GOOD SIGNS FOR THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH
A STATEMENT OF ARCHBISHOP JÓZEF MICHALIK IN THE MID OF THE VISIT ‘AD LIMINA APOSTOLORUM’ OF POLISH BISHOPS
We are after a few visits in congregations. Yesterday was a very busy day – 6 visits. Today it is similar. Everywhere we meet with a kind of interest in the Church in Poland. Some people ask how it happened that Poland still keeps up. They say clearly: - We thought that 10-15 years after regaining freedom Polish churches would be empty. We say that we trust God more than ourselves. We also say that we are not going to depart from the sensitiveness of our people. We explain that the Church in Poland has always been the Church of Mary, the Church of people’s religiousness. We have never been ashamed of this religiousness. And this religiousness must be constantly deepened. And this is a kind of the strength of the closeness of the Church, that is, priests, bishops with people. We know that the Gospel is for people of straight heart. The man can be educated but if he maintains a straight heart, honest, sensitive conscience, then churches will not be empty, because God will first live in heart. Another sensitivity, that is, sensitivity to a sin. What pope Francis was emphasizing in his speech to cardinals, and later was repeating about Divine mercifulness. If a man has discernment about the good and evil, he knows that only God forgives sins. And this is a kind of strength and a tip for us that we cannot depart from these principles. Both cardinal Wyszyński and cardinal Wojtyła, like our previous bishops used to emphasize it a lot.
There are also voices that there is a fight against pope Francis, Church, bishops. Cardinals from some dicasteries reminded us about it, but also calmed us that not only Poland it is happening so. They say: do not worry about it, this is a wave, this is a tank, which is moving today through Europe, through many countries. Similarly as there were attempts in Poland to persuade us to think that the letter about gender ideology which caused such a big commotion, is an idea of Polish bishops who are old-fashioned and closed to modernity. Whereas, it turns out here that it harmonizes with the universal Church, that the Polish Episcopate is the seventh one which speaks on this issue. This is an evidence that it is a strategy which in many countries reveals its methods and that the response of the Church is the same, because it is all about the defenceof the human being, about the defence of nature laws, humankind, human dignity. And I think that it is a good sign.
I was proud yesterday afternoon when I listened to a lecture of cardinal Ryłko – a Pole who is a very interesting man, has much experience and it is seen that he is fascinated by both John Paul II and Benedict XVI, as well as Francis. Cardinal Ryłko gave us an ascetic-pastoral-strategic lecture about analysis – which was very interesting. I think that we will have to use this reflection, when thinking about the World Youth Day in Poland which is forthcoming. The Holy Father Francis will come to the youth of the world gathered in Kraków and also to whole Poland. It is a very important call for the youth. We feel the outflow of the youth abroad, for emigration, especially dynamic clever youth. It is tragic situation that Poland is dying. We must strike all bells, we must speak about it. Most Polish children are born in England, Ireland, in other countries than Poland. It causes big anxiety which fills us but, besides the fact that we have to use God’s Word and prayer, we can do very little in fact. Whereas all of us have to convert ourselves. Not only the strategy of the government towards the family should be different, but each of us, every family, every Polish home should convert to a different way of thinking, to new responsibility for the nation, for homeland.
We allowed others to persuade us to think that it is not necessary to speak about patriotism, that love to Homeland is old-fashioned, that history of Poland is the history of minuses or disgrace. No! History of Poland is history of truth about sacrifice of many people about whom we tend to forget. It is history of truth about the fact that love to Homeland is also sacrifice for others, it is love to our own nation but also opening up to other nations. Poland has never closed itself up to other nations, to other religions and we must speak about it. We allowed others to persuade to think that we should be ashamed of being Poles. This is absurd, others who proclaim a lie should be ashamed. And there are groups which proclaim these things, have these strategies also in Poland.
During the meeting in the Secretariat of State, there were discussions about the relationship –the Church – the State. We were reporting on the state of our talks with the government. Bishops presiding over the governmental-ecclesiastical commission ‘are experiencing’ the third of fourth minister about whom they are talking. He explains them that nothing can be done, puts away concrete matters for later, because a new minister appears. But we do not rely on this or that government. We rely on the nation, help to the nation, because these are ordinary people participating in the Holy Mass who keep this Church. People coming to the church, coming to the confession, who miss God, God’s truth, keep churches and these people will be the ones who will always have the privilege of keeping the Church in Poland. I think that it is also our hope.
We were also celebrating the Holy Mass at the tomb of blessed John Paul II. Memories returned that this Pope who had such a great heart open to Poles, to people of the whole world, was not forgotten by them, that is, the man is better than we think. Please note, that people are at the tomb all the time. They pray, come with trustfulness and he also serves on this path of faith refreshment.
Also the meeting with Rome has a great significance for me. Here every Catholic has his/her roots. The power of the Church comes from the Saints Peter and Paul, from the Apostles. Today this power can be visible not in some outer successes, but in suffering, in martyrdom, in testimony.
I think that the Polish Church has a lot to offer. The Church is not a mentor in Poland, the Church has a lot to learn. John Paul II used to repeat: I am learning the Church. Here we are still learning the Church. But we are aware that we can share some matters. We experienced the post-war ideology which was very dramatic in some cases. Concealed history of martyrs, the Cursed Soldiers, murdered priests whose symbol is Fr. Popiełuszko. But also those priests, blessed bishops. There are many processes to the glory of altars of blessed priests. It is a testimony of this period and is one of the mattes about which we should speak.
Another matter is experience of our Church in work with children, the youth. After all, the Church in Poland has a catechesis on a high level in Europe. Certainly, we will always say that we want more, that we want better.
Another issue is clergy. Polish clergy is educated, prepared for mission, confrontation with the contemporary intellectual trends. I do not want to say that we all are saints and that we would not have to be better: more humble, more engaged, more dynamic, more courageous in confrontation with the world. That is true that we mourn on our every weakness. We should not forget that this educated clergy which has a very lively contact with other countries entails sacrifice of emigration, houses kept abroad where priests are educated there is also help of our people in keeping seminaries on the suitable level. It is also a card of which the Church in Poland must not be ashamed.
Bishops were with ‘Solidarity’, persecuted people, they were helping those people and they did not think of any praise for it. That is true that we are looking for privileges, but we would like evil consequences to be clear because the good must have a place for growth. We have experienced this ‘tank’ which was trying to wipe us away from the land in the recent years. First, just after regaining freedom, those who called themselves friends not long time ago, announced danger of clericalisation of Poland.
Later there was lustration and we subordinated ourselves to it wilfully. It turned out that the priest who was persecuted and hassled by the Security Office, is just the one who is a convict. And those who were oppressing him are intact. All other social and trade groups remained intact. We do not want persuade them to control them but we cannot allow for such a massed anticlerical action. And, luckily, the effect of our actions is visible.
Now there is a situation of pedophilia accusations. Certainly, we do not tolerate any sin, any abuse among both priests and laymen. This is evil which must be condemned and those who are guilty should bear responsibility for it. However, we must ask questions about the causes and we must speak clearly what can result from sexualization of children in kindergartens, sexualization of a young man who will think only about his own biological pleasure and which he will be looking for in order to be happy. That is not true! It is an illusion, it is a lie against which we must fight.
I think that we can boast to others: look, we did not stop giving a testimony or endure slanders. In Poland there is a centre which directs these slanders against the Church. It is an obvious matter that we are sued to courts. There are going to be next signs. We must endure it and maintain faithfulness. Similarly as Jesus promised us that we would be similar to Him a bit. If we cannot be similar to Him in everything, then let’s be similar to Him at least in this thing. Sometimes I hear people saying: - I do not care what others say, our priest is all right. If there were not any contacts with people, then neither building of churches nor keeping them, nor a pastoral visit would be possible. It is necessary to knock on the doors of those houses, also to people’s hearts and consciences. I am an optimist about the future of the Polish Church.
The comments were listened to by:
Fr. Paweł Rytel-Andrianik – ‘Niedziela’ and Fr. Leszek Gęsiak SJ – Vatican Radio
Vatican, 4 February 2014