Polish priests fill European gaps

While much of Europe is suffering from a shortage of priests, Poland is the only country in the continent where the number of aspirants is rising.

About a quarter of all young men training to become Roman Catholic priests in Europe are Polish.

And Polish priests are increasingly in demand to plug the gaps in the rest of the continent.

At the seminary in Lublin, in south-eastern Poland, there are 171 young men preparing for the priesthood.

They are among 7,131 from all over the country.

Compare that to traditionally Catholic Spain. Its population is similar to Poland’s, but in 2001 it had fewer than 1,800 seminarians.

Papal guide

Among the students at Lublin is 23-year-old Adam Jaszcz. He is already a deacon and has just one more year to go before completing his studies.

As we walked through the corridors of the seminary, I asked him why he wanted to become a priest. He pointed at a large oil painting we were passing. It was Pope John Paul II.

“Many things at this moment are clear for me thanks to the Pope. When he was in Poland he had very good contact with young people. I’m young. All my life has been John Paul II,” he said.

A year after his death, John Paul’s legacy still towers over the nation. Poland is perhaps the most Catholic country in Europe and that is partly because of the late Polish pope.

But it is also due to the role the Church played in the 19th Century, when Poland ceased to exist after it was divided up by Prussia, Austria and Russia.

The Church was the only force which preserved Poles’ national identity. It played a similar role under Soviet-imposed communism in the second half of the 20th Century.

That partly explains why 58% of Poles regularly go to church and why the number of those with priestly vocations is rising.

Poland has traditionally sent missionaries to countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia.

But it is the demand from Europe that is soaring. There are already more than 100 Polish priests working in England and Wales.

Culture shock

One of them is 55-year-old Father Stanislaw Maciuszek. He has been looking after the parish of St Wulstan’s in High Wycombe, south-eastern England, for the past six months.

A priest for 30 years in his homeland, he has been surprised how easy the transition to the UK has been.

“As a Polish priest I find that English people are very kind, but also they need some people with different culture. It’s a very multicultural country, so I don’t have any difficulties. It’s a little different from working in Poland with Polish people, but I find it very easy,” he says.

Back in Lublin, there are more seminarians eating their lunch of soup and dumplings in the canteen than volunteered for the priesthood in the whole of England and Wales last year.

The seminary’s rector, Father Tadeusz Kadziolka, believes the Church’s future is secure in Poland.

“The secularisation process will be determined by our past and mentality and that’s why it will be less dramatic than what has happened in Western Europe,” he says.

And the Vatican is clearly hoping that Poles can inject a shot of Catholicism into more secular countries in Europe. During his recent visit to Poland, Pope Benedict XVI addressed the Polish clergy at Warsaw Cathedral.

He told them: “Do not be afraid to leave your secure and familiar world, to go and serve in places where priests are lacking and where your generosity can bear abundant fruit.”

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June 2, 2006
Adam Easton

Religion News Blog posted this on Monday June 5, 2006.
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