PRIESTS’ VISITS TO PARISHIONERS’ AT CHRISTMAS TIME – A MARCH TO PERIPHERIES OF A PARISH
FR. MAREK ŁUCZAK
Going to the church on Sunday – we are looking for sacrum – says Anna Musialik-Chmiel, a journalist for Radio Katowice. – During this year’s priests’ visits to parishioners’ this sacrum comes to us
In the opinion of the journalist, many people will surely find this priests’ visit as an inconvenience because one has to find time, prepare his flat, sometimes take a day-off from work. Such an atmosphere dominates mainly in cities. It is completely different in the countryside where a priest is a really awaited guest, as it is among my acquaintances. – At my home a priest’s visit is a holy time, in which we are not only happy, but we also experience it, because here there is a place for metaphysics - says Anna Musialik-Chmiel. – My mum buys new candles for this occasion every year, although the ones from the previous year are also good for usage – she adds.
Piarist of Christmas visits
Today we should not look at priests’ visit at Christmas as a kind of pastoral visitation. Especially that, in the opinion of sociologists, the formula of an accidental acceptance of the visit has ended. – Probably today the number of families, which accepted priests’ visits for conjunctural reasons has shrunk – says Fr. Dr. Rafał Śpiewak from Academic Pastoral Ministry in Rybnik. – Once people used to be afraid of unfriendly reactions of their neighbours who might demonstrate their discontent when seeing a closed door against a priest. Today the atmosphere of priests visits has got improved because it is a meeting of people who know and understand one another – he says.
Dr. Maria Buszman –Witańska deals with public relation in her work and tries to look at the priests’visits from the perspective of her interest. – I cannot evaluate this event explicitly – she says. – Every year priests’ visitation is different: priests are different, as well as the context. Therefore, in my opinion, we should avoid stereotypes based on a definitely positive or negative judgment. A success or a failure of the venture called priests’ visitation depends on particular people, that is, parishioners and priests, to a large extent – says dr. Buszman-Witańska.
In her opinion, here piarists’ actions from a parish as an institution are significant. Good communication is extremely important. Especially in big, municipal parishes it is necessary to pass information about the priests’ visit early enough. Long time ago pastoral announcements were sufficient, today the situation is a bit complicated. It happens that people work abroad and for the whole time they participate in religious life there, and in Poland they only spend Christmas. Others go to neighbouring parishes - so it would be necessary to take care of informing them about the date of priests’ visit and hours in which they could expect visits of priests. Every year I observe priests’ visits and, to a large extent, my satisfaction depends on who pays a pastoral visit – says dr. Maria Buszman-Witańska and adds: - Sometimes there is an authentic meeting of a priest with my family during which there is a real conversation. Another time, there is a common prayer and blessing home. If it was not for the last circumstances, in fact the whole venture called priests’ visit would not make sense because it does not bring in anything new. The weakest link of the priests’ visit is its superficiality and definitely too short time of it. However, the last one is not decisive in order to speak about the success of priests’ visit. Sometimes the meeting can be shorter but it concerns the fact that a priest could be interested in my life and my problems.
Using the potential
Even for laic people it is obvious today that it is impossible to remember all people who are visited every year. Hence, there is, among the others, a necessity for a priest to have a card index with him. – Even if one could remember the contents of a card index, they contain data referring to maybe one hundredth part of our life, and everything happens around – says dr. Buszman-Witańska. – It is all about using a kind of potential which is in us. Here it is necessary to use elements of the fundamental knowledge about social communication. It is all about sensing mutual needs and an attempt to respond to them – she adds.
Not only marketers, but also priests agree with the above-mentioned arguments. – However, we cannot lose the ecclesiastical truth that during a priest’s visit, a priest who comes somebody’s home, comes to his sheep – says Fr. Rafał. – It tells us to form particular questions, for example: how to behave in a situation when a parish priest comes to parishioners of unsettled sacramental status? – A priest cannot leave this situation – but he cannot hurt or insult these people. He should give them hope during a conversation, that they can solve every situation. Even if we have an attitude of the fundamental truth, the problems lies in the style in which we want to communicate this truth to others. There must always be a dialogue, and it is necessary to find common areas.
According to dr. Maria Buszman-Witańska, the necessity of the piarists during priests’ visit, is also expressed in organizational issues. In her opinion it is necessary to take care of effective way of passing information concerning details of this religious practice. Sometimes pastoral announcements or the profle of a parish will be useful in social media, another time – methods which are more traditional, like bringing home cards with the date of a priest’s visit or printing this information in a parish magazine.
Faces of the same visit by a priest
The pastoral visit takes on various forms in Poland. In some dioceses during a priest’s visit, donations are collected, in other dioceses this tradition is not practiced at all or there are some modifications (for example, bringing donations to the church on one day).
Anna Musialik-Chmiel notes the sacral character of this event. – Uniqueness of priests’ visit at my home results from the fact that I live in the countryside, reaching back the year 1273 – she says. Orzech, because I live in this village, belongs to the diocese of Gliwice today. Not only at my home, has priests’ visit always been an awaited event. Maybe this situation would look different among immigrants who chose this place for building their new houses, but for indigenous inhabitants priests’ visit is an unusual meeting which is awaited. In the second place there is this statistic part in which a priest adds missing data into a card index. This is a moment in which, for a while – because for obvious reasons – there is a possibility of a mutual meeting and conversation. Our house must be suitably prepared so that, during a priest’s visit there would be a bit of mystics. I cannot imagine to host a priest in unsuitable clothes, therefore, all members of the house wear smart clothes, polished shoes, and there is a white tablecloth on a table.
A good shepherd knows his sheep
Fr. Edmund Robek SAC is willing to share his long-term experience of his pastoral visits in a big parish in Warsaw. – When in 1983 I had a parish of 6 thousand parishioners under my care, I decided to visit all families: single people, believers and unbelievers, for the whole year, except for July and August. Every day, between 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. I visited two families and one single person. What was my purpose? I wanted to get to know my parishioners and parishioners had an occasion to get to know their parish priest. After 1.5 years I could say that I knew the parish. What did I learn? I learnt that how many parishioners I had, how many rich families there were, how many average-rich families, and how many poor families there were.
As it turns out after years, this gigantic work of the parish priest was not in vain. The ill found care (in the parish there appeared young people and doctors or nurses as volunteers). The poor received food (dinners were even brought to bedridden people), children from poor families received breakfast before going to school.
Shifts started being fulfilled by the youth from a religious oasis group and older altar boys or lectors. AA community was established and the homeless were placed in social care houses. These are only a few fruits of priests’ visits in the Warsaw parish.
Where were these funds taken from? – Luckily there were donations from enterprises – says Fr. Robek. – I was going around shops on the area of the parish and I was asking for alms. It did not always have to be financial help. Sometimes a goods which was sold would be sufficient (cold cut products, bread, chemical products). In an arranged shop the poor and the homeless could use their food vouchers (they were given in the parish office and realized in a shop, excluding cigarettes, alcohol, beer). The value of vouchers was various: from 10 to 50 zlotys. At Christmas I organized Christmas eve supper: at the railway station of Eastern Warsaw for 800-1100 people, at the rectory – for about 150 people, and Christmas gifts were brought to bedridden people(70-80 people) – says Fr. Robek.
Certainly, not everywhere can priests’ visit take place in the above-described way. An obstacle can be recent more frequent staff problems among priests. One thing is certain – there must always be an authentic meeting of a priest with believers in his parish. Here it concerns a real meeting in all possible aspects of this notion. The gospel is abundant in many similar meetings, during which only one look at Christ’s eyes was enough, so that the human life would completely change.
No wonder that priests visits remind us about the thought of pope Francis so that the Church would go out to peripheries of cities, if blocks of flats of municipal parishes match this definition today than ever. It also concerns the fact that priests should go out to spiritual peripheries today in a more courageous way, in order to meet their parishioners and bring them to the centre of religious life. In order to achieve this purpose, it is not enough to consider missing data in the card index.