News from Warsaw, Poland

It has been a few years since I last wrote a newsletter. During all that time I have been living in Warsaw (I have been in the Fraternity for nine years now). Our fraternity (one of three located in Poland) is in a very poor area of Warsaw (the capital), on a street with a bad reputation. The families there are often divided, and the people suffer greatly.Warsaw, the neighbourhood of the fraternityWarsaw, the neighbourhood of the fraternityThe district where we live is changing more and more. New buildings for the rich are cheek by jowl with older ones occupied by many poor and marginalised people. The area has become more popular over the last few years because it is the only surviving part of the real 'old Warsaw' dating back to before the Second World War. The rest of the city was completely destroyed at the end of the war, and subsequently rebuilt in a tasteless laisser faire fashion. It must be said that despite the ugliness of some of the facades, the buildings in our area have their own 'soul', and a character that is attracting more and more of Warsaw's population.
Most of the inhabitants have lived here for generations, while others were 'deported' here by the State because they were poor or of ill repute. So there are a large number of people suffering different forms of poverty, who have a lot of alcohol and drug problems. Families are often fragmented, and people suffer a lot. Yet there is also no shortage of stable, 'normal' families. We do not know what the future of our neighbourhood will be, as for a long time the city authorities have been planning to renovate the buildings.
We are very affected by the problems of the people around us. Their situation is very upsetting, yet we feel powerless when confronted with their problems which have built up over generations. From time to time we meet members of movements such as ATD Quart Monde (which is an international poverty relief movement) who want us to be more committed to certain courses of action. We see the necessity of such a commitment, but at the same time we feel that we do not have the resources and that our mission is of a different kind, namely to "live with" the poor rather than being there to "help" them. But having said that, from time to time we do come up against difficult situations which call for a quick response on our part, such as when someone calls round in search of something to eat, or wanting to spend the night. I often think of a scene from the Gospel, part of Chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel (of which Brother Charles was particularly fond), where Jesus identifies with the forsaken and the poorest of society. It reminds me that I must always be open to learning something new from the Gospel, on a different level of reality.
Living as a poor person among the poor, I would like to establish a closer relationship with them. But there are many other things that also seem important. First and foremost is our course of study, which is not only an opportunity to increase our intellectual knowledge, but also, and more particularly, a time to deepen our understanding of God and our fellow human beings. As far as I am concerned, this is a real and very important part of our training, which makes it necessary for us to set aside sufficient time to study, pray, meet together and so on.the brothers of Warsawthe brothers of Warsaw
I appreciate that for other brothers, our way of life and our customs may appear too traditional and inflexible. Of course all things are relative, but here in Poland we tend to be seen as very 'liberal', and in the vanguard. But for all that, I would like to say that the path that we are following is a real search, on the spiritual, psychological and the human levels; it is truly creative, and calls for us to put our ideas into practice in real life at every moment.

Finally (last but not least!), I would also like to mention our most recent work experience, which is a very important aspect of our lives. As we are students, we do not do much paid work during the academic year, but I think we are very mindful of the fact that we should be able to support ourselves through our earnings. In fact, we do manage. When Zbyszek is in Poland, he works full time and is our most important source of income. During the holidays, the rest of us also look for work to earn our living (not only for the money, but also to remain in contact with 'ordinary people' around us).
During the last holidays (in July and August), Slawek and I worked together for the same firm, doing very simple manual work. The firm made products for bakeries and cake making, mainly in powdered form but also multi-cereal grains. The work was so basic that after a few days we could do it without assistance. I have a very fond memory of this last job. I think it was very good for us to spend the holidays working alongside manual workers. The main problem for us is how to remain in contact with these people, with whom we developed a very good relationship – it is hard to sever all links suddenly, but on the other hand, it is very difficult in practice to stay in touch with everyone.
In conclusion, I should like to say that I am happy where I am, guided by our ever patient God who ensures there that are people on my path (his witnesses) to help me find my way.Each one of us is very important, very original, an exceptional being beloved of God and forming part of the Fraternity just as he is. We complement each other, and this helps us to gain from each other. I see how in our present age a community which tries to live out the Gospel teachings can be a demonstration of another form of reality, which cannot be understood on the human level and which shows that the Kingdom of God is at hand. I am truly grateful to the brothers with whom I live (although I express this gratitude all too rarely) for the fact that we can live together and help each other to grow in our search for God. If we can draw closer to God, we will also draw closer to each other.