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    Wednesday, July 19, 2006

    Poland's missionary work.. nearer than you think




    The situation has not gone unnoticed at the Vatican, where Pope Benedict urged Polish bishops visiting him last December to keep up the missionary work.

    "Encourage your priests to do their missionary service or pastoral work in countries where clergy are scarce," he told them. "It seems that today this is a special task and, in a certain sense, also a duty of the Church in Poland.

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    At Krakow's Franciscan Missionary Center, 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.

    Nowadays, however, half of the missionaries who leave this southern Polish city 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 Church is universal, not just Polish," said Father 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 United States as well as Russia, Ukraine, Democratic Republic of Congo and Brazil.

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

    Franciscans are good folks.

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