Greetings from Poland!
Another month has passed since we sent you the news from our corner of the world. In fact, you are always present in our daily reality through your spiritual and financial support, but now we return to share some glimpses of what has been happening in our centers in Przemyśl and the Bieszczady mountains.
Zatwarnica, the adapted tourist hotel in its beautiful natural setting continues to be our main location for the Ukrainian guests. And life in Zatwarnica continues to be punctuated with small (and large) celebrations. In the first week of October, a birthday of one of our younger residents was an occasion for fun.
At the same time, we have taken the first steps on the way to setting up a library! The inspiration came from the French organization Bibliothèque sans Frontières which kindly provided our guests with a number of books in their native language. We promptly arranged a space for this new leisure suggestion and it met with great interest.
The dining room in Zatwarnica is also a handy place when it comes to announcements and other important messages which need to be delivered to all of our residents.
Now a little insight into our Polish tradition and culture as we arrive at November 1, All Saints’ Day. To say that in Poland this is a very special day would be an understatement.
The tradition of celebrating All Saints’ Day, when we honor all saints, both those canonized by the Church and those known only to their family and friends, is one of the most important Polish holidays.
Under the communist rule, it was renamed as the “Day of the Dead” to make it as secular as possible, just a day of remembering the deceased family members. And of course it is a day of remembrance, too, but even if celebrated in a rather solemn atmosphere, it is illuminated by the hope of eternal life. The visible tokens of this hope are thousands of little lights flickering at every cemetery across Poland during the first week of November, and sometimes even longer. People bring special votive candles and fresh flowers (traditionally chrysanthemums) to decorate the graves of their loved ones.
The main cemetery in Przemyśl is a gem of outstanding historical value. Many graves have very ornamental designs and include monuments, some of which are true works of art, especially those dating back to the 19th and early 20th century, when numerous prominent citizens and military heroes were buried there.
If you are in Poland at this time, visiting any Polish cemetery will be a memorable experience, although you can also expect traffic jams and delays everywhere. Businesses are closed, stores are closed (with few exceptions.) Most people will be out heading to the cemeteries, and while those who have lived all their lives in their hometown will only have a short distance to cover, others will be driving for miles in various directions, going to their town of origin to visit the graves of their family and to meet with relatives. Our history explains this: Poland has been cut up and divided between three enemy states to the point of being wiped out from the world map for 123 years, regaining independence only to fall prey to a coordinated attack from Germans and Russians in World War II in 1939, and later tormented for decades by communists ruling from Moscow. Our borders were moved, thousands of people were displaced, forced to resettle in many different places.
After the partitions and rule by Russia, Prussia and Austria, Poland regained its independence in 1918, and this is another major celebration in November. Under communism, the holiday was suppressed and instead the commemoration of the communist manifesto on July 22 was promoted. Independence Day was restored as a national holiday in 1989, after Poland’s political transformation, and since then has been celebrated in a formal atmosphere, the main ceremony taking place in Warsaw and attended by the highest state officials. For many Poles it is a day to reflect on the value of freedom which was so dearly bought by our ancestors.
If you are interested in more information, you can visit the website poland.pl which offers many insights into our country’s past and present.
Coming back to our daily doings: we have just hosted another wonderful group of volunteers, our American friends from Detroit. They came to work on the renovation of a house which is part of our project of finding accommodation for Ukrainian refugees.
Here are some glimpses from the site:
At the same time, we were also honored by the presence of two other visitors from Detroit: Rev. Jim Holley, who had served for 50 years as Senior Pastor of the historic Little Rock Baptist Church, and our friend Jack Lintol, who had already been involved in our assistance program in many generous ways. One of the main appointments on their agenda was the meeting with our Metropolitan Archbishop Adam Szal.
Our American guests visited also the Jarosław Abbey and met with our residents living there. The unique gifts they brought along made everyone feel like members of one (Detroit) team ☺
Jack’s presence afforded another opportunity for an integrative event: we celebrated his birthday ☺
Before our guests left, there was a surprise: they purchased, as it seems, a substantial part of a shoe store… and offered it to our guests!
Another joyous event in Zatwarnica was the return of our Sister Małgorzata! She had volunteered with us for a very long period before returning to her community’s house in Kiev, Ukraine. We missed her precious support a lot and now she is back with us for a while. She went to work immediately: together with Aneta, our House Manager, they organized a much-needed meeting for our guests.
With the breath of winter already in the air, we know that soon we will be facing tough challenges: many Ukrainians who did not want to leave their country and held out until now, might be forced out by low temperatures and power cuts. We are preparing for a new wave of refugees and we ask you to keep us in your prayers for this hard season; even if we find enough space to accommodate everyone who wants to find shelter here, we can hardly afford to continue feeding so many people. But we trust that the Lord will provide us with what we need to continue our program.