This is a story of fr. Jacek Gniadek SVD and Liu, a Chinese migrant, during the coronavirus lockdown in Poland. I translated this story from Polish to English. Originally he wrote it for our Polish SVD magazine “Komunikaty”. Touching, unbelievable and a true story that happened recently.
“This Lent season I was supposed to give retreats in ?l?sk region (south of Poland) but because of the outbreak of coronavirus I had to stay in Warsaw. Unable to go I decided to record one teaching every day and publish it on Facebook so that everyone could listen to it. After retreats I wanted to have some days rest but on the last day I got a phone call. That was on Wednesday before the Holy Week. After a while I knew I will have busy Easter. That time, Liu, a Chinese woman, was staying for few days in front of the Chinese embassy looking for help. She was sleeping there on the street.
A homeless and a stranger who could not speak other language than Chinses was staying in a foreign city in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. I immediately called some of my Chinese friends asking them for help. My phone number is on our Sinicum web page and everyone can easily get it from there. Sometimes people do call asking for information regarding Chinese Mass but this was a whole different matter. I thought about the Bible parable of the rich man and the poor Lazarus.
The first parable hero is a wealthy man who has no name. His wealth made him blind for God and the people in need. The second parable hero is a beggar lying in front of the rich man’s house. Contrary to him the beggar has a name Lazarus, what means “God has helped”. It’s a pity we rarely see the third parable hero, namely the Abraham. He was a very wealthy man and he was brought to Heaven, the same as the poor Lazarus. Wealth, if only is seen a mean which helps us to reach Heaven, is nothing bad for Christians. Dividing people for rich and poor is not the right way to do.
That day, I recognized that God gave me my Lazarus during the time of coronavirus. I knew that this is a chance for me to step up. When I started looking for a Chinese translator, I got a phone call from a lady who already contacted the IOM (International Organization for Migration) regarding this matter. Liu stayed in an empty hostel for some days and I promised her to look for another apartment. Her story is similar to many other stories of people who migrate. She left her sick son and old parents in China and came to Poland to work.
Then, she left Poland and went to France to seek for a better job there but she came back to Poland again at the beginning of this year. No longer than two months later she lost her job due to the outbreak of coronavirus and she ended up on the street without a legal permit to stay in the country. She was sleeping for few days in the main railway station (Dworzec Centralny) in Warsaw. After that, woeful, she went to the Chinese embassy but nobody helped her. At that time, all flights from Poland going abroad were cancelled due to lockdown.
She had no way out. It was not an easy task to help her finding a flat. I tried to look for an apartment near the SSpS convent in Sulejówek (close to Warsaw) where Jana, a Chinese sister, lives. However, one the landlords was afraid to rent a room to a Chinese and the other landlords were no willing to rent her a room as well. Fear is one the feelings that we have, especially in the context of foreigners and the coronavirus. That’s why I didn’t want to insist and argue with them. Landlords have the right to decide who they rent their apartments to.
After few failed attempts to rent a room in Sulejówek I changed my mind and I started to look for a room near my house in Warsaw. I did found one, a very small one room flat with a separate entrance. It was very comfortable for Liu. She moved there on Holy Saturday. Basia, a Polish translator who knows Chinese language perfectly and used to work a volunteer in our SVD Migrant Center, was a contact person with Liu. After Easter we went to meet Liu and we had a longer talk with her. She was calm, peaceful and safe there.
People from Asia have their dignity and pride. They work hard and they don’t want to have anything for free. Few days later Liu got involved in a small project for the homeless people in Warsaw. She was cooking baozi, a steamed bun, which is a Chinese favorite breakfast food. She was doing 60 baozi every day. This simple work took some of her time when she closed in her room during coronavirus lockdown. Benefits were on both sides. Liu had a work and homeless had hot food to eat.
During coronavirus lockdown they were only receiving dry food while the delivery of hot lunch was temporarily suspended. I also took advantage of this project as I was the one in charge of going to the local market where I was buying ingredients necessary to make Liu’s buns. When boazi were ready I was bringing them from Liu’s house to the canteen for the homeless. Thanks to this project Liu could forget China for a while. She will come back home when Poland will open borders and restart flights to China.
IOM will cover costs of her room in Warsaw as well as the costs of the flight and they will help her do all the necessary procedures with the border guards. Liu’s emigration to Europe was not a successful story. She’s impatiently waiting for the time when she is back with her family in China. But she is happy to meet someone who reached her out when she was in need, far from home and family. She doesn’t know, and she will never know, that she was a blessing for me during the coronavirus time. Helping people is like a free-market transaction. Benefits are on both sides”.
P. Krzysztof Malejko, SVD
Coordinador de JPIC, Polonia