Meet Georgia’s Father Witold Szulczynski

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by Molloy Corso

Father Witold Szulczynski is probably the only Roman Catholic priest to have ever built a Georgian Orthodox Church.

As general director of Caritas Georgia — an international Catholic humanitarian organization — Father Szulczynski has undertaken countless social and economic projects serving Georgia’s needy of all creeds.

Originally from Poland, he has dedicated the last 17 years of his life to Georgia’s poor, Catholic and Orthodox alike. Approximately 80 percent of the country’s 4.7 million people belong to the Georgian Orthodox Church. Only a small fraction are Roman Catholic.

“The Lord is one. On the cross, he gave his life for the Orthodox, the Catholics, the Baptists — for everyone,” explains the priest.

Father Szulczynski and Caritas Georgia have their work cut out for them. More than a third of Georgian’s live below the poverty line.

“Every person that we help, it doesn’t matter whom, is a child of God and that is most important,” says the priest.

However, Father Szulczynski also stresses that his and his agency’s mission is not simply to fill bellies; it is also to elevate souls.

“[A] person — whether a child or a 70-year-old grandmother — needs more than just a piece of bread, or a table and mattress,” he says. “They are human souls and they need something more.”

For Father Szulczynski, building an Orthodox church for Georgia’s needy is essential to helping them bear witness to God’s love.

Growing up in a devoutly Catholic family in Poland, Father Szulczynski remembers receiving the call to priesthood early in life. Surrounded by uncles who were priests, he had plenty of role models.

“I always thought that becoming a priest meant serving the people,” he says. For him, the call was synonymous with helping those in need. As a young man he even defined it as “a symbol of love from the Lord to man.”

After ordination, he served for a few years as pastor in churches and a seminary in Poland. Then in 1993, while working in Rome, he was offered a position at the newly established Vatican Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia.

A young priest with only 10 years experience, Father Szulczynski admits that at the time he was not very excited about the prospect of working in an embassy.

“I didn’t think a priest should work in an office,” he confesses. “But a priest is like a soldier.”

The initial three-year assignment in Tbilisi somehow morphed into a 17-year career serving Georgia’s needy, precisely the sort of people he dreamed of helping as a young man in Poland. “Through these works, the projects of Caritas, we are witnesses to the love of the Lord to people,” explains Father Szulczynski.

“To write and send reports is also a service to others in the name of the Lord. That is how I think of it, and it is very important.”

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