An interview with Fr. Kazimierz Piotrowski, CSsR
Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine, over 3.5 million refugees have arrived in Poland. This number increases by several thousands new arrivals daily. They are often destitute and abandoned people who need our help and care. As Redemptorists, sent primarily to the poor and abandoned, we try to respond to the signs of the times. For this reason, in many places, we open our doors to those fleeing war and provide for their needs. So it happened in Tuchow, where our Redemptorist religious house and the Major Seminary are located. We have given shelter to the refugees in the pilgrim’s house. One of the coordinators of this initiative is Father Kazimierz Piotrowski, CSsR, who talks about it in an interview.
Br. Krystian Grabowski, CSsR: Father Kazimierz, please say a few words about yourself.
Fr. Kazimierz Piotrowski, CSsR: At the beginning of my priestly life, I went to Ukraine, where I ministered for 6.5 years. There I got to know the language and culture. After returning to Poland, I worked as a missionary, and for over two decades, I was in charge of the economy of the Redemptorist Province of Warsaw. After I had finished this ministry, I returned to my missionary work and scientific studies.
K.G.: While ministering in a parish in Ukraine, you made friends and know the country better. What was your reaction to the news that war had begun?
K.P.: I know history well, and I see the logic behind the war. These are certain things that one can predict. War means refugees and social, economic and military problems. Since the Second World War, it has been the first time we have dealt with such a big-scaled armed conflict. Russia seems not to have understood one basic thing: one man cannot be the ruler of Europe and blackmail others. Knowing the history (especially the 20th century), I am not surprised as I watch what is happening now.
K.G.: What were your first ideas and plans regarding helping refugees?
K.P.: The simplest! I made phone calls to my friends to raise funds to buy medicine and provide some supplies as humanitarian aid as quickly as possible. It was evident that such a vast displacement of millions of people would require a lot of money to help them. Society has to come together because no one can bear the cost of such an undertaking alone – and that is what happened. Next, we prepared everything to welcome refugees to Tuchów. We took in forty-five people from Ukraine. They were coming almost all from the eastern parts where there is currently heavy fighting; Donbas, Kharkiv, Mariupol, Irpin, etc. They are mainly mothers with children. We have also organised language courses in Polish: one in our religious house in Tuchów and the second one at the elementary school in the nearby town of Ciężkowice. Picking up at least the basic skills in language will help the refugees to find and take up a job.
K.G.: Who are the people that you have taken under your roof?
K.P.: It is a pretty large group of people who are constantly changing: some of them find work and change their place of residence. Today, on April 29, four new people arrived at the house. They are people of different ages with various problems and health conditions. We have one blind woman; there is also a lady who has cerebral palsy. Most of them left their homes in the Donbas area. When they arrived, they looked very lost, but they started to feel comfortable with us with time. From the beginning, I stressed to them to remember that we form one unique family together. The atmosphere is perfect. The refugees cooperate; they take care of the house and each other.
K.G.: What are their most significant needs? What did they expect the most?
K.P.: The range of problems and needs is extensive. The first and most important is the need for security and acceptance, just like in a family. A smile, a good word and showing interest are essential. The best cure for a person is another person. We have to organise medicines for some people because, as I mentioned earlier, they are sick people—That’s why we cooperate with the health services. We help the refugees with legal issues (for example, obtaining the PESEL number). There is a lot to do, and we try to approach everyone’s problems individually.
K.G.: There are many things to do, so you need many hands to work. Are people willing to get involved in this kind of support? How many people help?
K.P.: The involvement is excellent. Many want to help even by the smallest gesture. As far as our religious house is concerned, the willingness to support is considerable. Fr. Ludwik Łabuda CSsR, who grew up in Ukraine, is very active in this work because of his language capability. The parish priest helps, brother Kamil, other fathers, and brothers help in various ways. In addition, the Josephite Sisters, the Servite Sisters and laypeople are showing their kindness in every possible way. One should also remember the action organised before the arrival of the refugees – there was a collection of canned food to be sent to Ukraine. As we are managing aid, we do not focus only on the group of those we have received. Together with the Redemptorist Province of Warsaw and ‘Radio Maryja’, we are organising the action of sending another batch of food to Ukraine. The response is great. All gestures of kindness are simply beautiful!
K.G.: Do you also care for the spiritual needs of these people?
K.P.: The people we took in belong primarily to the Orthodox Church. We make sure that they have access to spiritual ministry. We have explained to them the possibility of them receiving the sacraments in the Catholic Church. We got in touch with the Orthodox Cathedral in Gorlice and organised the bus trip for those who wanted to participate in the Easter Vigil liturgy, celebrated according to the Julian calendar. We also invited Monsignor Roman Dubec to come to us to bless the food and meet Orthodox believers from the area in our church. Knowing how strongly the spiritual needs are, we make every effort to meet them.
K.G.: In the Gospel, Jesus says: “Blessed are the peacemakers…” – how can we bring peace to people?
K.P.: It is vital to deal with people with kindness: not only in times of war but always! As we show compassion and interest, we begin to know our neighbour. Then we discover their needs, and the possibilities for realising them open up.
K.G.: Is this dimension present in the Redemptorist charism?
K.P.: Refugees are people who have found themselves in a situation of abandonment from the spiritual and material point of view, so there is no doubt that they are the ones we have to go to. They are open and wonderful people; religious differences are not a problem. God came to man to understand him and show his care for him. As we follow the Redeemer, we are acting according to his example.
K.G.: The current situation is constantly changing and developing. What are the prospects for the future?
K.P.: None of us knows the future, only the Lord God. I told our guests: “Note that the present situation is difficult, but it is also an opportunity”.
K.G.: Many people ask themselves how else they can help the war refugees. What is your advice to them?
K.P.: Everything indicates that this war will continue for a long time. Solidarity is a crucial thing. When we do our shopping for a home, let us buy a little bit more and take it to the collection points. Let us take an interest in people we pass on the street – perhaps we can show them the way or tell them what time the bus is leaving. Let’s start with simple things and a good, friendly word.
Courtesy of “Rodzina Odkupiciela” [The Redeemer Family], a newsletter of the Redemptorist Major Seminary in Tuchów, Poland, no. 2/2022