Polish clergy divided about how to handle border crisis


Central Europe


Migrants aiming to cross into Poland receive meals in a camp near the Bruzgi-Kuznica border crossing on the Belarusian-Polish border. Photo AFP, Maxim Guchek

While Europe and Poland face a border crisis, the Polish clergy is divided about the people who are caught in the crossfire: migrants.

Father Cordian is one of the few pastors who enter the border zone. He talks to people. Asks: what do you need? What are you afraid of? He looks for volunteers. To help both the migrants and the locals. "If someone wants to cook soup for the guards, that's good, let them cook, because everyone here is a human being", says Judyta Sowa, who came from Krakow to help.

Cordian Szwarc, a Franciscan, is deputy director of the Catholic relief organisation Caritas Polska. This organisation provides support for those in need in Poland and abroad. "We saw that there was a real need for us, as Caritas Polska, to be present here on the spot”, says Dominika Chylewska from Caritas to a reporter from Catholic Polish news portal Deon.

Caritas has launched a project, called ‘Tents of Hope’. “Our tent is erected in a selected place, after prior identification of needs, and is such a base for all organizations, residents, services, such a warehouse of the most necessary things."

The archbishop of Poznan, Stanisław Gądecki. Photo EPA, Jacek Turczyk

The first of the Tents of Hope was erected in Podlipki, near the border; here Caritas has its temporary "base". The second one will be in Białowieża. Caritas does not interact with migrants directly. It prepares help packages, which are then being given by locals and border guards to migrants.


The Catholic Church seems to be wanting to help the migrants a lot. The archbishop of Poznan, Stanisław Gądecki, initiated a nationwide fundraising event in churches of various religions. He announced that "the funds collected during this issue will be allocated, through Caritas Polska, to finance aid activities in border areas during the migration crisis.”

The funds should also finance the process of long-term integration of migrants who decide to stay in Poland, writes the commercial broadcaster TVN24.

However, not everyone in the Polish Catholic clergy is so willing to help the migrants. Several priests have been actively speaking out against the initiative of the archbishop, writes radio station TOK FM. Although the clergymen seem to have removed the tweets that the article is referring to, their statements have been picked up by media outlets, including one of nations leading newspapers Gazeta Wyborcza.

Daniel Wachowiak, who is one of the outspoken priests, reacts in a tweet to the article of Wyborcza. He states that the newspaper is trying to break the unity of the Church, by "putting several priests against the episcopate." According to Wachowiak, the priests "love the Church, obey it, but also have the courage to doubt, argue and even express a different opinion than the superiors."

Several Polish media outlets react strongly to the opposing views of the priests. "The chairman of the episcopate calls for a fundraiser for humanitarian aid for people rescued in Polish forests and the priests are basically calling for a boycott of humanitarian aid. They don't want to help, and want to let those people die in the woods", said the host of TOK FM.


The leading figures in Polish politics, however, seem to agree with the priests. "The declaration signed by the clergy of various religions and churches, on helping migrants, is part of political activities and is an expression of lack of responsibility. In view of this type of threat, we must all be together", said Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Gliński.

Anna Chmielewska - an activist from a non-governmental organisation is seen in a warehouse where clothes and other things needed to help refugees are stored. Photo AFP, Wojtek Radwanski

In the television program "Gość Wiadomości" (Guest News), Gliński said that what is happening on the Polish-Belarusian border is a serious attack on the Polish state. "We have not faced such a threat in our history." Gliński recalled that hybrid attacks in Ukraine turned into war, writes Polish daily DGP.

Although the Church is divided in how to handle the border crisis, Father Cordian continues with his work among the residents of the border zone. He provides them with pastoral and spiritual support. On the website of Caritas, the Franciscan explains: "In difficult times, the Church has always been a refuge for people. In humanitarian crises, paying attention to the local community is a very important element of providing aid."



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