Polish priests top "export product"

1500 Polish priests are already working abroad as the central European country takes over the traditional roles of Ireland and France as leading priest-sending countries.

At Krakow's Franciscan Missionary Centre, a display case full of African masks and Asian costumes recalls the adventures that awaited priests who went to spread the Roman Catholic faith in far-off lands, according to a The Washington Post report.

Nowadays, however, half of the missionaries who leave Krakow for abroad head no further than nearby European countries or just over the Atlantic to North America.

Priests have become a top "export product" as Poland, where the Catholic Church retains a vibrant strength lost in the rest of Europe, helps fill the dwindling ranks of clergy in the West, the newspaper says.

"The Church is universal, not just Polish," said Fr Marek Lesniak at the Krakow seminary, whose alumni man parishes of this large archdiocese and also work in Austria, Britain, Germany, Italy, Switzerland and the US as well as Russia, Ukraine, Democratic Republic of Congo and Brazil.

"We are not a seminary for missionaries, but if someone has a calling for the missions, he can go," said the deputy director of the 600-year-old seminary where the late Pope John Paul - an inspiration for many of the young students here - once studied.

"We Franciscans want to join in the rechristianisation of Europe," said Fr Jan-Marie Szewek of Krakow's Franciscan province, which has missionaries in Germany, Austria, Italy and the US.

Vatican statistics show over 1,500 Polish diocesan priests work abroad and dioceses and sources say the numbers are rising.

About 95 percent of Poles say they are Catholic. Over half attend mass weekly, far more than the 10-20 per cent seen in former Catholic strongholds such as France, Italy and Spain.

The number of seminarians is high, assuring a surplus of fresh blood here while the ranks of the clergy elsewhere thin out for lack of young men willing to join the priesthood.

Poland has 22.5 seminarians per 100 ordained priests whereas Italy has only 11.6, Spain 9.5 and France 5.6. Ireland - once a great "exporter" of priests - has only 3.6 per 100 priests.

Catholic priests become sought-after Polish export (Washington Post, 18/7/06)

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19 Jul 2006