Welcome to the website of Camillians in Georgia. Father Akaki Chelidze, Father Paweł Dyl, Father Zygmunt NiedĽwiedĽ, Camillian Sisters, the Lay Camillian Family and volunteers from around the world serve the poor and the sick coming from that beautiful Caucasian country.
Interview with Father Zygmunt Niedzwiedz, OSCam.
Father Zygmunt Niedzwiedz omes from Zamojszczyzna, the south east region of Poland. He was born there on the 15th of June 1969, in a small town called Krasnobrod. He grew up together with younger siblings, one brother and four sisters. His mum, although a haidresser by trade, was a housewife. His dad worked as a bricklayer but he was also a farmer, as he received some hectares of land from his parents. After finishing the high school in nearby Jozefow, Father Zygmunt went far away to Pabianice near Lodz to continue education in a medical school. He gained new experience when working with the sick and after the exams he received a title of certified nurse. It influenced his choice. He listened to his vocation which he felt since primary school - to live a consecrated life, devoted to God by serving one's neighbors and joined Clerks Regular Ministers to the Sick - Camillians. 16 years have passed since then. After being a novice and taking monastic vows he studied philosophy and theology in Warsaw in the years 1991 - 97. He graduated from The Papal Faculty of Theology and started serving the sick and the disabled first in Zabrze on Cisowa street and later in Pilchowice near Gliwice (1997-98). Later he was sent to help in pastoral work in Biala. Those who got to know him when he ministered the parish and had religious instruction lessons in the local school and nursery school for four years, remember him very well. Always smiled, well-meaning person, he won common liking. In the meantime he continued writing his master's thesis (on the inner life's theology) which entitled him to take the long - awaited holy orders. After presenting the thesis and master's degree in theology (he graduated on the 16th of March 2001 in Warsaw) he was allowed to the sacrament of holy orders.
This year, he visited several parishes in Poland where he collected money for the needy in Georgia and Armenia, where he is now carrying out his ministry and asked to pray for them. Among others, he was also in Biala, which he always likes to come back to and where he received warm welcome.
BY RYSZARD NOWAK
- Did you come to Georgia of your own free will or was it decided by your superiors?
- My inner desire for a long time was to devote myself to working on a mission. When I heard that a new post, established by Italian Camillians in Georgia, needs help I expressed my willingness to join this kind of work to father Ernest Szleger. It was when late and much lamented father Pawel Szczepanek started his ministry there. The inhabitants of Biala remember his ardent ministry very well. After two years of fruitful work he died in a car accident in Georgia. It happened in July, 7 years ago, a few months before John Paul's II visit in Tbilisi. Father Pawel Dyl, at that time just ordained a priest, participated in his funeral in his hometown, Kamienna Gora. When he heard the appeal that one of the Polish Camillians should go there and replace him, an answer as if escaped from his heart: yes, thy will be done. Soon after that he went to Torino to learn the language and from there straight to Georgia to help with the ministry during Christmas. When "the second" father Pawel was on vacation in Poland, he came to Biala with the current father Franciszek Bieniek to respond to my repeated proposal to join the missionary work. After a matter-of-fact conversation, we came to a conclusion that I should go to Georgia to work there still this year and that deacon vows will take place not in our home country but there to set an example and encourage young people to follow their vocation. I got there on the 18th of November 2002. It can be worth mentioning that that day is in the Catholic Church an anniversary of the consecration of Roman St. Peter's and St. Paul's basilicas - a symbol of communion and unity in the whole Church, something that we are missing so much when it comes to the Orthodox Church. Both father Pawel and me received Peter as the second name during the baptism. Also our 2 houses in Tbilisi belong territorially to a parish dedicated to those saint apostles. It has been 4 years since I came here. One would like to say "Time is just flying"! On the 2nd of February 2003, the day of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, in the Assumption's Cathedral I received deacon vows during Holy Mass at 12.15 from the Caucasus' Apostolic Administrator, bishop Giuseppe Pasotto, with Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan papal nuncio, archbishop Claudio Gugerotti, Armenian - Catholic rite's Apostolic Administrator, Father Emmanuel, priests and a large congregation present. I suggested that date myself because it is also Consecrated Life Day and, even more significant for our order, the anniversary of St. Camillus' conversion. Joy from this event was intensified by the fact that it was the fist deacon vows since October revolution in Latin Rite the Catholic Church in Georgia. Holy orders were taken the same year on the 25th of October. This great event took place already in Poland so that my family, my fellow brothers and friends could take part in it.
- What is among Father's duties in Georgia?
- Two years ago - by our bishop's Giuseppe Pasotto decree - I was appointed the parish priest in Chizabawra and Wargawi, after Father Pawel, who rendered great service, but who made over his duties to me because of many jobs that he has. It is all the more difficult task because after 70 years of communism one has to begin from scratch. I can not dedicate enough time to my parishioners also because it is not the Camillian charisma of serving the sick but an additional obligation - as there is such a lack of priests in the Caucasus region. Because of that, I go there, high in the mountains, on Friday and I come back on Monday. One could say that I am an "arriving" priest, a guest in my own parish.
- Anything else that is included in Father's ministry, apart from working in the parish?
- Since the 10th of February 2005 I am also serving as chaplain in the only one free hospital with clinics in Aszock and 22 medical dispensaries in nearby villages in neighbouring Armenia. It happened because of three reasons:
Since that time it has been my permanent dwelling place. I work 4 days in Armenia and 3 in Georgia. Because of that I give my permanent address: Ospedale "Redemptoris Mater", 377540 ASHOTSK (Shirak). ARMENIA, tel. and fax: (00374) 10280290 - telephone exchange, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, and I will also add common internet address: email@example.com.
- I am sure the hospital contends also some other problems?
- Financial problems have come to the fore. It is our most expensive post in the world, compared to all of our order's missionary works. I can only add that we have 200 employees who take in about 30.000 people in all clinics during the year; they do, among others, more then 20.000 laboratory analysis, 1.500 radiographies, 3.000 echographies, about 1.500 operations in hospital and 500 in the clinics, 300 childbirths. There were even plans to close it because of the high costs of maintenance. But when our general superior from Rome - father Frank Monks, got to know local difficult conditions that the people have to live in, he decided to continue this noble and so needed work, funded by John Paul II 15 year ago after a heavy earthquake.
- I am wondering whether so many duties result in additional difficulties because of distances, additionally in Caucasus' mountainous land?
- I somehow manage in these conditions. Previously I used regular minibus service and sometimes buses. But often, when they were full of people, they didn't stop. Then I was forced to catch what I could on my way. Sometimes I had to change several times on the journey and even walk 7 kilometers on foot to our village. Then such journey became even longer. In that way I lost much time on getting there. Additionally, bad road surface made it longer as well, some sections have more holes then asphalt! If there is mud or snow the 7 kilometers long dirt road from Chizabawra to Wargawi is impassable. Then I have three variants to choose from: go by foot, ride on horseback (I learned it in Georgia) or by car but a long indirect route - 26 kilometers. I also have to mention that I have to stop four times on a border crossing to the Georgian and the Armenian side. Each time I cross the border they stamp my passport which means that it has to be changed each two years. My situation improved when on the 1st of July 2005 a Russian, 10 years old car Lada - Niwa was lent to me from our hospital. After a year, I got a 6 years old Niwa from our bishop. That car looks like our "little Fiat" but it has longer front and higher underbody, it is heavier and stronger as it is adapted for driving in difficult and mountainous conditions. I was very surprised when I heard how much petrol this small car uses: 14 liters per 100 kilometers! The only explanation for me is the fact that it is a "post - Soviet" product. It looks almost as good as new from the outside. But often it can be felt that someone has used it for a couple of years, all the more that previously the roads were very damaged and no one has repaired them for many years. Yet the good point is that parts for local cars are easy to get and mechanic's work is usually not that expensive. When going to the hospital, I often take the sick with me so I can help them even more.
- What else makes living and working in Caucasus difficult?
- Climate. This part of Caucasus is called "Armenian Siberia" because snow is lying here for a half year and at night temperature reaches -20 and sometimes -30 degrees. Last year snow melted in the middle of April. On my name day, the 2nd of May, I received a surprise - several centimeters of snow which melted quickly. During other months it often rains and is cold. Good weather is only during summer. Even in the beginning of September, after several days of rain, it got so cold that there was slight frost at night.
- What are the local people occupied with?
- Here, at 2000 meters above sea level, fruits and corns do not grow. If a year was good, there are small potatoes and some vegetables. If someone is living in the country then at least they can have their animals which graze on the grass. There are no forests either so wood is very expensive. People that can not afford coal heat the house with… dried manure! Many families do so. There is such poverty here we in Poland have no idea about. Additionally there is an enormous unemployment, both in Georgia as well as in Armenia. After the Soviet Union's collapse local economy (as in Georgia) broke down because it was built in such a way so that it was not able to exists separately without close cooperation with other republics.
- How are the inhabitants of those former Soviet republics getting on?
- Many people are going abroad looking for gainful employment, even if just for one season. Mainly to Russia, because it is not so far away and the knowledge of Russian also helps. Because of that in the whole Armenia there is only 2,5 millions of people and in Yerevan, the capitol city - about 1 million. So one can say that more Armenians are living abroad then in their home country.
- In what other ways are Camillians trying to help the inhabitants of those countries?
- 1. I have not said yet that 8 years ago we built a policlinic "Redemptoris Mater" in Tbilisi where the sick get medical help from different specialists during the day. The Caucasian Foundation's supervisor, father Nino Martini from Torino, is the manager of it. In the neighbouring monastic house there are three sisters from the congregation Daughters of St. Carol living who work together with us.
2. Nearby there is a state care house where we have helped to take care of seriously sick men for three years.
3. Each day a Camillian sister together with two volunteers is driving an ambulance (received from Poland) helping bedridden men in their homes in the capital city.
4. Two years ago, in the spring, in the neighbouring district of Tbilisi, Sanzon, we started a new work - house of daily care for the disabled. They are mainly young people on wheelchairs who are brought here by us. Volunteers are also helping with it. I can see that this work, whose manager and originator is brother Rober Kukulka, is growing beautifully. One can see considerable effects of workshops, psychotherapy and prayer as well as evangelizing meetings. In that house there is also father Pawel Dyl and newly ordained first Camillian Georgian priest - father Akaki Czelidze living.
5. Containers from Italy are constructive help because they provide food for the poor, clothes, medicines, aids for the disabled persons, toys for children, etc.
6. We also have a nursery school in Chizabawra which underwent major refurbishment and was opened and blessed on the 6th of June 2003 by Father Antonio Menegon from Italy. Some people said that it was the most beautiful kindergarten in Georgia. Children prepare interesting performances and concerts of local song as well as local dances, which I like very much. I even thought that a "concert tour" in Poland could be organized but we are lacking sponsor.
7. Next to the parish church there was a building which once served as a post office (frankly speaking there were only walls left). Thanks to "Caritas" funds now there is a nurse and also an internist and a dentist are working part time there; apart from that there is a small bakery and a sewing course is organized. When it will end, we will have a library and a room for parish meetings.
8. A farm, placed in mountains' higher parts, is a new project. It became a source of income for some people and our charges have milk, cheese and meat.
9. Children that attend religious instruction lessons have one week's "holidays with God".
10. We find scholarships for those that can not afford going to school.
11. Thanks to "distant adoption" we are supporting over 420 families in Armenia and over 100 in Georgia wnich live in extreme poverty. Among them there are a lot of such families where the husband went to Russia and… never came back, leaving the "unemployed" wife with children. There is still a lot of needful people and we are still looking for people from abroad who would send the money to support those who have almost nothing and because of that their situation is so tragic. Each month we transfer 27 Euro to each family and the donor gets a photo with some personal data and - once a year - a letter from the people who receive this help.
12. We buy firewood of we give money to it.
13. Three years ago we started an action called "Bread with butter for children in Georgia". One child gets bread with butter and it is enough to send 30 zloty to our bank account. The number of children and the number of months depends on the possibilities as well as on the generosity of the benefactor.
14. In Ashock we have a dance group which has the same name as the hospital. In Armenian it is "Tiramajr Narek". They took leading places in significant competitions and festivals.
15. We also take care of young people who ski. They have been a success not only in Armenia but also during competitions in other countries.
These are the things that I remember at the moment. It shows that the Camillian service in this ocean of needs is not only clearly visible but it continues to develop and that more and more suffering and poor people are provided care of.
- Who are the benefactors supporting financially your rich range of activities?
- These are mainly people or organizations from abroad, mainly from Italy, but the help offered by benefactors from Poland is becoming more and more significant. I believe that not only the benefactors from the West but also Poles can join it to a larger extend.
- How does the pastoral work look like in those countries?
- Atheizing has done its job. Spiritual poverty is even bigger; it is hard to cure perversion of thoughts, mentality and distorted conscience from the degradation after the communism. I found it puzzling that Armenia was the first country that accepted Christianity 1700 years ago in the year 301 but the atheistic activity's destructive influences are more visible here then in the other republics of the former Soviet Union. Maybe that was why this system was trying to destroy these beginnings of Christianity even harder. There is less churches, less local priests, nuns in percentage terms; many people still can not the sign of a cross, they don't know "Our Father" and have never taken part in a mass. I can add one significant example: in the communistic times there were several churches opened in the capital of Georgia while in the first city of Armenia there was only one. But it is changing, both Georgia and Armenia are rising from the communism's spiritual bondage, although slowly. But we still need many hands willing to help and many warm hearts. That is why I am asking You: pray wholeheartedly and every daily for them, offer Holy Mass, the rosary, acts of kindness and Your suffering so that they will convert and raise from communistic spiritual bondage. In that way the spiritual development will be faster and following on from that, the social and economic as well. Pray also for priests, monks and nuns for strengths, perseverance, wisdom and love in service for the needy; for numerous, good and sacred local vocations and for new missionaries to come here who will be willing to offer their lives to fire faith in many hearts.
- Are you counting on help from the outside?
- Of course, all the more so because each of our activities is owed to help from abroad. Each financial support is an act of neighbour's Christian love and helps people experienced by life and history. And I am asking for this help through You. I am saying it with hope that maybe also thanks to YOU or Your family and friends we will manage to better some people's living. I am asking for them, not for myself. If it has moved You and You have a possibility of material help then answer this appeal. If it is unavailable for You, do not worry - you can always offer spiritual help which should be on the first place. I would like to make use of this opportunity and thanks wholeheartedly to those that have been working with us since some time and bringing help. I am also saying "God bless you" to our future benefactors. I will commend you to my prayers. Each month we celebrate mass for our benefactors and we remember about them in everyday prayers. I am also praying for my parishioners from Biala, always dear to my heart.
- Thank you.