Thinking about Polish Londoners
Fr Ireneusz Skubis
Since my return from London I have been analysing my observations concerning the Polish immigration. Above all they concern the old immigrants who have been living in Great Britain for several or a few dozen years. We know about their strong relationships with Poland, the Church and priests. However, I think we know little about them. We do not know much about their history and problems. It is known that there were no direct contacts with those people for many years because of passport and visa problems. Now a lot has changed. One need to get interested in the life of the British Polonia, read books about the immigrants, and quite a number of books have already been published. Those Poles suffered much. They came to Britain, devoid of their properties, orphaned and hurt by the war. We must study this chapter of our history and show cordiality and remembrance to those people who have experienced so much. Today new immigrants arrive in the countries, which are developed better than Poland, and that concerns England as well. But this is a different immigration. Because of unemployment and poverty in their country they come to England for a short time, want to earn money and intend to return to Poland. There is a fundamental difference between the post-war immigrants who could not come back for fear of their lives - those who were courageous were imprisoned, tortured or suffered restrictions imposed by the communist Security Office - and the contemporary immigrants who after earning certain money want to begin normal lives in Poland. The former have been connected with the Church, they are religion-oriented and eager to work for the community, and the latter do not necessarily adhere to the Church. They arrive in new countries with the burden of their religiosity. They think that the Church is sometimes a priest who has been described in the media and accused of something evil. These young people often come from families that have no religious background and their knowledge in this field is perhaps on the level of their first communion to which they were prepared in some way but afterwards they did not keep any contacts with their parishes. In those times many people did not attend religious instruction classes, it is estimated that 80% of the pupils of vocational schools during the period of the Polish People's Republic did not attend catechesis in their parishes. Later they got married, have children and today these children go to the West. Therefore, we have got a generation of poorly religious people, who have often no catechetical foundations.
The priests, I talked to both in America and England, France, Italy and Germany, appeal to me: tell the young people who leave the homeland to come to Polish churches, to introduce themselves, leave their contact addresses and get information. Tell them to come not only in case of an accident, disaster or difficult situation. Naturally, priests help them in whatever way they can. But they also want the immigrants to take part in the life of the parish community, to be involved in the liturgy, to help priest reach those who can be in loss more than they are. They want them to share their experiences. Sometimes there is the need to keep up a given centre, which serves Poles, so a material help is needed.
The priests work with immigrants very zealously - I can testify that myself. This is a different work than the ministry in Poland, it is more individual and aid ministry, and that's why we cannot leave them alone. But the situation, unfortunately that concerns Poland as well, is so that if believers come to Mass and give some pence they do not care for anything else. It happens that a priest does everything himself - he cleans the church, runs the parish office, does housework, decorates the church, etc. This is not easy when believers show no understanding for his work and are not willing to help him. The sacrament of baptism makes us members of the Church and the membership is not only participation in Sunday Eucharist. It means that we participate in the royal priesthood of Christ. We are responsible for the Church because we have been called to her salvific activities.
I think we should reflect on this here, in normal conditions. It is still the question how to be a Christian today, a man who helps Christ build the kingdom of God on the earth. The acceptance of the term christianus - adopted by Christ - produces certain consequences, meaning responsibilities of looking after the parish community. It seems that Catholics in the countries we go to, although they are fewer than Catholics in our country, are more aware of their responsibilities to provide for the Church. Unfortunately, our contemporary fellow citizens lack this awareness.
I encourage all of us, and first of all our young people, to get to know the teaching about the Church - ecclesiology - so that we try to discern the great sense of Catholic communities, which is evident among the immigrants, and that we help them by sharing our faith, by our prayer and involvement. Our patriotism will be expressed in this way, too.