THE POLES in Britain are overjoyed. The long-nurtured wish to welcome, to have among them and honour the Polish Primate, Jozef Cardinal Gleam, is about to be fulfilled.
The Cardinal's arrival at Heathrow yesterday will have struck, only a few chords of memory. In a similar occasion, 55 years 'ago, Cardinal Hlond: the then Primate, came to Britain to consecrate the newlyacquired church, bought from the Swedenborgians, and dedicate it to Our Lady of Czestochowa and St Casimir. The latter's 500th anniversary of death the Lithuanian and Polish communities celebrated with a I ligh Mass at Westminster Cathedral only a year ago.
This church has been ever since 1930 the seat of the Polish Mission and to Poles the Devonia Road NI Polish Church is a focal point. The Polish Mission itself however goes back to 1894, partly due to the untiring efforts of Mother Siedliska, founder of the Congregation of the Holy Family of Nazareth which, in Enfield, even today has a Convent and School.
The Polish Mission Catered for numerous waves of Polish emigres who, up to the last war, were small in numbers. A figure of about 3,000 is usually mentioned.
As the second world war began, the situation changed rapidly. Polish airmen and soldiers of all formations gathered in Britain to continue the fight for Poland's independence at the side of their Western allies.
The contribution to the defence of Britain in the Battle of Britain by the Polish airmen is distinguished and heroic. Equally devoted service was given by the Polish navy and even more so by the Polish Merchant Navy whose ships almost without exception at great odds managed to reach British ports and later on contributed greatly to the war effort.
In the later years of the war two Polish Corps were formed from prisoners of war and civilians who were dragged to Russia to labour camps, mines and kilchoz. Some of those, under General Anders, managed to get out of Russia, And under British Command, formed the Polish Corps which fought in Italy alongside the Eighth British Army, took Monte Cassino and finished its campaign with the bitter battle for Bologna, just a short while before the armistice.
The first Polish Corps, based' in Britain was engaged in the DDay campaign and fought to the last day of the war, then already on German territory, and distinguished itself in Holland.
This brief historical review explains the fact why so many Poles found thernselves in these islands, when, betrayed by the Yalta agreement, the return to their homeland meant a return to a fatherland that had in the meantime become victim of Communist expansionism.
After a lot of mind searching and heartache, many thousands decided to stay in exile rather than to return to a homeland whose freedom was again taken away from her, while others decided to emigrate to other continents.
It is this large group of emigres, numbering about 140,000 that in the late forties embarked on a slow process of settling down to new life with little more than their eight fingers and two thumbs to start with. At that time the Poles were still living in • former military camps that eventually became their civilian dwellings.
The military chaplains, quite naturally, stayed with the people and provided as best they could the religious services in camp chapels.
In time however the nearest towns became focal points of Polish religious, social and political life because the camps eventually ceased to exist and many emigres bought their homes with their first savings, During those years of post-war settling down, the Rt Rev Mgr W Staniszewski, the Rector of the Polish Mission, helped to coordinate all the efforts to ensure spiritual care in the religious sphere, whilst the social and political organisations tried to do the same in their respective areas.
Through his efforts a network of chapels or Polish Centres with chapels of their own even. churches was established, covering the needs of the thousands that had settled in the industrial areas of llritain. To a smaller degree this happened also in Scotland where another Polish Mission had been established.
Enormous efforts were made during the fifties and sixties to strengthen these community achievements. This was also partly due to the growing financial well-being of the Community which, having reached security, became anxious to ensure that her religious and national identity remained unimpaired.
This was achieved through various channels. The Polish Catholic Centres that came into being provided the exiles with a replica of their homeland: specifically Polish services of paraliturgical nature were' introduced, Polish religious fraternities or organisations revived, Saturday Schools started with clearly defined aims to teach the Catholic faith and the Polish language, all those subjects like history and geography of Poland that were falsified by the Communist school system at home. Folk dancing, Nativity plays, participation in National Commemorations like the Anniversary of the 1791 3 of May Constitution or the 11 November 1918 Independence Day became staadard expressions of the undying spirit of patriotism that made us into, what John Paul II so beautifully described on the memorable morning of 30 May 1982, at Crystal Palace — "a living part of Poland" because — he said — "where there is love of the country in the heart — thre is Poland".
Our Primate, Cardinal Ciletnp will see our achievements, and will surely be proud of us.
The Polish Mission, now in the hands of Rt Rev Mgr K Zielinski, after the thirty or so years of outstanding devotion to it of Mgr Staniszewski, can show a united corpus of over 120 priests, serving over 70 communities, in most British cities, over 30 own churches many of which were built by the Polish Communities from the foundations eg Nottingham and last year — Slough, over thirty chapels or prayer centres shared with English parishes.
In each or those a Polish Saturday school which starts at the age of three and leads the youth to 0 and A levels in Polish. In each centre there is also half a dozen youth groups and above all the scouts and girlguides movement organised according to Polish, essentially religious and patriotic principles.
Each Saturday 5,000 children attend classes, taught by teachers who give up their time for this important educational and patriotic work. An Educational Council was established as early as 1950 to provide books and equipment for those schools. In fact there is also a Polish University Abroad where those who wish can obtain Polish degrees.
The value of a Catholic Publishing firm which would publish a Catholic weekly was recognised as early as 1947. It still exists and the Vcritas Foundation Publication Centre can be proud of the nearly 500 titles it published to date in addition to the weekly.
Whilst emphasising achievements of the Church I would not belittle the admirable achievement of non-religious organisations. Lack of space precludes me from enumerating such praiseworthy efforts, ,however the creation of the Polish Social and Cultural Centre in King Street, Hammersmith, is an outstanding achievement.
That large modern building houses the Polish Library (30,000 volumes), the University, a fully equipped theatre, dozens of societies and organisations with the Polish Ex-Combatants Association at the head,
,Although still heavily in debt is a living example of what a small community can achieve thanks to voluntary contributions of Poles living anywhere but feeling united in a patriotic effort.
His Eminence who is our protector, a title the MilleniumPrimate Cardinal Wyszynski, adopted in his wise desire to strengthen -us in our exile, will, naturally, see imperfections which no community can escape.
But we feel sure he will confirm 'us in our efforts to cling to the values and traditions we so desire to imitate. We also hope that his Delegate, Bishop S Wesoly, who resides in Rome but more frequently than not is in the middle of intercontinental pastoral visits, will not have to blush for our shortcomings.