CRS’ Prayers Go Out for Poles Worldwide

CRS was founded in 1943 as War Relief Services of the U.S. bishops’ conference. At that time, the Catholic Church in this country had a very European flavor, with prominent cultural associations with being Irish, Italian, Polish and German. The US Catholic church had a great concern about the welfare of its brothers and sisters, sometimes quite literally members of one’s family, in Europe during the war. A groundswell of concern and compassion was made manifest to U.S. Catholic bishops, who created this agency temporarily to serve those suffering as a result of the war, mostly in Europe, but also in Asia, the Philippines and later occupied lands like Japan.

Our first project arose as the result of a terrible event that took place early in the course of World War II. After the Soviet Union liberated Poland from the Nazis, the Soviet army gathered the Polish intelligentsia, army leadership, etc. and massacred them in the Katyn Forest. This atrocity was kept secret, and was generally unknown around the world. The Soviets did this by rounding up the families of those who had been massacred and using them as slave labor in Siberia, where they endured for years working as part of war machine of Soviet Union. Eventually when the Allies met in conference, Roosevelt and Churchill insisted they be freed. Stalin agreed, and released them, but provided no transportation. They had to walk out of the Soviet Union, and eventually came out in Persia, arriving in Tehran.

They were met by an American Catholic priest from Chicago, named Fr. Wycislo, who eventually became the archbishop of Green Bay. The refugees couldn’t go back to Poland because Poland was still under the Soviet Union. The idea was to find them temporary homes, and they were sent east. Many of them settled in the Middle East, some of them settled in East Africa, and some settled on the Indian subcontinent. Some went to Ceylon, now called Sri Lanka. And eventually a large group of them landed in San Diego. They were not allowed to settle in this country by President Roosevelt because the news of the Katyn massacre was still not known. The fear was that if word did get out, it would create incredible animosity in the American Polish community toward the Soviet Union and it was believed that we still needed Soviet support for the war. So the Polish refugees went to Mexico and, with help from CRS, settled in place called Colonia Santa Ana. Years later many immigrated to United States and became CRS donors. They actually subsidized many early CRS histories.

So, for many reasons, and mindful of our long history together, we grieve deeply for Poland’s recent horrific loss. Please join us in lifting our Polish brothers and sisters throughout the world in prayer at this time of loss and mourning.

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