A PASTORAL MINISTRY IN EXILE
Prelate Priest Ireneusz Skubiś talks with priest Wiesław Wójcik TChr – a director of the Institute of Emigration Pastoral Ministry named cardinal August Hlond in Poznań
PRIEST IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ: - What does the word ‘emigration’ mean to Priest Director? ‘Emigration yesterday’ and ‘emigration today’ – can I ask about the comparison?
PRIEST WIESŁAW WÓJCIK TCHR: - ‘Migratio’ in the Latin language means wandering. So, the etymology of the word ‘emigration’ shows the voluntary leaving a home country and moving to another place. Migration of people reaches back to the oldest times and history of the man and had various reasons, there was also various intensity of the wanderings. In emigrations there has always been one permanent factor: stubborn wandering to a better place. Therefore ‘emigration yesterday’ can be understood and treated rather as an expression of a situational obligation. A man finds it difficult to leave his home country, especially when he has been forced into it. The separation with the land of fathers has always been painful, especially when it was accompanied by a belief that there was no return. Regardless the detailed motivation and circumstances accompanying it, the separation with homeland has always been full of grief, a feeling of a victim or even a life defeat. ‘Emigration yesterday’ can be evaluated negatively.
Today we are looking at emigration in a completely different light, that is, we are treating it as a generosity of globalization: everybody has a possibility to decide independently about our place on the earth. ‘Emigration today’ is, first of all, labour emigration, that is, a desire to raise one’s material status. It is a chance, but also a big danger for the development of personality. Despite the change in an attitude towards emigration, we can still notice more an expression of a kind of a situational necessity than an occasion to fulfil one’s dreams.
– Priest meets with Poles in exile. What are the pastoral contacts based on, among the others of the Priests of Christ?
– The Church in Poland has always tried to provide comprehensive care and keep pastoral contacts with those who left and are still leaving homeland for various reasons. The truth has turned out obvious that the Polish pastoral ministry abroad cannot exist in separation from the Church in Poland, but it needs its support. Care of the Church in Poland about emigrants has a very rich history and we can extract actions in it, on the plane of the Polish Episcopate, the primate – a spiritual guardian of emigration and a special delegate of the Polish Episcopal Conference for Pastoral Ministry of the Polish Emigration, who is bishop Wiesław Lechowicz today. Christ’s Association for Polish Diaspora Abroad, established 80 years ago by the primate of that time, August Hlond, brings a significant contribution into diaspora pastoral ministry. Over 350 priests of Christ form 20 countries are taking care about ’every Pole, so that he would not get lost in exile’.
Not a less important role in strengthening faith and culture among compatriots, in celebrating sacraments, teaching catechesis and mother tongue and other forms of religious and social life, is played, among the others, by such convents as: the Resurrectionists, the Salesians, the Redemptorists, the Oblates, the Jesuits and others. Over 3 thousand diocesan and order’s priests are engaged in the pastoral ministry for the Polish diaspora in a several dozen countries. I do not mention the beautiful ministry of female convents abroad, among which a special role is played by the Missionaries of King Christ for the polish diaspora abroad.
– What are the biggest clusters of Poles in the world?
– Poland is constantly a country of emigrants, that is, a country which people are leaving and despite a communication and mentality barriers, with an unequal start they being their life somewhere else, taking their fate into their hands. Poles decide to make this brave, but risky step of emigration. According to the latest data, the Polish diaspora totals 33 per cent of the Polish nation, that is, about 20 million people. So, one third of Poles live abroad, and in this respects we the sixth country in emigration the world.
The biggest cluster of Poles is in the United States – nearly 11 million. Among other countries there are: Germany- 2 million, Great Britain - 850 thousand, France – 700 thousand, Ukraine, Belarus – 1 million each, Ireland – 125 thousand, Holland – 120 thousand.
– What does the contemporary emigrant expect from the Church and a priest?
– The Church deals with the issues and problems connected with emigrants with great care. Pope Paul VI reminded that the Church ‘does not consider anybody as a stranger for its maternal heart. It does not exclude anyone from the range of its pastoral ministry (…). A task of cultivating unity, love and peace in the human family was not entrusted to it in vain’ (from the encyclical ‘Ecclesiamsuam’). The contemporary emigrant expects the Church to support him spiritually and culturally and help him in cultivating his traditions and customs of the place he comes from. In a new environment, the emigrant wants to develop his religious life, because he wants to have a ‘piece of his homeland’. The presence of his priest is one of the basic religious needs, long time ago and now, in the emigration societies. The pastoral care is very valuable, in his home language, in which he can confess his sins, pray and fully express himself. There is a belief among emigrants that there is somebody who cares about their religious life, which is often expressed in the pronouncements: ‘This is our priest’.
The outer reality and functioning in a local community are connected with the spiritual life, so also in these spheres a priest plays a significant role for emigrants. An extremely valuable help of a priest is in many life matters of particular emigration families or people suffering from difficulties resulting from their separation with their families. Today also many priests abroad – especially in those environments where there is no organization – become organisers of patriotic-cultural-social life from necessity. It is a priest who invites to his community, to a parish in which he is fulfilling his ministry, various creators, artists, teachers, so that they would teach mother tongue and culture. In many emigration centres and churches, consultation centres are appearing, as a result of a new emigrants’ wave, whose aim is to help emigrants in finding work, a flat or give a legal or psychological advice.
– Does one feel a need of emigration pastoral ministry?
– Certainly, yes. Expanding the European Union on 1 May 2004 and including Poland into its area, structures and rules concerning the freedom of migration among people, quickly raised a vast migration potential in our country. It was even noticed by pope Benedict XVI, who said during his pilgrimage to Poland in 2006 that the plague of unemployment is forcing Poles at present to go abroad in search for work, which leads to the separation in families, and social relations are broken off. ‘It is necessary that emigrants should be accompanied by priests, who undertake pastoral work among emigrants, in cooperation with local churches’. Therefore today the appeal of Polish priests is still updated, which is addressed to the new wave of 2-million emigrants in Europe. After all, a lot of people are still deciding to the so-called partial migration, understood as undertaking gainful work abroad, and keeping family life in Poland.
Pastoral ministry of emigration is needed today in such countries as: Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Holland, Ireland, Island and organisations of Polish diaspora in those countries prove that only little part of migrants are returning to Poland, but the majority are trying to survive the crisis and remain in the countries of their stay for ever.
– Are Polish priests prepared to work among emigrants?
– The contemporary pastoral ministry in Polish language derives from the tradition of pastoral ministry of Poles abroad and uses the structures elaborated by them throughout time. After Poland had been included into the structures of EU, it started facing new challenges and must consider instruction indications of the Papal Council for Migrants and Travellers – Ergamigrantes caritas Christi’. So, the emigration apostolate should be undertaken by priests who are well-prepared in this sphere, who know the issue of ‘people in way’, who know the Church in the country of emigration and foreign languages. The Institute of Pastoral Ministry, named cardinal August Hlond, at Christ’s Association for Polish diaspora abroad in Poznań, prepares alumni of seminaries, nuns and priests – among the others – through symposia, World’s Days of A Migrant – for difficult ministry to the Polish emigration. We are doing it, while following the call of our founder, God’s servant August Hlond: ‘Everything for God and Polish diaspora abroad’.
– Does today’s pastoral ministry to Polish diaspora protect the pastoral ministry among Poles in exile?
– The pastoral ministry of emigration is still needed by our compatriots in various parts of the world, as ‘souls in exile are killed’. This call has accompanied our convent for 80 years. If today’s phenomenon of emigration is a providential form of proclaiming the Gospel in the contemporary world, then the apostolic ministry towards Poles will still be the help in this work, and which will be done ‘for them’, ‘with them’ and ‘among them’, however, always within the structures of the territorial Church in the place of their residence.