"A Polish-American church needs to be a place for all generations of the family" according to Father Czeslaw Krysa of the Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y. CNS photo

Challenges facing Polish Catholics mirror those of church in general

By  Rick A. Richards, Catholic News Service
  • April 30, 2012

MICHIGAN CITY, Ind. - The issues surrounding the preservation of long-established parishes and the preservation of ethnic traditions are not all that different.

During the awards dinner of the 23rd annual Polish American Priests Association convention in Michigan City April 19, Father Czeslaw Krysa of the Diocese of Buffalo, N.Y., talked about the challenges facing Polonia in America and the impact that challenge is having on the Catholic Church and ethnic neighborhoods.

During his talk about the state of Polonia in the U.S., Father Krysa said Polish traditions that were brought to this country by today's grandfathers and great-grandfathers is fading.

"We know what they are, but we don't know why they are," he said.

The slow disappearance of those traditions mirror the slow decline in the Catholic Church's prominence in neighborhoods. For instance, Father Krysa said that in the 1970s there were 1,200 priests in Buffalo. Today, there are fewer than 200.

"That has presented some challenges, but everyone should know that we're here to stay. We are resilient," said Father Krysa, emphasizing that his comments referred to both Polonia and the church.

"This is representative of the challenge facing Polonia today," he said. The importance of preserving Polish traditions and its neighborhoods in the United States, he said, is that nearly all Polish traditions are rooted in the church.

"We need to market our spirituality," said Father Krysa. "To do that we need to go out and meet people where they, not where we would like them to be."

The Polish American Priests Association represents clergy "who share a common ethnic heritage and/or support our goals, purpose, and objectives," according to its website. The association seeks to make existing faith communities, served by Polish-American clergy, more viable and it also seeks to address issues pertinent not only to the Polish-American community but to the entire church.

Father Krysa offered some examples of outreach to new ethnic neighbors that helped show how interconnected many of them are. It was a chance for each to display and demonstrate their customs, food and traditions.

"Interpersonal contact is like an encounter with Jesus. It's what he did," said Father Krysa. "Our traditions shouldn't be reduced merely to kielbasa, polka and beer. We need the church to be a part of it. We need our own sacred places."

In making his comments to a gathering of more than 200 people, including more than 50 priests, Father Krysa said it's important for members of the association to make sure their churches are places of necessity in their neighborhoods.

"A Polish-American church needs to be a place for all generations of the family," he said. "Our younger people don't want a quick fix. God is not intended to be locked in church. Get out. Play and enjoy."

With that, Father Krysa said the use of food at church and neighborhood festivals not only preserves ethnic traditions but reflects the importance food played in Jesus' life.

During their weeklong visit to Northwest Indiana, association members visited historic Polish parishes and shrines in the Diocese of Gary and in South Bend.

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