Although we have already started Lent, the Christmas season is not far behind us. While in some countries you can hear Christmas carols in November, in Poland we tend to prolong the Nativity celebration till the beginning of February. There is a beautiful tradition in the Catholic Church in Poland in which priests visit the families of the parish in their homes at Christmas time to pray, to chat and to get to know each other.
The pandemic that broke out in the world last year threatens to break this tradition not only this year. But on the other hand the restrictions strengthen apostolic creativity! The priests of many parishes throughout the country decided to invite the faithful to the parish church for a special Mass celebrated for „the Guests”. Where normally the people would welcome priests this time they were welcomed at the church by the priests. Because of the coronavirus the faithful were invited street by street, so that there were not too many people in the church at one time (we aimed at about 15 – 30 people).
We also had a special meeting after every such Mass in our parish to talk to our parishioners, asking them to share their thoughts about their lives, as well as the parish life. As the host, we also prepared a small gift for each family, a reminder that they are not forgotten when they cannot physically attend Masses in the Church. We did not broadcast this conversational part of the meeting online, to provide a space for more trust and openness.
One thought came to my mind when talking with these small groups of parishioners gathered in the church and sharing their faith and ideas: this could be the future of the Church and the parishes in Poland – the Church where the people know each other personally, not only recognizing anonymous faces of Mass attendees, but supporting and praying for each other because they simply know each other. At the same time, the challenge of this new reality for priests is to act more on a personal level, staying very close to the People of God. In Western European countries this idea may not be new, but in the Polish mass Church it seems a reality to come.
Fr. Janusz Śliwa SJ, Pastor of St. Klemens Hofbauer Parish in Wrocław