A People’s faith: history’s role

The words of the new president of the Bishops' Conference. The focus on the Church and the Country

On March 12 the archbishop of Poznan, Monsignor Stanislaw Gadecki, was elected at the head of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. The bishops, encouraged by the encounter with Pope Francis in the framework of the recent Ad Limina visitation, anticipate with the faithful the canonization of John Paul II scheduled for April 27, as well as the other events that will mark the year 2016. In fact, at the end of July the world Youth Day will be celebrated in Krakow to the presence of the Pope, and Poland will commemorate 1050 years of faithfulness to the Church of Rome. To SIR Europe Gadecki explained how the troubled history of the peoples of Eastern and Central Europe brought Christianity to play a special role in this region, which bears special relevance still today. What are the characterising features of the Polish Church? “The Church’s situation in Poland is conditioned by a specific historical situation that differentiates the Polish experience from that in other Countries, including neighbouring ones. At the time of the Protestant Reformation Poland was not involved in tragic wars of religion, and it remained faithful to the Church in Rome. In the 19th century, when for 123 years the Polish State was cancelled from the maps – divided between Protestant Prussia, Orthodox Russia and Catholic Austria – the Church became the bastion and the binding force of national identity. In the 20th century, during Nazism and Communism, it was the only oasis where fundamental human dignity and freedom thrived. The Pontificate of John Paul II is inscribed within the history Poland. Its influence on the destiny of Poland, Central and Eastern Europe and of the rest of the world has no equals. All this constitutes the richness of the Polish Church, which has always been near its people, for whom it has always been a moral authority and a source of hope and strength”. What are the problems? “The problems are to be found in the current cultural environment, experienced in all Western countries. The challenges addressed by Western countries a few decades ago now involve the Church in Poland. So it’s important, taking advantage of our strengths, to learn from the experience of other Countries”. What will be the significance of the canonization of John Paul II for the Polish Church? “The intercession of the saints is for us a source of grace that we need to effectively implement our commitments. With the canonization, as an ecclesial community we can ask for the intercession of the Saint who has been one of us. It is worthwhile remembering the words of the Pope in 1987, on the occasion of the beatification of a daughter of the Polish people, Karolina Kozka. He asked at the time: ‘The Saints, aren’t they there to … confound?’. When we will speak of John Paul II as a saint, remembering his life, perhaps we might experience that ‘redeeming confusion.’ John Paul II lived through the difficult times of the Second World War, under a regime that took hold of our Country with Soviet artillery. But nonetheless he was able to defend the hierarchy of values. This is especially significant today, given the tendency to relativize all areas of life, the loss of the sense of sin, the assumption to take God’s place, and the attempts to master even life and death. For this very reason his canonization is so important for the Church today”. In the past years the Polish Church signed two documents: one with Moscow’s Patriarchate and one with the Ukrainian Church. How are they to be interpreted, in the light of the ongoing crisis in Ukraine? “The joint message of the Polish Catholic Church and the Russian Orthodox Church was signed in Warsaw in 2012. It puts into writing the appeal to the faithful to plead forgiveness for the past mistakes, injustice, and sufferings they inflicted to each other. It testifies to an assumption of responsibility for the future of both peoples, and of the world. It paves the way to dialogue, as serious obstacle on this road is the burden of the history of our peoples. We must overcome these obstacles and remember the bond of our common Christian heritage in the East and in the West. Today, considering the risks to which our civilization is exposed, it’s important to speak with a single voice and condemn abortion and euthanasia as mortal sins. It’s important to reaffirm with a single voice that the foundation of each and every society is represented by the family. The common statement on Polish-Ukrainian reconciliation issued in 2013 states that ‘neither violence nor ethnic cleansing have ever been the way to solve conflicts between ethnic groups or neighbouring populations’ and that acts of violence ‘cannot be justified on political, economic or religious grounds.’ These words take on a special meaning in the light of the present tragic situation in Ukraine. The voice of the Church is especially important since it reminds us that every source of evil, hostility, division between individuals and peoples always originate in sin. That’s why we need ongoing conversion”.

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