She draws strength from her faith

Alicja Dolowska

What does faith mean to her? Ewa Tomaszewska does not think even for a moment. – It is a fundamental issue since these are principles of life. Faith defines the way we function in every field, whether it is politics or professional matters, contacts with friends and family… Faith is the foundation.

‘Could she really undertake so many tasks? We doubt it. She draws strength from her faith, from pilgrimages and the Way of the Cross’, say her colleagues from the National Commission of Solidarity. They stress that those who know Ewa Tomaszewska well know that she has acted this way for a long time. Although she never exposes her religious sphere to win popularity. She did not make it some political ideology that would make her win in the elections.
She has witnessed to her faith by her attitude, presence in the Church, attitude towards people, especially helping the poorest and the disabled. She acted in such a way during the wonderful times of Solidarity and in the dramatic times under the marshal law. And then she continued when the reactivated Solidarity joined the process of the transformation of the political system and it turned out that the ordinary people, who had begun their struggle for different Poland in 1980, had another vision of Poland in mind.

Like in a poem about an ant...

– If the reforms are to give positive effects only for a narrow group and the majority of the society loses I am not interested in such reforms’, she has always stressed that since the 1990s. And she protested when the social costs of the reforms affected workers and their families. She dared to tell the Minister of Labour and Social Policy Leszek Miller that the policy of his government hit the weakest. ‘Economy should be for people and not the other way round’, she told the politicians who lost the human aspect of the reforms. She always wanted to stop the process of deepening the economic differences in the society. But the walls, like in Kaczmarki’s song, were built. If today Poland is the second EU country after Portugal where the social inequalities are the biggest, this is the result of the unjust transformation. After years one can say that she hit the wall but faith that moves mountains made her choose the attitude of fighting. Although she had difficult moments she never doubted what she was doing. Especially that she was constantly surrounded by those who needed her help. She was asked to intervene in social matters, housing, placing sick people in hospices or shelters for the homeless. She helped as much as she could. In his poem entitled ‘The end of the 19th century’ Kazimierz Przerwa-Tetmajer asked a rhetorical question, ‘Can an ant thrown to the rails fight with the quickly approaching train?’ But Ewa saw problems in a different way. In one of her poems she wrote that an ant could carry huge weighs beyond her strength because the ant divides them into pieces it could carry. And her painstaking work helped her to fulfil the tasks, which many people could have been given. She was a physicist but also a social activist. Ewa Tomaszewska still writes poems when she has time, for relax and reflection. She also has another passion – photography. She continuously organises various exhibitions, at first in the Office of Social Politics of Solidarity, which she headed for years, and then in her parliamentary office. Years ago she started painting although she has not time for that now. She still must finish some oil paintings. ‘They are getting ripe because there is right time for all things’, she claims.

Helping others

When you wonder what her motto is the answer comes immediately ‘to help others’. She got involved in the activities of Solidarity Workers’ Union from the very beginning because, as John Paul II taught, solidarity means ‘to carry one another’s burdens’. When she worked at the University of Warsaw she became a Solidarity consultant of the Region of Mazowsze. She went to meetings in small towns to help people found the workers’ union and conduct elections according to the statute. She saw that Solidarity could change the reality. ‘That was not even the question of the 21 demands but struggling for dignity’, she stresses after years. ‘To show that people can decide about their fates and give their opinions in matters concerning functioning of communities they are part of.’ She does not want to stress this aspect because she does not like to be considered an old-timer and consequently, many people do not know that she was interned in a women’s camp in Goldap. Then in December 1983 she was arrested while taking a photograph of the cross when she came to the ‘Wujek’ coal mine to take part in the celebration of placing the tablet brought by Anna Walentynowicz and Kazimierz Switon. ‘Fr Jerzy Popieluszko helped a lot’, she recollects. ‘He wrote to Bishop Wladyslaw Miziolek a request to intervene on my behalf.’ The bishop went to General Kiszczak and Tomaszewska was released after spending four months in prison because of her poor health condition. She remembers Fr Popieluszko very well when he celebrated Masses in the intention of the Homeland and for his charity activities – she did her best to help him. She hosted many participants of those Masses who came from different parts of Poland. They slept side by side in tourist sleeping bags on the floor of her flat.

Open-hearted

She decided to run for the Parliament not because she wanted to have a seat there because as she says ‘I can buy a chair myself’ but because many matters could not be solved without changes in the legislative system. To influence bills you must be in the Parliament or in the Senate and fight in parliamentary commissions. She obliged herself to help the poor or harmed by fate and she became faithful to that while she ran the Office of Social Politics of Solidarity and in the Parliament, at first in Wiejska Street and then in Brussels. ‘If we are people of Christian faith we should testify about our love of neighbour’, she says.
Being a senator she collaborated with the Saint Cross Hospice in Warsaw-Mokotow trying to support it. ‘Since the workers of the hospice also care for the poor and the homeless besides caring for the terminally ill patients. They organise extra meals for poor families’, Tomaszewska explains. But being actively involved in social service she must seek strength somewhere else. That’s why she takes part in pilgrimages to Jasna Gora in August. Last year it was her nineteenth time. She thinks that there is ‘something like threshing’ in pilgrimages. ‘They let me see how few consumptive goods we need in life and the gods we seek and which are showered on us.’
– On the way, which sometimes can be hard, man overcomes his own weaknesses and reminds himself that he lives in a community where we should help one another’, Tomaszewska stresses. She thinks that Masses and teachings during pilgrimages are valueless. They show many topics to reflect on since pilgrimages mean formation. She returns being worn out, with sore feet but she feels encouraged. Since she because an MEP she has shared her time between Brussels and Warsaw where she comes for weekends to go to her office and listen to the problems people want her to know.

Lent – in her own way

Two years ago she said that Lent had actually begun for her at the beginning of February. ‘A man was brought to the hospice after he had not been accepted in ‘Markot’ because he swayed and was thought to be drunk. He was refused help in hospital. When the hospice asked me to help I contacted my friend, a doctor from the Polish Association of Catholic Women, and she accepted him to the hospital she worked in. But his legs had to be amputated. And you had to do it quickly because he would die’, Tomaszewska says. Lent is for her a time to reflect, to look from some perspective at what you do. ‘Sometimes you must stop and think. It is like a wandering through dense woods. If you do not climb a tree and look around you can go astray and do not reach your destination. Lent makes you think, get out of the daily whirl and focus on your own inner being’, Tomaszewska says. Reflection, prayer, allowing you to look in the perspective of great suffering and chances for the Resurrection. And this year she had her own way of experiencing Lent. She needed retreats very much. ‘I had no chance to go to retreats in normal conditions. Masses celebrated in the European Parliament twice a week helped to some extent. A priest supported us. You had a chance to go away from daily struggle with problems. As usual she participated in the Way of the Cross. She usually goes to the Old Town and Zoliborz in Warsaw. Is it difficult for a believer to function in the European Parliament? ‘It is hard because I cannot accept hypocrisy that exists there. On the one hand, people speak about indiscrimination but Catholics are discriminated. Our political group, Union for Europe of the Nations, proposed an amendment to the document that defined the relationships between the European Union and India in which we condemned the attacks against Christians, burning of churches and Catholics’ houses. When we condemned the fact that thousands of Catholics had to hide in the jungle not to be killed the liberal group just yelled to protest against that. The socialists supported them and part of the Christian Democrats must have supported them because they would not have won otherwise. And unfortunately, our amendment was rejected. And if we speak about indiscrimination why this problem should concern only the Muslims in the European countries and why we, Catholics from the European countries, are to be discriminated in the European Parliament? In the European Parliament there is a hall for meditation where Catholic Masses are celebrated for small groups. At the door there is a little statue in the lotus posture as the symbol of this hall but there are no Hindus in the Parliament. What is it all about? Why can this statue stand there and why cannot a crucifix be placed there?

"Niedziela" 18/2009

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Lidia Dudkiewicz • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl