The Polish bishop in charge of communities abroad has defended his Church's call for Polish Catholics to join local parishes in Britain and other countries, instead of sticking to their own separate communities.
"Poland's bishops are fully aware Polish parishes abroad form part of the local Church and that pastoral work with Polish emigrants comes under a diocesan bishop's jurisdiction", said Bishop Wieslaw Lechowicz, the Polish Bishops Conference's delegate for diaspora Catholics.
"When the European Union's borders were opened, a great many Poles left in a short period and contact with Polish Church outposts was very important for them... But today the situation has changed - many of our countrymen are now well rooted abroad and face no barriers in their contact with local church representatives and communities".
The bishop made his comments as a pastoral letter was read on Sunday at Polish Masses worldwide, conceding that the Polish Church no longer had enough clergy for migrant needs and advising Poles to start attending the Eucharist in the language of their country of residence.
In a Tablet interview, Bishop Lechowicz said many young migrant Catholics now had Polish as a second language, making it important for them to witness to the faith alongside other national groups and associate the Church "not just with Polish communities".
The Polish Church's London-based mission has over 220 parishes and pastoral centres in England and Wales, with separate missions operating in Scotland and Ireland. In a 2007 pastoral letter, the Warsaw-based Bishops Conference said Polish parishes were often "the only centres for Polish identity and culture", and urged Poles to seek out their own priests when abroad. However, in the latest letter, marking the centenary of Poland's 1918 independence, the Conference said foreign bishops counted on Polish Catholics to "influence believers from other national groups" via local church communities, and urged them to "maintain good, regular contacts with Catholics of other nationalities".
Bishop Lechowicz told The Tablet the Polish Church was grateful to local bishops for accepting a "Polish pastoral structure" in their dioceses, and recognising Poles' "fundamental right" to Masses in their own language, but said some conflicts had nevertheless arisen.
"We're only human, so sometimes misunderstandings emerge in local circles - over someone's ambition, stereotypes, prejudices or character traits", Bishop Lechowicz said. "What's important now is to merge Polish clergy and laypeople within the parish and diocesan body of the local church, wherever Poles live each day, and then to begin co-operating with various groups and pastoral communities. This all requires a maturity of faith and openness - both from Poles and from representatives of local churches".
PICTURE: Girls in traditional Polish dress participate in a Mass June 22 at the Shrine Chapel of Our Lady of Orchard Lake, Mich. (CNS photo/Dan Meloy)