Church in Poland: ” “signs that raise questions

A deep-rooted Catholicism whose ongoing difficulties are linked to social and cultural transformations " "

Several reports published in the past weeks provide useful information on the situation of the Catholic Church in Poland. During the recent European Congress on Vocations in Warsaw, the European Vocation Centre (EVS) presented recent findings on the formation of candidates to the priesthood and religious in the Old Continent. Moreover, the Statistics Office of the Catholic Church (ISKK), published an annual report on religious practices in Poland. Finally, the central Statistics Office (GUS) released a report on the dimensions and directions of Polish migrations in the years 2004-2012. Recent ISKK figures show that on average 39.1% of baptized Poles attend Sunday Mass, and that 16-3% receive First Communion. This means that the number of “dominicantes” has decreased by 1% compared to 2012 and fell under 40% for the first time. Over the past 10 years (2003-2013) the “dominicantes” group decreased by approximately 2 million people. However, Gus declared that at the end of 2012 two million 130 thousand Poles had left the Country. Since Poland’s adhesion to the European Union in 2004 migration from Poland has become a significant social phenomenon. Polish people leave their homeland in search of a job, thereby contributing to fill churches in Western Europe – which Brussels and London are an example of. Indeed, statistics don’t provide a full picture of those who decide to leave the Country, nor whether they are believers and practising Catholics. But we can’t afford “to sleep quietly”. Probably nothing has changed in the Poles’ attitude towards faith and towards the Church. However, it should be admitted that the migration phenomenon makes it hard to develop totally reliable statistics in terms of the religious situation in the Country. In its survey Iskk Statistics Office took for granted that parish priests know the exact number of Catholics currently living in their communities. However, a tendency to decreased church attendance seems undeniable. In the 1980s, approximately 57% of the faithful attended Mass. In the 1990s they were about 50%. Today, according to the Institute – they are slightly less than 40%. At the same time, the number of people that take Communion has remarkably increased. In the 1980s this group neared 7.8%. At present, they amount to approximately 16.3%. This indicator is constantly increasing. To this regard it widely believed that secularization of society is accompanied by the “polarization” of believers. As many as 60% of Catholics in Poland said they identify with traditional Catholicism and adherence to the Catholic Church. This population bracket consists of a large number of practising Catholics, involved in parish life, in Catholic communities and movements, while other faithful distance themselves from participation in Church life. Moreover, they don’t renounce their faith officially, but they break their relationship with the Church, changing their lifestyle practices and traditions. Sunday religious practices have lost value owing to Sunday as a working day and to the appeals of the “leisure industry”. EVS surveys show that Poland ranks first in Europe, followed by Italy, in terms of diocesan priests (23.624, with an increase of 178 priest compared to 2011) and third – after Italy and Spain -as relates to the number of religious priests (6.605, with an increase of 90 priests). In 2012 were ordained the highest number of priests in Europe (512, 9 more compared to 2011). Seminaries provide religious formation to the highest number of candidates to the priesthood in all of Europe (2.976, 217 less compared to the previous year). The situation of vocations in women religious orders is much more complex. At present there are 21.180 nuns, 284 less compared to 2012. In the light of these figures it can be said that the situation in Poland is dynamic. And although there is no reason to “rend our garments” the transformations occurred over the past decades in Ireland, Spain and Malta – countries with a strong Catholic tradition – are a warning and a reminder for all local Churches (even though the universal Church will continue to exist until the end of the world!). We should be aware that – given the importance of Polish Catholicism for Europe – a rapid acceleration of secularization processes in Poland would negatively impact the entire Church in the Old Continent.

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