A Sunday at St Michael's
New life in our 'Polish church'
By Dorota Bawolek
St Michael’s Catholic Church in the city centre has been revitalised by Birmingham's new young Polish community. Its congregation has quadrupled in size.
Polish language church services are not new in Birmingham. It’s been almost 60 years since the city's first large community of Poles, who settled after WWII, began celebrating mass at St Michael’s in Moor Street.
After years of gently declining attendance, St Michael's Polish congregation never expected that one day they would be joined in their prayers by thousands of their fellow country-men.
Since May 2004, when Poland joined the EU, 20,000 Poles have migrated to the West Midlands - many of whom have settled in Birmingham. Around a third of these are thought to be practising Catholics.
Busier than ever
This means that St. Michael’s, the city's bi-lingual 'Polish church' is busier than ever.
"This is something we have never expected to happen. There are virtually hundreds and hundreds of young Polish parishioners joining our Sunday services every week" says Father Apolinary, from St Michael's.
"It is a big challenge for us priests to serve such a big number of Polish Catholics who live in Birmingham now. But we are doing our best. We are very happy the Polish congregation is growing".
Young and devout
Official statistics claim that over 80% of new migrants from Eastern Europe are younger than 34 years old. Father Apolinary finds it overwhelming that so many of those young Poles have joined their congregation. He says:
Polish in Birmingham
"Sometimes I cannot believe my eyes when I see all of these young parishioners attending Polish services every Sunday. It is great to see that they bring their faith with them when they decide to leave their home country".
For many Polish people religion is an integral part of their day-to-day lives. Ela is one of the new members of St Michael's congregation. She works with children with special needs in Birmingham. Ela says that her faith is often thought of as something rather unusual by her British friends:
"My colleagues cannot believe that I go to church every Sunday. But this is the way my parents brought me up. If I were still living in Poland I would be in church at least once a week so why should I stop doing it in Britain?".
St Michael's, Moor St.
The shock of the new
Such comments from young Poles are music to the priests' ears! But they are
After 60 years of practicing her Catholic faith in Birmingham she told me
"We were getting worried about the future of the Polish parish in Birmingham as many members of the old Polish community are gradually dying out. Now we are full of hope that Polish ‘new arrivals’ will look after Polish Sunday services when we are not here any more. It is a great feeling to be in the church now that is filled with people every Sunday again!"
Genowefa Czepiel at St Michael's
The priests say that over a thousand people now regularly attend Sunday mass at St Michael's. Coming up to Christmas and other major Catholic festivals this figure can even double.
Meeting demand - three new masses
To meet demand, St Michael's now holds three Polish language masses on Sunday, and one on Saturday. As well as English language masses on Saturday and Sunday.
Father Apolinary and Father Zygfryd are expecting one more priest to join them at their city centre church in March. All of it in order to meet the needs of Polish Catholics who are making their homes in the West Midlands.
Attendance has grown fourfold
As Father Apolinary explains, his new flock often look for something more than faith when they come to speak to him.
"These young people who leave their family and friends in Poland often need advice and a sense of community as much as prayer and worship." he says.
"We do all we can to be there for them but sometimes we simply can’t find time for everybody as there are so many of them."
Sixty years of Sundays at St Michael's
An integrated community
Although the British Catholic Church is happy for Poles to have services in Polish, the priests at St Michael's are keen to break down, rather than build barriers. Father Apolinary:
"The last thing we want to happen is to create a separate Polish church!" he says.
"We have always been maintaining close links with the British congregation at St Michael's. With so many of the young Polish parishioners speaking very good English we believe the links between Polish and British Catholics will be getting stronger rather than weaker, which will benefit both congregations."
last updated: 30/06/2008 at 14:26
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