Scottish magazine analyses 'the Polish Question'

 The following article was first published this week in the Dundee-based Open House magazine whose editor is Ian Willock. The author is a locak priest. Such large numbers of Poles have arrived in the past two years that his parish has had to move to a larger church in order to accommodate them. In this article he discusses the history of Poles in Scotland and considers ways in which the Church is dealing with the new arrivals. Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor recently courted controversy by asking questions about the pastoral provision for the significant number of young Poles who have come to the UK since Poland joined the EC in 2004. It is not widely appreciated that in 1945 large numbers of the Polish Free Army were demobbed in the UK. Despite their disproportionate contribution to the Allied victory Churchill was anxious to disperse them, if not to a Poland handed on a plate to the Soviet Union, then to Commonwealth countries of their choice. However so many remained, most of them because they had married local girls from the area of their camps, that Cardinal Griffin of Westminster felt obliged to go to Poland where on behalf of the English bishops he signed an agreement with Cardinal Hlond of Warsaw for the Polish bishops to oversee the pastoral care of the Poles dispersed the width and length of England. This is the origin of the Polish Catholic Mission in England which quickly built up an infrastructure of 133 places with either churches or community centres, more than half of them with priests provided from Poland. It is also the source of the problem raised by Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor. By their very nature these groups were strongly bound to pre-war Polish culture and their military associations. Although strictly speaking not canonical parishes, they functioned independently of the local Catholic church which in some cases happened to be next door. They had inevitably been facing up to diminishing needs and resources when suddenly these thousands of young people appeared on their doorstep. The Polish chaplains moved to keep these young Poles within traditional Catholic practice and to make sacramental provision for them. It is not clear whether the English bishops were picking up vibes that post-communist youths might need more than that or whether they saw an opportunity to have young people back in their churches again. The impression the Polish hierarchy gave was along the lines that they hadn't undergone 50 years of persecution just to hand over their young. One Polish bishop was quoted as saying he didn't want them coming back to Poland thinking they could go to Communion without first going to Confession. There has been no such stushie in Scotland. First of all Scotland, as a separate hierarchy, was specifically excluded from the agreement between the Polish and English Cardinals. Perhaps because Scotland didn't have a churchman of such standing prevented any formal arrangements being brought about. Polish army camps had been spread out especially on the east coast so that there was no concentration of people. The result was that the Scottish clergy supported informally the small number of Polish chaplains appointed to Scotland. The history of St Simon's in Partick, the only place in Scotland to be described as a Polish church, is instructive. The Polish Army Unit which was training in Yorkhill Barracks for the D-day landings sought entry first of all to the local parish church, St Peter's in Hyndland St. It proved impossible to accommodate them within the Sunday Mass schedule and they were redirected to the old St Peter's church nearby which was functioning as a chapel of ease. When however after the war this church was reopened as a parish named St Simon's with a full Sunday Mass schedule, the Poles were obliged to leave and found another chapel of ease in Cheapside St. When this was demolished for the Kingston Bridge, all they were offered was 1.30 pm in St Patrick's, Anderston. Only in 1972 when the St Simon's area was cleared and the church threatened with demolition was there room for them again at 11 am. During this time their focus was the Sikorski Club Centre where there was accommodation for a Polish priest. By 2000 not only was the viability of the Centre at risk, but the number of veterans and their families using the church was diminishing year on year. Then by 2007 both church and centre were completely inundated with the new Poles, of whom it is estimated there may be up to 20,000 in Glasgow. No special provision was made for them until in December they were enabled to use the larger St Peter's. The Tablet has carried a story about the Polish Centre in Falkirk saying that one of the younger Polish clergy brought into Edinburgh Archdiocese to work bilingually had been returned to Poland, because he had extended his interests beyond sacramental provision into social activities. This might suggest to the older Poles that the new Poles are only here temporarily. This is not what the Scottish Executive thinks, as it drastically revises its numbers upwards for health and education requirements. Even if, as in a recent news story, half returned, it still leaves significant numbers. Young Europeans are on the move everywhere. Nobody who has been to a Polish Mass in Scotland could fail to be edified by the religious enthusiasm of the mostly under 30s congregation. There are apparently enough Polish priests in Poland willing to help bishops elsewhere, as for example in Edinburgh, in order to support young Polish emigrants. Yet by the estimation made by Bishop Moran, who learned enough Polish to go to Poland to get bilingual priests for Aberdeen diocese, they may have doubled his numbers but he guesses probably only half of them are going to Mass. Whether they stay or not they have provided a challenge for our own parishes. We see in the streets the "black babies" we once supported now amongst us as refugees and asylum seekers. But few are seen in our congregations. Many have gone to the new independent churches. If we have been unable to go out of our way to make room for these young Poles, who have brought back a practice of faith that we all took for granted only 50 years or so ago, then our parishes are revealed not as parish centres but as parochial concerns.

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