It’s the end of the summer and the swallows are gathering on the telephone wires waiting to leave. Here at Minsteracres we’re anticipating the departure of two other summer visitors.
Arek Galka and Radek Mucha, both training to become priests in the Passionist monastery in Warsaw, have spent the month of August with the resident community at Minsteracres helping out at one of the busiest times of the year.
For Arek it is his second visit, having spent last summer in Northumberland. Again he celebrated his birthday – his 22nd – here and was delighted to be presented with a cake to celebrate. “This year is very important for me,” he says. ”Being here away from family and friends has given me time to hear better what Jesus tells me in my heart, and so in September I begin my novitiate.”
Radek agrees, “It’s a beautiful place for making a decision. The peace of God speaks to human hearts in the silence.”
Arek has been inspired by his experience. “Here, priests are priests, but after chapel they are normal men among normal people. It is good for us to learn this.
“I am beginning my Passionist life, but I hope when I become a priest to be a missionary, like the first Passionists who went from place to place and preached the love of God through Christ’s life.”
Both men have learned a powerful lesson about simplicity. They travelled with just cabin baggage and had a weight allowance of only nine kilograms. “That allows me only three t shirts, two pairs of trousers and a laptop, and that’s enough!” says Radek.
Radek himself is near the end of his training and hopes to be ordained as a deacon this autumn and become a priest next year. This is his first visit to England. “I have fallen in love with the country, especially Northumberland,” he says. “When I was young I spent a lot of time with my grandmother who lived in the south of Poland. The cattle and sheep in the fields and the country here remind me of that time. It’s delightful – a beautiful landscape.”
He is very aware of the changing fortunes of the church. “When I began there were 15 or 16 students in training. Now there are only three and one novice.”
On a visit to Tynemouth he was surprised to see a church that had become a shop. He fears the same thing may be about to happen in Poland too.
Both men have shown remarkable dedication to whatever tasks they were asked to perform, and staff and community members alike have been loud in their praise. “Their presence brings a youthful, prayerful and working presence to the community.” says Sr Therese O’Regan. “Arek and Radek fitted in really quickly. It’s been hard to stop Radek from jumping up to do things all the time. His whole focus is on being helpful!”
Fr Jeroen Hoogland, head of the community at Minsteracres reflect, “It’s been a good experience for them. It’s important for people in formation to experience Passionist life outside their own community, and good for us to bring people from outside with a different experience.
“This has been part of an international collaboration in the North European Region of Passionists, one which enabled both Arek and Radek to be in an English speaking environment.”
The housekeeping team are delighted with the help they’ve received. Vacuuming has never been undertaken with such gusto, the windows are sparkling and they have particularly appreciated help with the heavier tasks. It seems nothing has been too much for the visitors.
The visitors themselves, however, are quick to point out that it has not been all work and no play. “We’ve had lots of trips,” says Radek. The first was within three days of arriving when they accompanied a group from St Helen’s on a parish retreat on a visit to South Shields. Even then they made themselves useful pushing two of the company in their wheelchairs.
After that there were visits to Beamish, Alnwick Folk Festival, Durham and Hexham. The highlight though, was when they bought day tickets for the Metro in Newcastle and travelled to Whitley Bay, Cullercoats and Tynemouth on the coast. “The North Sea is cleaner and more beautiful than the Baltic,” observes Radek. Colder too, and he should know, “Radek went into the sea to swim three times and came home complaining of the cold!” says Sr Therese.
None of this has dampened their spirits and their enthusiasm for Minsteracres and Northumberland remains undiminished. “This community is a real family,” says Arek.