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Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ

In my maiden trip to Poland I attended, as the President of the South Asian Catholic Press Association (SACPA), the Bureau meeting of the International Catholic Union of the Press (UCIP) in the Polish capital Warsaw and then the UCIP Council meeting at Czestochowa – a city very famous for the pilgrim shrine of Our Lady in all Eastern Europe.

In my two-week-long trip in May-June I also participated as a special invites in a one-day meeting of the representatives of a number of funding agencies from West Germany. The meeting at Aachen was called by Catholic Media Council (COMECO).

I experienced the power of the Catholic Church in communist Poland as soon as I landed at Warsaw airport on May 20. While diplomatic were called out to jump the queue at the passport control I was taken from the tail-end of a queue straight to the passport officer and then to a waiting car.

Apart from hearing reports on the situation of the Catholic press around the world the main business of the Council meeting was to prepare for the UCIP World Congress at Ruhpolding, West Germany in October 1989.

After the Council meeting I joined a conducted tour organized for the Council members and visited a number of cities and towns of historical, cultural and tourist importance like Kathowice, Jastrzobie, Wadowice (the birth place of Pope John Paul II) and Crakow.

In the 11th century Benedictine Monastery at Tyniec where we halted for a night on May 26 the Abbot, hearing my typical Kerala name Varghese, welcomed me in Malayalam saying ‘thanks for coming’!

The tour included a visit to Auschwitz – the place of Nazi concentration camps and gas chambers where more than four million Jews and others were systematically massacred between 1940 and 1945.

The concentration camps and the gas chambers are preserved intact as in the time of the liberation of the prisoners at the end of World War II. The guided tour through the camps of Auschwitz and Birkanau and the telling descriptions of man’s cruelty to fellow man have been very depressing for me.

After the conducted tour I stayed in Jesuit Writer’s house at Crakow for three days with my friend Fr. Jarsy Sermak, SJ who studied and was ordained with me in Rome in 1977.

Jarsy who is the Editor-in-Chief of Polish Messenger POSLANIEC SERCA JEZUSWEGO (75,000 circulation) interviewed me for an article in his Polish Messenger and took me to visit a number of families of his relatives and friends. The visits were helpful to me to get some idea of the lives of ordinary people in Poland.

At Crakow my visits to the editorial office of TYGODNIE POWSZECHNY “a Catholic secular weekly) (1,00,000 circulation) run by laymen was very significant for me to learn about the Church and politics in Poland. Three of its editorial staff members including a lady were running as solidarity candidates for the Polish Senate.

I had a long chat with an editorial staff member Mr. Maciaj Konlowski who had accompanied Pope John Paul II in his visit to India in 1986. When I enquired about the Editor-in-Chief of the paper Mr. Konlowski told me that the Editor was hospitalized for some heart ailment. Then he added: the Editor is a great friend of the Pope and a telephone call from the Pope at Vatican has made the hospital authorities to move heaven and earth to give him the best medical and nursing care.

Back at Warsaw I stayed three days at Jesuit Theologate close to the newly built church of St. Andrew Babola where the mortal remains of the Jesuit Saint were preserved as the incorruptible body of St. Francis Xavier kept at Goa.

In Poland I also visited the novitiate and the house for old people run by the Missionaries of Charity of Mother Teresa at Warsaw. Thanks to Sr. Maureen, MC, Superior and Sr. Talita, MC who drown me 40 kms, I made a pilgrimage to Niepokalanow – the Shrine of Maxmillian Kolbe who volunteered and died in the place of a fellow prisoner at Auschwitz concentration camp.

Two things impressed me most in Poland : The devotion of the Polish people to Our Lady and the Polish hospitality. At the sanctuary of Our Lady of Czestochowa where the Council members daily celebrated the Eucharist in Latin there were unending flows of pilgrims whole day celebrating the Eucharist and the sacrament of penance.

Decoratively framed large holy pictures of Our Lady of Czestochowa adorn the churches, church institutions and Catholic homes around the country. There are also numerous shrines and sanctuaries of Our Lady in Pisekary, which I visited during our conducted tour, is well known is Silesia region of the country.

Time and time again I was taken up by the Polish hospitality and I wanted to know more about it. And I got the opportunity at a sumptuous dinner hosted by Bishop Damien Zimon in his major seminary at Kathowice.

When I complimented the Polish hospitality of the abundance of food and drinks, the lady sitting next me, Ms Alexandria Rojcayu, a Polish airline staff who was accompanying us in the city as a translator from Polish into French told me that in Poland a guest is considered as god.

Food items like meat are rationed in Poland and stores display food stuff and other goods very meagerly. And yet everywhere we had an abundance of food. When I called the attention of Ms Rojczyu, the only daughter of a widowed mother, to the contrast of an abundance of food on our tables and meager display food stuff in stores, she explained to me that the sumptuous table is a rare thing in Poland. In Polish homes the people spent about 80% of their earning on food for having normal food.

My visit to Poland coincided with the height of the election fever in Poland. Church promises and institutions have become propaganda offices of Solidarity with posters and photos of Solidarity candidates and Lech Walesa everywhere. I left Poland just two days before the election with a foregone conclusion that Solidarity will sweep the election as it happened on June 4.

Changed On: 16-09-2017
Next Change: 01-10-2017
Copyright Fr. Varghese Paul, SJ – 2017

Books by Fr. Varghese Paul, S. J.