Caritas Polska is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Caritas began with three people working on the top floor of the seat of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. Today, it is the largest charity organization in Poland and its aid programs for approx. 3 million people are run by over 100,000 volunteers.
On Friday, celebrations are being held in Warsaw for the 30th anniversary of the church organization that annually helps hundreds of thousands of people in need not only in Poland but also around the world.
The celebrations began in the Field Cathedral of the Polish Army with the Eucharist presided over by the President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki. On Friday, there will also be a discussion panel entitled “Partners with Caritas” and, during the evening festivities, people and institutions who render services to the Church’s aid organization will be honored. During the ceremony in the evening, Stanisław Sojka will perform John Paul II’s “Roman Triptych.”
After the political changes, on 10 October 1990, the Polish Bishops’ Conference established the new Caritas Polska.
“In practice, we work in many fields: we help the poor, the sick and the disabled and support the development of children and young people, but we also undertake humanitarian interventions outside Poland, in countries where people are suffering the effects of war and natural disasters,” said the Director of Caritas Polska, Father Marcin Iżycki.
“We do not choose who we help. In the universal Church, mercy is for everyone and we give help to all who are in need. Our strength is experience, the scale of our activities, but also flexibility and the readiness to respond to emerging crises,” evaluated Fr. Iżycki.
The best-known and oldest program, begun in 1994 and continued to this day, is the Christmas Eve Work to Help Children, associated with the Caritas candles. The funds raised in this way go to help children, allowing them to go on holidays as well as caring for their basic needs,” said the deputy director of Caritas Polska and one of its first collaborators, Jarosław Bittel.
Apart from the candles lit on Christmas Eve, Caritas runs the scholarship program “Wings” for young people. It also prepares “A Satchel Full of Smiles” which, since 2009, has provided children with over 170,000 school supplies.
Caritas Polska cooperates with Caritas in the dioceses. As part of the Operational Food Aid Program, Caritas distributed 14,000 tons of food for approx. 280,000 people in need. In connection with the coronavirus epidemic and the difficult situation of elderly people, action is being carried out for the elderly, providing, in addition to food, personal protective equipment needed during the pandemic. With seniors in mind, there are also aid programs such as the “Card for everyday shopping”, “We make dreams come true” and the competition “Senior Caritas.”
Outside the country, Caritas Polska is prepared to quickly help victims of war, hunger, or disasters. For example, after last August’s explosion in the port of Beirut, nearly PLN 5 million (over 1.3 million US dollars) were collected in a short time for the victims of the explosion. Food and hygiene products reached Lebanon, money is being used to rebuild houses or cover the cost of renting apartments for those who have lost their homes, and medical and psychological assistance is a being provided.
Caritas reminds us that the recent 30-year history is only a part of Caritas’ work, which actually began during the interwar period. The first Caritas Institute was established in Poznan in 1929. During the German occupation, the Church helped secretly or by acting in the Central Welfare Council, a Polish charity recognized by the occupation authorities.
After the war, the communists subordinated Caritas to the state and took over its institutions; therefore, the Church provided assistance informally, usually at the parish level. In the 1980s, the Bishops’ Conference changed the name of its Commission for the ministry of mercy to the Charity Commission of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. This Commission oversaw, among other things, the distribution of foreign aid which flowed into the country during martial law.
Caritas is the largest charity organization in Poland; in 2019, it was composed of Caritas Polska and 44 diocesan Caritas offices, and its spending on charity exceeded PLN 100 million (26 million USD). The Polish Organization is part of the networks of Caritas Internationalis and Caritas Europa.