Why Is Poland So Catholic?
Poles celebrate their nation’s 1050th birthday!
WARSAW–On April 14-16, the westerly cities of Gniezno and Poznań will host celebrations of Poland’s 1,050th birthday. The National Assembly (joint houses of Sejm and Senate), Catholic Episcopate, the Diplomatic Corps and representatives of European parliaments will gather to celebrate the anniversary of Poland’s entry into the family of Christian nations.
The decision by Mieszko I, Poland’s first historical ruler, was the key factor in the emergence of an independent state. Had he not united under his rule the various Lechitic peoples and accepted Christianity, there may never have been a Poland. In preceding centuries, the aggressive Germans in their “Drang nach Osten” (Push to the East) had rolled the Lechitic Polabians all the way back from the River Elbe. That process would hardly have stopped at the River Odra and German forces could have easily defeated individual pagan tribes under the pretext of spreading Christianity. By voluntarily accepting the Catholic faith, Mieszko nipped such designs in the bud.
Fast forward to 1980, when journalists and TV crews from around the globe flocked to the Baltic Port of Gdańsk where the Soviet bloc’s first independent trade union was born. Most were surprised to see the shipyard gates festooned with flowers and pictures of the Blessed Mother and Pope John Paul II. Newsmen from the secularized West, were unions usually have a leftist slant, also marveled at the priests arriving at the yard to hear workers’ confessions and celebrate Holy Mass.
That clearly showed that over the preceding millennium, the Polish nation had not lost its faith despite the many historical ordeals it had suffered. Or maybe it was precisely because of such misfortunes that Poland had remained “Semper Fidelis”, ever faithful. It was largely the Catholic Church that had kept the nation together and Polish language alive during 123 years of foreign occupation that ended in 1918. Over the centuries, on several occasions, Poland became a bulwark of Catholicism, defending not only the Polish nation but all of Europe against invading alien, non-Christian hordes.
The Soviet-imposed regime failed to suppress Catholicism after World War II, and it was largely the presence and influence of the Church that made Poland the least communistic country of the Soviet bloc. Neither imprisoning the Primate Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński nor persecuting the clergy were able to break the Church or turn the nation agaisnt it.
After Poland peacefully overthrew communist rule in 1989, the spread of increasingly pervasive Western pop culture has made secularizing inroads into Polish lifestyles, and religious vocations have declined. But 90% of Poles still identify with Catholicism and Poland is remains a net exporter of priests and nuns to Western Europe, North America and traditional Third World mission countries. On Sundays and holidays there may no longer be overflow congregations standing outside in the rain, but the churches themselves remain quite full. And that does not appear likely to change any time soon.
By Robert Strybel