Meeting with the Polish Community
TALK TO CANADIAN POLONIA
SEPTEMBER 14, 1984
Praised be Jesus Christ!
My Dear Brothers and Sisters – fellow countrymen,
I am extremely pleased that during my apostolic pilgrimage to Canada the occasion has been given to me to meet with you today in this stadium in Toronto, and even through you to meet with all our fellow countrymen living in this land.
You have come here not without difficulty and sacrifice, from the many corners of Canada so that you could pray together with the Pope, your fellow countryman, who is blood of your blood and heart of your heart.
It is with great feeling and joy that I have come to this gathering. I have deeply engraved in my memory the hospitality and warm welcome I received from Polish parishes and cultural organizations in 1969 when for the first time I visited this country as the Archbishop Metropolitan of Krakow, invited by the episcopate of Canada and by the Canadian Polish Congress on the occasion of its 25th anniversary. At that time I was able to visit a number of immigrant groups especially in Eastern and Western Canada; I learned, to some degree, of your problems, your daily life and work, your joys and sorrows. I have deep in my memory the image of the Catholic life of this Polonia, its efforts to be faithful to the faith of our forebearers as well as to the traditions of our homeland, their insertion into the Christian culture of their new country, their new homeland. I saw at close hand the dedicated activities of groups of religious men and women as well as of the diocesan clergy, those born here as well as those who immigrated at different periods of time.
Our meeting today is in a sense a continuation and a completion of those former visits, and I can truly repeat after the Apostle Paul, “a short time we had been separated from you – in body but never in thought -we had an especially strong desire and longing to see you face to face again” (1 Th 2:17); and again “we always mention you in our prayers and thank God for you all, and constantly remember before God our Father how you have shown your faith in action, worked for love and persevered through hope, in our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Th 1:2-4).
I would like to meet with each and every one of you, to reach you and wish you well. In you and through you I send greetings to all our beloved countrymen who live in this land of Canada from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific, and who for various reasons were not able to be with us this evening. This word of greeting I extend to all the Polish parish organizations, Catholic organizations, and youth groups, to scientific and charitable organizations and to all the Polish families in Canada. In a very special way I extend my warmest greetings to the priests gathered with Bishop Szczepan Wesoly, to religious communities, to those engaged in physical or intellectual work, the elderly and those who are afflicted with the cross of suffering; to the youth and children – to everyone!
To each and every one of you I give a heartfelt greeting and embrace you in peace as Pope and brother.
My thoughts go also to those countrymen, pioneers who at one time walked the same road as today’s Polonia and who now rest in peace.
My dear brothers and sisters, the solicitude of God has made it possible that you who have come from Poland have been able to realize both your human and your Christian calling here in Canada. As Poles, for whom -for various reasons – Canada has become a second homeland, you are an integral part of the Church in this land and here continue to write the history of salvation which in times gone by was written in the Church on Polish soil.
“The one People of God, teaches the Second Vatican Council, is present in all the nations of the earth, since its citizens, who are taken from all nations, are of a kingdom whose nature is not earthly but heavenly… Since the kingdom of Christ is not of “this world, the Church or the People of God which establishes this Kingdom does not take away anything from the temporal welfare of any people. Rather she fosters and takes to herself, in so far as they are good, the abilities, the resources and customs of people… In virtue of this Catholicity each part contributes its own gifts to other parts and to the whole Church, so that the whole and each of its parts are strengthened by the common effort to attain to fulness in unity” (Lumen Gentium, No. 13).
In applying these teachings of the last Council, we can define your spiritual position as a “gift of ‘sui genevis‘” from the Church in Poland to Canada and to the Church in Canada.
Yes! You are a gift from that nation and that Church which already counts more than one thousand years of history and tradition. That Church, which – especially in most recent years – has taken on new witness and expression in the framework of the Universal Church and all of Christianity. It has become in a particular way a Church of witness on which the eyes of the whole world are fixed.
Yes! You are a gift of that tradition and that Church that brought forth and gives witness through saints and blessed beginning with Saint Stanislaus, bishop and martyr, to the present Saint Maximillian, a martyr of love; those recently beatified, Mother Ursula, Father Raphael, Brother Albert. You are a gift from that nation and Church in which your ancestors lived and witnessed, your grandparents and great grandparents, and in which today live and witness the Poles of this modern generation.
The heritage of Christianity which links the Church with the Polish nation from the very beginning of its existence has now become part of the Church in Canada through Polish immigration – beginning from the first immigrants in the last century down through those immigrations which took place between the wars, after the Second World War and more recently.
When visiting Polish organizations and Churches in Canada in 1969, I brought to them the relics of the Polish saints. I desired that in this symbol there be seen the expression of the spiritual communion which exists between the Church in Poland and that of Canada, as well as sharing with all our fellow countrymen their spiritual unity with the Church in Poland, unity based on the mystery of the communion of saints which is an integral part of our Catholic faith – and which for us Poles, is also an integral part of our whole spiritual heritage.
It is necessary to return to those Christian roots from which both you and I have taken life, and to renew them in this country which has opened its threshold to you in hospitality and has now become your second homeland. In these roots there is strength and that vital energy necessary for your spiritual growth.
Those who came before you knew this well, as they began these waves of immigration. “They felt”, wrote Henry Sienkiewicz, “that even if they were carried by the wind like fallen leaves, the roots of their beginning lay not where they were going but where they were coming from: Soil of Poland, blessed by God, which had cradled their beginnings… powerful, generous and gentle mother, loved more than anything in the world”.
Putting roots into this new land, they still conserved that deep connection with their fatherland, they retained the knowledge of their belonging to the faith, culture and traditions of their forebearers, living anew within the larger community of the Universal Church. They built Catholic temples – how can we not recall at this moment the first Polish church, built in honour of our Lady of Czestochowa in the last century by the first Polish settlers whose decendents [sp] are still found in the village of Wilno, as well as the Church being built at the moment in honour of Saint Maximillian Kolbe here in the Archdiocese of Toronto. Immigrants also built Catholic schools, created organizations for Polonia and youth, for example, the Polish National Union, the Polish Canadian Congress, the Polish Scout Movement; they established centres for Polish studies, libraries, museums; they published books, magazines and newspapers. These centres and organizations created at different times in order to accomplish a variety of goals have all grown from that spirit which links you to your Polish background and Church.
Even though, through years of separation or because of various circumstances which you have experienced here, some of you, particularly the younger ones, sometimes lack Polish vocabulary to understand one another and to express that link with the homeland which you feel deep in your hearts, nevertheless, these links will never be broken. On the contrary, you seek spiritual links with Poland and with all that is Polish. You are in solidarity with the homeland of your forefathers and proven so when in moments of difficulty you hastened to assist her with your offerings and your generous aid, which merits recognition and gratitude. Allow me at this moment and in this place to say to you in the name of all my compatriots in the fatherland a very heartfelt traditional Polish “Bog zaptac” – ‘May God repay you!’
The Catholic family has played and is playing a great role in conserving these links with the homeland, in retaining the faith of your ancestors, Polish traditions and culture, through the work of your parishes and your schools. The Polish family in immigration merits our words of gratitude since in spite of new circumstances and living conditions it has not lost its spirit but rather retained its identity and educated whole generations in the spirit of the most noble Christian ideals and virtues.
Surrounded by the materialism of today’s world, the family faces many difficulties. The situation in which it finds itself is one of confusion in which the concept of the authority of parents and children, as well as the essential Christian ideals and virtues are undermined.
My dear brothers and sisters, the family must be the object of your most special care. The family which results from the sacramental bond between man and woman, who together discovered a common vocation to marriage and family life. To protect the family from the dangers of modern society is a great challenge to the whole Church, a great challenge to Polish pastoral work, a great challenge to all of Polonia and to every Polish citizen.
The shape of the family will dictate the shape of all of Canadian Polonia and will become the image in Canada of the persons who have sprung from the “Polish tree”.
The “family”, I said in the Apostolic Exhortation “Familiaris Consortio” – “is the first and vital cell of society … it is from the family that citizens come to birth and it is within the family that they find the first school of the social virtues that are the animating principal of the existence and development of society itself… The family is thus the place of origin and the most effective means for humanizing and personalizing society: It makes an original contribution in depth to building up the world, by making possible a life that is properly speaking human, in particular by guarding and transmitting virtues and ‘values’. In the family, the various generations come together and help one another to grow wiser and to harmonize personal rights with the other requirements of social living. Consequently, faced with a society that is running the risk of becoming more and more depersonalized and standardized and therefore inhuman and dehumanizing, with the negative results of many forms of escapism – such as alcoholism, drugs and even terrorism – the family possesses and continues still to release formidable energies capable of taking man out of his anonymity, keeping him conscious of his personal dignity, enriching him with deep humanity and actively placing him, in his uniqueness and unrepeatability, within the fabric of society” (No. 42-43).
For these reasons I make this strong plea to everyone who has at heart the good of the family, that they never neglect anything which could help nurture family life and give it its natural identity, to discover anew that Christian calling to always be “the domestic church” – the mother and teacher of future generations.
On the occasion of today’s gathering I turn my thoughts in a special way to the youth, to this generation of my countrymen in Canada who in a few years will take over responsibility for the religious and Polish life of our communities.
My dear friends, I turn to you and I open up the needs of my heart.
Several years ago, at the end of my pastoral visit to this country, I prepared a special letter to those who at that time were the Polish youth of Canada. I consider that the fundamental thoughts of my letter still hold true. Keep them in mind today as the thoughts of the Pope. Centre yourself on this question: Who are you?
I am aware that a good number of your were born here, that you belong to the second, or even the third generation of Canadian Poles and yet the traditions, art, dance, Polish songs, the Polish language, live and are important for you even if for a number of you the language in which I am now speaking to you is much better known than the Polish language. You are discovering your Polishness, which still dwells at the deepest level of your young and sensitive souls. It signifies that the heritage of your ancestors is engraved in your hearts in a real and indelible manner.
You are children of Poles!
You will therefore be yourself if you are true to self as were your forebearers: Poles, even though Canadians – Canadians of Polish descent. The order of belonging through citizenship and that of national identity are two different orders. The first of these is more manifest on the external level, the second more internal. It is necessary to cultivate both orders in such a way that a person is truly oneself.
To be oneself! How important this is for the contemporary person, and especially for the youth of today who in the midst of many difficulties must seek ways to affirm and to express one’s authenticity. I therefore hope that you would remain yourselves especially that you would succeed in discovering and expressing your Polish origins – the special heritage for the youth to that nation which has been handed down to you by your predecessors; that with your personal identity you be conscious of your heritage and draw the proper conclusions. These conclusions should be lived out in collaboration with the older generations which have consciously worked to nurture and deepen their Polish roots which for the true believer constitutes the one, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. You, the youth, must live in such a way that you always fervently seek God and live in Him, discovering the real beauty of the world and lastly the discovery of your humanity. Learn how to discover your true vocation as God has written it in your hearts and as best possible bring these gifts to the life of this country which opened the arms of hospitality to your parents and grandparents. Be careful that you never impoverish this heritage, preserved by the efforts of former generations. Do not disappoint the hopes they have placed in you.
I wish still to say a word to those brothers and sisters who have come to this country in recent years, or even recent months, those who are known here as the “new immigration”.
The Church as well as the international community respects the principle that “man has the right to leave his native land for various motives – and also the right to return – in order to seek better conditions of life in another country” (Laborem Exercens 23).
You who have recently come to Canada, some with the intention of remaining here, some only temporarily, enter the life of a community which could impress you by its material development, by the organization of its life, by its wealth and its dynamism. It is always true that the newcomer seems, in the midst of these developments as being “weaker”, conditioned by others, impoverished. This situation can easily lead to frustration and even to extreme reactions. One of these reactions can be simply blind fascination; sometimes it manifests itself as shame of one’s background, lack of appreciation for the heritage in which one has grown up, with the conviction that it is lesser or poorer in comparison with newly discovered riches. At all costs, one desires to rise to the same level and as quickly as possible, especially by the acquisition of material goods.
My dear compatriots, learn how to evaluate correctly what is within you and around you! Learn to appreciate, to differentiate, to choose! Learn to respect that goodness which is within you and do not break those links which connect and lead you to your fatherland. Learn how to benefit from the rich experiences of others. Above all, know how to preserve the gift of faith and that living link with the great family of the People of God which is the Church of Christ.
I am confident that during this difficult period of integration into a new society you will find assistance from those countrymen who have lived here for a long time. Here I am not referring simply to material, technical or organizational assistance, even if these are necessary. I mean that in your compatriots you will find the strength to overcome the spiritual separation and the feeling of loneliness, which for many could be an unbearable experience. Rightfully you should expect the help of Polish parishes, Polish organizations, in short, the help of every Polish person who has come before you.
Today’s gathering falls on the day on which the Church in her liturgy celebrates the feast of the Exhaltation of the Holy Cross of our Lord.
“God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, that everyone who believes in him may not be lost but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). Christ was faithful to the will of his Father and “emptied himself” to assume the condition of the slave – and accepted death, even death on the cross – which raised him on high and gave him the name which is above other names” (Ph 2:8-11).
Through the cross, which at one time was a symbol of disgrace for a person, the person has been raised to a position “on high” – persons of all time and generations – each one of us.
Dear brothers and sisters, through the Cross of Christ we have been returned to that first love of the Father and have recuperated our share in His glory. The Cross therefore is for us a symbol of love, of faith, of hope. We have but to recall the words of the hymn you sing so often in your churches: “In the Cross there is suffering, in the Cross there is salvation, in the Cross there is the school of love… when the thunder approaches, hasten to cross – it will sustain you and save you”.
With the sign of the Cross I bless you all, and I bless the entire Polonia of Canada. I pray God that the Cross will be for you and for all future generations a symbol of salvation and of that “raising up” of the human person, I ask for you that renewal of spirit and that love of God which is enshrined in the mystery of the Cross of Christ. I ask that you always be faithful to those obligations which you professed when you accepted the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. I do so in the hope that man not be lost by becoming absorbed by the things of this world, but that everyone have life and life eternal.
The eternal love of the Father which was made manifest to the history of mankind through the offering of His Son on the Cross is brought home to each one of us through the goodness of Mary, Mother of Christ, who remained below the Cross of her Son to the end. And from the foot of that Cross, she was given to us as mother, in the words spoken to the beloved disciple: “This is your mother” (Jn 9:27).
For this reason, the Church, and each one of us, who within this Church are the disciples of today’s generation and the witnesses of Christ, look to her with particular love, gratitude and hope. To her do we turn and implore her intercession – no one better than she can introduce us to the divine and the human dimensions of the mystery of salvation, the mystery of the Cross. Because Mary more than anyone else has been introduced to the depths of this mystery by God Himself.
On this feast of the Exhaltation of the Holy Cross, I entrust all of you to Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of the Church, Queen of the World and Queen of Poland – the one “who defends Czestohowa and shines in Ostra Brama” (these two shrines to the Blessed Virgin Mary are very dear to all Poles). May she draw each and every one of you to her suffering. May she nurture in you this “eternal life” which was given to us by the Father through the offering of his Son on the Cross.