Polish Entrepreneur Discusses His New Apostolate: Praying for Teenagers Tempted to Suicide
Krzysztof Gawrysiak has founded a website in response to sobering reports of suicidal tendencies among young people in order to combat this ‘pandemic of loneliness.’
Suicide rates among adolescents are disturbingly high across the Western world and the number continues to rise.
According to a report published last October by the United Health Foundation, suicides among American adolescents aged 15 to 19 jumped by 29% over the previous decade, while the rate among those aged 10 to 24 increased nearly 60% between 2007 and 2018, according to a recent report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The high rates of teenage suicide and depression has prompted Polish Catholic technology investor and entrepreneur Krzysztof Gawrysiak, together with his prayer group Palnik, and another network of prayer groups ARW (Apostolic Faith Movement), to found a website (pray4teens.org) specifically to pray for teenagers who are contemplating taking their own lives, and to enable any teen suffering from depression and suicidal tendencies to request prayer.
In this May 2 telephone interview, Gawrysiak explains more about his initiative, the likely reasons suicide and depression are on the rise among teens, and discloses that although the website has only been active for three months, it has already had an enormous response.
“It has been absolutely heart-breaking because we’re receiving lots and lots and lots of emails every single day, and they sound pretty much the same,” he says.
Gawrysiak and his colleagues had a private audience May 4 with Pope Francis, and met earlier in the day with Cardinal Konrad Krajewski, the Polish prefect of the Dicastery for the Service of Charity.
Krzysztof, please could you tell us a bit more about this initiative, what it involves and what your aims are?
It’s like the spiritual adoption of the unborn only this time we’re praying for those who are experiencing depression, loneliness and unfortunately also thinking of committing suicide.
The website has two features: The first requires clicking on a button to declare your so-called spiritual adoption. It means you declare, in conscience, to pray for one teenager according to the type of prayer you know, so if you’re Catholic you can pray the Rosary for them, Orthodox or Evangelical another way. You should also declare length (duration) of the prayer and pick a name of the teenager you wish to pray for. This is an international problem, not only for the Catholic world. And unfortunately, we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of kids experiencing this situation right now, so whatever name you take, there is probably a John or Mary, etc.
Then we have a second feature because we’d like to know those names of those who need prayers, and gather them together. So there’s a second button you can click and where you send the name of someone who needs a prayer, or tell us if you, yourself need prayers. Then you can send us an email with this information.
What sort of response have you received?
Frankly speaking, it has been absolutely heart-breaking because we’re receiving lots and lots and lots of emails every single day, and they sound pretty much the same. “Hi, I’m Veronica, I’m 15 years old, I’m cutting myself. Please pray for me so that I won’t commit suicide.”
We’re praying and discussing what we should do with these responses because we’re not psychologists. It’s a very delicate issue and spreading throughout the world, so it has to be well thought through as there are people considering this and we have to be careful what we’re saying [so] we’re thinking of teaming up with some psychologists and psychiatrists so we can physically get back to those people.
I don’t know about the U.S., but in pretty much every European country there is a [phone] number for those wanting to speak to someone if they’re in a place of despair. But what we’ve realized is that there’s not really a group for those under 18 living at home. This is also not a generation that’s using the phone so much; they prefer to use texts, and this is why the second feature has been so successful because they want to scream out to the world and say they need help but would rather not call anyone.
How serious is the situation facing teens today?
We know the situation is quite dreadful around the world and it’s pretty much the same in every country. Last year in Poland, which has a population of 38 million, according to different statistics we had 20,000 unrecorded suicide attempts. About 2,000 were recorded, that is, the police and an ambulance were called. But as you can imagine, not everyone will raise the alarm if the child started to take their life but were then stopped because of their parents, and so they don’t necessarily call the police or an ambulance. And then in some countries, such as in Scandinavia or Germany, definitely cases are not always reported as social workers will then target parents as someone not looking after their child properly. So psychologists say that for every one person recorded, there’s usually about 10 unrecorded, so that’s why we had something like 20,000 in Poland last year. If we look at the U.S., and I need to double check this, but there were probably around 150,000 teenage suicide attempts last year.
What do you think is the biggest cause?
Everything started years and years ago. It’s the loneliness of children, spending too much time on mobile phones, on social media, and then COVID [restrictions] didn’t help, and the number of cases rose. There is a huge pandemic of loneliness in Europe. They say actually that more people have been dying from suicide than from car accidents, to put it into perspective.
Among young people or in general?
In general, but for young people, and this is probably the case for all age groups as well, psychologists say that once a person starts along that path, they will not stop unless or until something happens, that is, somebody or something stops him. This is why we decided we had to have something that stops them. We also started a social campaign in Poland with big corporations but that will take longer so we thought, as we’re Christians and Catholics, we should introduce something immediately.
What are the deeper underlying problems? Would you say it’s because of a loss of faith and idea of sin in society, and so largely the problem is largely spiritual?
Absolutely, this is why prayer is so important because God wants us to live and complete our mission on earth and, on the other hand, evil doesn’t want us to live. So I suppose it is highly spiritual, but these kids are very vulnerable. It all starts in the family, the crisis in the family. The divorce rate is 60%, or even higher, in the Western world. Then there’s social media and very weak self-confidence, which we usually we get through a relationship with God and the family but if you don’t have a relationship with God, you don’t have healthy family, then you’ll be trying to get self-confidence from your peer group, and so that means you’ll be looking at things on Facebook, Instagram, wanting to compare yourself with your friends.
But there is a problem, I absolutely agree with you, and that’s a relationship with God. Those kids are struggling with something and want to share it with someone. They don’t have that opportunity because perhaps there’s hatred, or nobody is interested. Normally you’d share it in the sacrament of reconciliation, but in Poland and England, and the U.S., where I’ve been many times, I see more and more people taking Holy Communion and not going to confession. Of course, it’s a reconciliation with God but this sacrament also plays a role of “psychotherapy,” being present to God and in return you can receive unconditional love, so definitely there’s a process of healing, and because people are not making use of the sacrament, this, too, plays a significant role.
Do you also think there’s a problem of fatherhood, of spiritual paternity?
Absolutely, if we don’t see God through our physical earthly father, how can we have the same relationship with God the Father? That’s definitely a problem.
Have you witnessed the power of prayer from this and other initiatives?
Yes, we’re already receiving some testimonies and we know how powerful prayer is in destroying a culture of death and the works of evil. A couple of years ago we and a few other praying groups rented Poland’s national stadium for a one-day retreat for young people and it was a big success, about 40,000 people praying. Two kids came back to us, burst into tears and thanked us for organizing it. A friend took them there, but they had been planning to commit suicide that day.
Within my parish, there are young people looking for friendship or going through terrible situations, so we are praying wherever we can. We know it works as we already have testimonies. There was a woman interviewed on Polish radio and she nominated her son to be prayed for. He had been in depression for three years, and for the last 6 months he was staying in his room, not washing himself, just lying in bed all the time. She nominated him on Saturday, and on Tuesday or Wednesday, he woke up one morning and went to the bathroom, washed and started talking to her.
We also have a healing ministry in our church in Warsaw and we pray for lots of people, and it’s helped massively. People come back to us saying not only have they experienced physical healing but spiritual and psychological healing, too, so it’s happening all the time.
What are your plans in the coming years for the project?
First of all, to translate the site into as many languages as possible, and raise awareness of this problem within the Church. As well as Polish, and English, Ukrainian and Italian, we’re currently translating the site into German and Spanish. But as we publicize it more, it will soon be impossible to read all the messages as we’re already receiving hundreds of emails every day. So we have to find a way to automize it. Some will also try to play jokes with it, so we’re talking to IT guys to find a way to manage that. Then, we need a lot of people to help from psychologists and others. If anyone wants to help us in this initiative one can contact us via [email protected]
And you will see the Pope in a private audience on Thursday?
Yes, the reason for seeing him is that we’d like him to bless the project. We’ve already started talking to bishops worldwide as we’d like to advertise it at World Youth Day in Lisbon. It will be good to be there to pray for one another and I believe that it would be a fantastic opportunity for young people who will gather in Lisbon to pray for their colleagues and peers.