HONOUR AND AUTHORITY
It is out of doubt that he has charism. Archbishop Wojciech Polak is also a man extremely pious, engrossed in prayers, and also open to people and the world
When a few years ago I met him at the solemn dinner at the primate’s Józef Glemp in Warsaw Wilanów, he was sitting somewhere at the end of a long table. Wearing an ordinary black cassock, without a zucchetto, was smiling cordially to guests. If somebody did not know him, he might have not noticed that he was talking with the bishop.
This is the new primate. Direct, extremely sociable, open to people, interested in their opinions, rather asking questions than imposing an issue for a discussion. And also modest. In talks he does not make an impression that he is a polyglot, that he has more knowledge than others. His wide knowledge on many issues and really good education are seen only when there is a discussion, when – having listened to others – he speaks himself, not creating any distance. What is interesting – he loves Polish literature. He appreciates writings of Herling-Grudziński. As well as poetry of Miłosz.
Although being a primate is associated with stability and seriousness suitable for elderly age. Bishop Wojciech Polak, appointed on 17 May 2014 by pope Francis a metropolitan of Gniezno and the primate of Poland, is the youngest primate in Europe. He is only 49 years old. And at least he is going to be the primate for next 26 years, because he holds this office in the Church till his retirement.
He is a priest of the old archdiocese of Gniezno, and the auxiliary bishop in Gniezno since the year 2003. A PhD of moral theology, a graduate of the Papal University of Lateran in Rome. Since 2011 he has been the general Secretary of the Episcopate. For this reason representatives of governmental and parliamentary authorities used to contact him in issues connected with the Church and the state. He also participated in works of the Common Commission of the Government and Episcopate. Within the Ecclesiastical Concordat Commission, he participated in works on replacing the Ecclesiastical Foundation with a voluntary tax write-off.
He is liked and appreciated not only in secular groups but also among bishops who respect his opinion and are glad about the style with which he managed the works of the Episcopal Conference. As a general Secretary he could take a clear attitude, and also defuse tensed situations. It was during his cadency when he was appointed a coordinator for protection of children and youth, which was accepted with a positive social reaction. The new primate is finally open to media, understands their role and mission, which is the reason for his willing undertaking a cooperation with journalists.
As it befits a bishop who cares about new evangelization and introducing a new style of pastoral ministry, he preached catechesis at the musical festival Przystanek Jesus. He also often participated in youth’s meetings at Lednica. He is going to be there also this year. Very few people know that archbishop Polak is a charismatic and great personality, deep spirituality. He is a man who is extremely pious and engrossed in prayer. I remember how he could cite many quotations from the Bible during various meetings. Or in such an ordinary way, ad hoc, he could refer to words of the Gospel read on a particular day during the Holy Mass – because he had some associations. It is seen that these are absent contents, the ones which he lives every day and who wants implement them in the social life.
Primates and secrets
Now archbishop Polak returns to Gniezno, because it is a very old headquarter of primates, the first Polish metropolis. Even when after the Second World War primates started residing in Warsaw, they received their title only because they remained both archbishops of Warsaw and Gniezno.
Not so long ago was the Primate a factual leader of the Church in Poland, and also he had the function of the chair of the Episcopal Conference, and he represented the Church in talks with the state authorities. It was so during the times of the primate Wyszyński and primate Glemp.
In 1992, after the Holy See decided about a new administrative division of the Church, the union of Gniezno and Warsaw was abolished and the archbishop of Warsaw stopped being the archbishop of Gniezno. However, he remained a custodian of relics of the patron of Poland, St. Wojciech and he was still the primate – but he was not supposed to be the primate for his whole life but only till he reached the age of 80. In 2007 pope Benedict XVI decided that primacy in Poland would return to Gniezno.
This post does not entail any functions, the primate remains only a member of the Permanent Council of Episcopate and has a honorary precedence among bishops. So, it is seen that today the role of the primate in Poland is different. And there is no return to the Church of Wyszyński of Glemp. New times have come and new pastoral needs with them.
Although primacy is honorary function today, it is not connected with any privileges, but it remains important. Especially when it is held by a person who is the authority – and this is so in the case of archbishop Polak. Although one must note that today another new situation appeared: here we have in Poland three living primates: two seniors (archbishop Muszyński and archbishop Kowalczyk) and one primate holding the office (archbishop Polak). Whereas, in the universal Church at the same time there are two living popes (senior pope Benedict XVI and pope Franciszek).
What plans does the primate of Poland have now? It will be best expressed by his words said just after announcing the nomination: - I am here in order to open people’s doors to the Church – he said. Evangelization, in his opinion, is today the basic challenge. Also care about the youth, family, about coping with various forms of poverty.
Primacy of archbishop Polak will make the image of the Church friendlier and will positively influence its image. The new primate will also be a clear face of the Polish Church.
Did he expect it when being present at the mentioned dinner with the primate Glemp….? Well, primates must also have their secrets.
He could cite many quotations from the Bible during various meetings. Or in such an ordinary way, ad hoc, he could refer to words of the Gospel read on a particular day during the Holy Mass – because he had some associations. The Primate Polak lives these contents.