“Today’s ideals, behaviours and cultural canons seem to want to deny whatever was considered to be the norm until fifty years ago; following a revolutionary transformation, culture has now become an ideological tool”, said the President of Polish Bishops Stanislaw Gadecki, pointing out that “today, efforts are being placed in the dismantlement of traditional structures.” SIR asked the view of Fr Pawel Rytel-Andrianik, spokesperson of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, with regard to the Church in Poland today.
What’s the most important feature of the Church in Polish society?
In Poland there are over 10 thousand parishes. As many as 50 thousand liturgical celebrations are officiated every Sunday nationwide, attended by 37% of the Catholic population, according to findings for the year 2016 released by the Church Statistics Institute. In dioceses such as Tarnow, located in south-east Poland, the Sunday liturgy is attended by more than two thirds of the population, while in parishes located in the north-eastern regions of the Country the so-called dominicantes don’t exceed 25 percent. Thus it can be said that
Despite laicization trends registered across Poland, secularism is not a prevailing phenomenon.
The Church seeks to ensure her presence at all important occasions, for the people and for Polish society as a whole. In my view the major feature of the Church in Poland is her closeness to the people, which her numerous services testify to, ranging from priests ministering to couples not united by sacramental marriage, spiritual exercises for the unemployed, pilgrimages that involve millions of Polish citizens every year. The close cooperation between men and women religious and lay people has been reaping many fruits. One such example is the Sychar Community that helps couples in difficulty. Many parishes have created hospitality and reception areas along with counselling services for singles and families. Statistical data evidenced charity works carried out by the Polish Church through 800 organizations, reaching out to almost 3 million recipients including singles, families and groups of people. Thus the Catholic Church in Poland can be rightfully considered the largest charity in the Country. She is motivated by the yearning to bring the love of Christ to humankind and the love of humankind to Jesus.
Polish youths’ participation in the life of the Church was welcomed with surprise by the faithful of many European Countries. How does the Polish Church manage to attract so many young people?
The Polish episcopate has drafted a dedicated program for the pastoral care of young people titled “He and us”, within the new pastoral plan of the Church in Poland in the framework of the upcoming Special Synod for young people, based on Pope Francis’ message during the WYD in Panama. Preparations for the Synod Assembly are ongoing in dioceses across Poland. For example, the Synod of the diocese of Warmia has invited all young people to participate so that their voice may be of inspiration to future youth pastoral ministry. Events such as the WYD, or the gathering in Lednica, where a few days ago 85 thousand people came together to pray and rejoice, along with pilgrimages and initiatives of various kinds, further the continuation of an ongoing commitment for the young members of parish groups, those involved in volunteering activities, and for pastoral care in educational environments.
Catechesis, reintroduced as a school subject after the fall of the Communist regime, caters to in-depth understanding of the content of faith.
Moreover, bishops’ efforts equally focus on the spiritual accompaniment of the young. For example, the archbishop of Lodz , Msgr. Grzegorz Rys, recently invited high-school students (15-18 year-olds) to a sharing and prayer gathering, testifying to the underlying spirit that motivates them.
On Sunday June 3 Warsaw hosted the XI Thanksgiving Day dedicated in particular to the 100th anniversary of the independence of Poland, which reappeared on the maps of Europe at the end of the First World War and after 123 years. As Msgr. Gadecki pointed out, the Church was the only structure operating continuously, therefore also from 1791 to 1918 when the structures of the State were suppressed by foreign powers. What is the role of the Church in Polish society today?
Today the Church helps indigent population brackets by means of a number of social initiatives, as underlined by Msgr. Gadecki, alongside with the promotion of “authentically creative freedom to ennoble humanity and create authentic, unifying social relations.” The Church inherently conveys the teachings of Jesus and stands as a beacon of moral values. Her primary task throughout the centuries has been Gospel proclamation, whence her charitable services and social commitments spring from. But it should be emphasized that when we speak of the Church we are referring to us all: men and women religious, consecrated and lay faithful. In fact, the identity of our people is directly linked to our joint commitment, to our solidarity and our witness. The faith community has always upheld moral values, in keeping with the faith in God and faithfulness to the Homeland.