31 October 2019, The Tablet
Cardinal Vincent Nichols with the Rector of the Polish Mission in England and Wales father Stefan Wylezek
The president of Poland's Bishops Conference has praised Polish Catholics for helping maintain his Church's London-based mission to England and Wales, currently marking its 125th anniversary.
He also called for efforts to ensure it continues beyond Brexit.
"We thank God for the pastoral work of successive rectors, priests, religious and faithful laypeople, including those who served Polish soldiers here during and after the Second World War", said Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki of Poznan. "Thanks to churches sometimes taken over from the English, and sometimes built from scratch, Poles have helped support the formation of new parishes and worked in line with their possibilities and talents to maintain and lead them."
The 70-year-old archbishop was preaching at London's Our Lady of Czestochowa church during weekend celebrations by the Mission, based in Islington's Devonia Road, which also organised an exhibition and three-volume history for the anniversary.
The Mission's head, Mgr. Stefan Wylezek, said Polish Catholics were "looking to the future" to see how best to continue "gathering Poles" in England and Wales, and "seeking to grow in faith with them", and would also encourage efforts to ensure their "presence in the Church" remained strong.
The Polish Church has about 2000 clergy working in missions or pastoral networks in 25 countries, catering for around 15 million ethnic Poles living outside their homeland. Its London-based mission has 221 parishes and pastoral centres, served by 120 Polish priests in 136 churches, chapels and presbyteries, with separate missions operating in Scotland and Ireland.
In March, the Polish Bishops Conference's delegate for Catholics abroad, Bishop Wieslaw Lechowicz, warned the prospect of Brexit was causing "certain fears" among Poles in Britain, adding that he and other Polish clergy had been in touch with Britain's Catholic bishops about future pastoral arrangements.
In a mid-October Poznan sermon, Archbishop Gadecki praised the newly canonised St John Henry Newman's "profound, systematic and arduous search for truth" as a "challenge for future generations", adding that the English cardinal offered a "magnificent example of courage and endurance" for the universal Church.
Meanwhile, Poland's communist-era Catholic Primate, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski (1901-1981), is to be beatified next June in Warsaw, following a 30-year process launched during the restoration of democracy.
"We need to emphasise his spirituality, since we know much more about him as a statesman who defended the person, the Church and our homeland," said Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, Wyszynski's second successor as head of Poland's Warsaw archdiocese. "As we prepare for this beatification, we must also see how so much of what he said remains relevant and timeless, especially when it comes to easing the deep division in our society."
The archbishop spoke to the Polish Church's Catholic information agency, KAI, following confirmation that Wyszynski would be declared blessed in Warsaw on 7 June. Meanwhile, the president of Poland's Bishops Conference, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki, said the former primate had "never held back from proclaiming the Gospel and recalling the truth, even at risk to his freedom and life" during 33 years as Church leader, and predicted the beatification would be a "great festival for Church and country".
Ordained in 1924, Wyszynski served as a chaplain to Poland's underground Home Army under wartime German occupation, and was named Bishop of Lublin by Pope Pius XII in 1946 and Polish Primate two years later. He was appointed cardinal in 1953, three years after signing a controversial "Understanding" with the communist regime, but detained and prevented from receiving the honour until 1957.
His Warsaw funeral during the Solidarity movement's 1981 uprising was attended by tens of thousands, and a beatification process launched in 1989. A miracle, involving an unexplained 1988 healing in northwestern Poland, was attributed to the cardinal and confirmed by the Vatican in September.
Poland's Bishops Conference approved the launching of a beatification process on 9 October for the parents of St John Paul II, Karol and Emilia Wojtyla, and has also asked Pope Francis to declare the Polish pontiff, who was canonised in April 2014, a Doctor of the Church and patron of Europe in time for his hundredth birthday next May.