This year Catholic and Orthodox faithful will celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection on the same day. It happens every three years, when the date for Easter according to the Gregorian calendar coincides with that of the Julian calendar. The joy of celebrating side by side is deeply felt especially in those places where Catholic and Orthodox live together, as in former Soviet Union republics or in many other East European countries. The Catholic population of the Soviet territory (numbering approximately 150 million inhabitants) amounts to 800 thousand, according to estimates. In the European part of the former Soviet Union the majority of Catholics live in urban centres, but in the rest of the Country, notably in Siberia, many Catholics live in villages hundreds of kilometres away from the nearest inhabited areas.
Across-the-border bonds. Polish Catholics testify to the special interest for Eastern Catholic Churches for reasons of historic, geographic and national nature. In fact, the former keep up relations with their fellow nationals or with citizens of Polish origin living beyond the eastern border of the Country. In 1989 the Polish episcopate set up a dedicated structure within its premises to provide religious and material support to East-European Catholics.
Over one thousand Poles work in former Soviet Union territories today – including priests, men and women religious, and lay Catholics.
“The formation of young people along with support to liturgical service are areas that the Polish Episcopate’s Group for Aid to the East European Church considers of primary importance”, the President of the structure, Monsignor Antoni Pacyfik Dydycz, Bishop Emeritus of Drohiczyn, told SIR. The personal account extends the horizons: “Soviet authorities had banned the publication of religious texts, so I personally delivered 4 thousand volumes to the Soviet Union”; the prelate said. “These initiatives, carried out by many private citizens, entailed a great risk and not all parcels reached destination. Russian police or custom officials censored and seized the shipments”, Dydycz added, underlining the timely capability of the Polish Bishops’ Conference to identify the first signs of decline of religious persecution, thereby establishing a dedicated group of experts “on the onset of the Perestrojka”, tasked with “helping Christians living in USSR territories and in other Countries of the Communist bloc.”
Initiatives for the young. The situation today “is completely different. We have regular contacts with the local bishops and we cooperate directly with them”, continued Msgr. Dydycz. “It was unthinkable before. For example, on the occasion of the WYD in Krakow we had the possibility of helping many youths from Eastern Europe by organizing their trip and stay in Poland. We also have direct contacts with youth organizations whose requests we support whenever we have sufficient resources. This enables us to organize short stays in Poland for youths from Eastern countries, for whom the visit represents a great opportunity. Our efforts are meant to help Christians shape a living Church in the East.” It is a “long and difficult job. In 2016 we had to face an even greater challenge, as the organization of the WYD was coupled by the celebrations marking the 1050th anniversary of the Christianization of Poland.”
Fundraising activity and tax cuts. Such initiatives require financial resources: how is the Group’s activity funded? “Every year – the bishop replied – on the Second Sunday of Advent, churches across Poland organize a special fundraising initiative. Funds are also donated by private citizens who can devolve 1% of their income to the Group and detract the sum from their taxable income.” In 2015, thanks to these donations, the Polish Church provided aids equivalent to approximately half million Euros to her sister Churches in Eastern countries.
250 diocesan priests, 450 religious, 400 nuns and some twenty lay Catholics from the Group carry out their services across the Polish border.
Concrete aid and financial reporting. Which criteria regulates the devolution of aids? “Financial support is allocated according to strict regulations”, said the director of the Group, Fr Leszek Kryze, who recently returned from a personal visit to the warzones in Ukraine. “We try to coordinate our efforts with those of the local Churches. For the time being we consider only the requests approved by local bishops. After having received the requested resources, the recipients are asked to file a generic financial report, which is the condition to file another request for funding. Normally, financial aids can be received not more than once a year. “The requests, approximately 400 each year, are examined in March, June and October.”