must cope with. All other matters, no matter how important they are, can wait a bit, for example till summer. So, we are trying to settle the most urgent matters.
- How do you see the issue of help to cloistered nuns in Kazakhstan in Oziornoje? They are nearly sentenced to the sacrifice of others, they do not earn money.
- We meet with bishops of dioceses from the East in the office and I must admit that I am impressed by their care for cloistered nuns. They are aware of the fact that the nuns are a prayer support for the diocese and they are looking for help for them. I am always impressed when a priest of a diocese prays for this intention. It proves that the presence of these nuns in every diocese is really valuable and important.
- Priest mentioned that the help of the Polish Church is directed towards the Polish communities in the East. Does the Polish pastoral ministry have a chance to help Polish schools in Lithuania or does it leave for the Polish diplomacy?
- A kind of lobbing would be recommended here in order to improve the situation. We all are aware that it is a delicate issue. A great intuition is needed of how much and what we can do. A priest from Lithuania visited me and he told me that candidates for priests in a Vilnius Seminary have a compulsory Polish lessons. It is interesting, because it means that everybody is aware that Polish character is an important element of the existence of the country there. I think that we should follow this way of thinking.
- This issue also concerns other countries of the former Soviet Union because the Polish groups are everywhere and they do not have any privileges of the national minorities. So, also the care for cultivation of Polish language surely belongs to such institutions as the Aid Group for the Church in the East which is represented by priest Director.
- Absolutely, it does. We cooperate with many organizations in this area, among the others, with the Foundation of Fr. Stefan Niedzielak, with the Foundation - Polish Education Abroad, with the Association - Polish Community, etc. We take the common path, caring for all these issues. We deliver Polish newspapers to the East on our own.
- How can the Catholic weekly 'Sunday' or other Catholic newspapers help in the pastoral ministry to Poles in the East?
- Surely, Polish Catholic newspapers have got a lot to do here. I follow Polish newspapers and I know that there are many articles about the life of people in the East and the work of priests there. It is very important to know that this Church exists, develops and is real. It is not a Skansen museum but something which is really alive and requires not only our interest but a concrete help. It is a great opportunity for every newspaper. Therefore we are glad that these newspapers get there even with delay. Moreover, each word written in Polish is perceived there as something great and important. I see and hear about it.
- I will also mention here a great person of the predecessor of priest Director, Fr. Józef Kubicki who died in an accident. He was a fervent advocate of the Church in the East…
- Yes, indeed, Fr. Józef led this work for 10 years and devoted himself to this work. Now, I am trying to continue his work, being aware that there is still a lot to do in this area. But I also know that what is happening at present, is, among the others, a consumption of the fruits of what Fr. Józef did for this matter. Whereas, referring still to this year's action of the Aid Day for the Church in the East, which is to take place in December, I would like to emphasize that it works both ways. We collect gifts which we give to the East and people who live there assure us that they pray for our intention on this day. It is a wonderful bridge of exchange between the first and others, a spiritual dialogue which changes into a real help. I thank deeply to everybody for the gifts on this day for the sake of the Church in the East.