What is our faith like?

Milena Kindziuk

There is no direct connection between the event of John Paul II's death and the number of believers attending church services, says the Palatine Catholic Church Statistical Institute on the basis of the recent researches. However, this does not mean that the experience of John Paul II's death did not influence the religiousness of Poles. It did. But the influence was evident in the quality and not the quantity.
'The death of John Paul II did not increase the number of churchgoers. Since those who participated in services and prayer vigils after John Paul It's death were mainly those faithful who regularly attend Sunday services. Thus the influence of the Pope's death on our faith is to be sought deeper, in other factors of religiousness: way of experiencing the Eucharist, frequent confession, acceptance of moral requirements the Church specifies or personal prayer', thinks Fr Prof. Witold Zdaniewicz, who prepared the latest research. 'The results of the dominicantes (churchgoers) and the communicantes (receiving Holy Communion) are not the only indicators of religiousness', says Fr Zdaniewicz, 'Therefore, one cannot make conclusions about religiousness on their basis'.

Soul cannot be weighed

- After the Pope's death the number of adorantes (people characterised by deeper religiousness) has clearly increased, says Prof. Andrzej Wojtowicz, sociologist at Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw. 'Since in cases of events, which sociology defines as elementary, and death is included in such events, people show a tendency to show the deepest values, and consequently to deepen their faith. But one cannot measure and weigh faith. From a sociological perspective one cannot trace the processes that take place in human soul. And it was exactly at the time of John Paul II's death that thousands of people were willing to make perceptible changes in their lives and they went to confession. 'I remember at least 10 people who changed their lives completely during that night', says Fr Jacek Krzysztofowicz, OP, parish priest in the Dominican Church in Gdansk. And he asks a rhetorical question, 'Is the number big or small?' Another priest, who heard people's confessions in a large Warsaw parish during the night of 2 April 2005, recollects that a few hours after the Pope's death a young woman in her early twenties came to confession. She wanted to receive Holy Communion very much but the priest could give her absolution because she had lived with her boy friend for a year, and they were not married. She had knelt for one hour and a half in the confessional booth before she decided to move out. But she made the decision. That was not the only case. Many people converted after several or even several dozen years of leading different lives. They included well-known personalities. And this is the biggest influence of the death of the Polish Pope on our religiousness.

Exemplary Rzeszow, Tarnow and Przemysl

The report, prepared by the Church Statistical Institute, says that the data concerning dominicantes and communicantes reveal similar numbers. In 2005 the average Sunday attendance was 45%, which shows certain stability.
But one can see regional diversity of religious practices. The biggest number of dominicantes is in the diocese of Rzeszow (the figure was 71.7%) and of Tarnow (70.7%), as well as of Przemysl (64.5%), of Zamosc-Lubaczow (53.7%) and of Pelplin (52.2%). The lowest numbers of churchgoers were in the diocese of Lodz (29.9%), of Szczecin-Kamien Pomorski (30%), of Sosnowiec and of Koszalin-Kolobrzeg (32.1%).
Undoubtedly, this is conditioned by history. In those areas where religious freedom and tolerance were biggest, i.e. in the territory of the former Austrian partition, people more often attend services, evaluates Fr Prof. Zdaniewicz. Whereas Prof. Wojtowicz stresses that the number of dominicantes depends on social continuity. If it is bigger than three generations or at least three generations (i.e. grandparents, parents, children), members of such families more frequently go to church. Attachment to tradition, attention to the past as well as preservation and transmission of cultural values play a prominent role. That's why in the territories of the former collective farms with incoming people, e.g. in the diocese of Koszalin-Kolobrzeg, the reference to tradition is small and the numbers of dominicantes decrease.

Priests, hear confessions!

What are the numbers of the faithful receiving the Holy Communion? In 2005, 16.5% of the faithful nationwide received Communion, the biggest figure was in the diocese of Tarnow (23.1%) and the diocese of Opole (22.1%) and the smallest figure was in the diocese of Szczecin-Kamien Pomorski (11.8%), the diocese of Lodz (11.9%) and the diocese of Wloclawek (12.5%). Sociologists have no doubts what the data depend on.
Fr Zdaniewicz, 'It is the matter of good pastoral work'.
Prof. Wojtowicz, 'It depends on the quality of pastoral work'.
This is confirmed by Fr Joachim Kobien, Chancellor of the Curia in Opole, the diocese that was leading in these statistics. 'At the diocesan synod, which ended a year ago, we strongly stressed the role of the sacrament of reconciliation. One of the suggestions was the necessity to make the faithful aware of the value of full participation in Mass, which includes receiving Holy Communion. At present, priests in the diocese of Opole encourage people to go to confession and receive Holy Communion at every Mass and not only on feast days. In almost all churches there are priests in confessionals during the day and they also hear confession one hour or half an hour before every Mass, both on Sundays and on weekdays; priests are simply obliged to be in confessionals. And that yields fruit. Since people want to confess their sins.
Who and how often goes to confession in Poland? It is women that most frequently receive the sacrament of penance, more retired people than young people (at the age of 18-24), but the difference is not striking: 87.6% of the retired people and 80.7% of the youth, and more people who have only elementary education than those with university diplomas. Bigger differences can be seen between urban and rural populations (89.1% versus 73.7%). The employed have bigger need to kneel in the confessional than the unemployed. It is interesting that in the year 2000 the rate of Sunday attendance and people receiving Holy Communion was the biggest one in Poland. 'It must have been connected with the Jubilee Year and solemn celebrations inspired by John Paul II', says Fr Prof. Jozef Naumowicz, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw, the author of 'Geneza chrzescijanskiej rachuby lat' [Genesis of the Christian Counting of Time]. He stresses that it was also meaningful that the Pope emphasized the aspect of penance very much as well as cleansing and forgiveness, which mobilised people to confess their sins. Prof. Wojtowicz admits that additionally there was the principle of the millennium. The religious practices increase at such moments. In general, the number of those who receive Holy Communion is still increasing. In 1992 it was 14%, in 1995 - 15.4% and in 2005 - 16.5%.
- One can see clear deepening in faith that is expressed in a fuller experience of Holy Mass, together with receiving communion, evaluates Prof. Naumowicz. And he formulates an evident thesis, 'A confessional assures this deepening in faith. There is no problem of Sunday attendance and receiving Communion as long as there is the practice of confession.

Changes in religiousness after 1989

Sociological researches confirm that Poles' faith is becoming more mature and to a greater extent faith results from personal choice. Therefore, the predictions that the churches in Poland would be empty after 1989, when the Polish society would become pluralistic, did no come true. Although we have more and more contacts with Western European countries, where the sacrament of penance is in crisis and consequently, faith is weakening.
- In Poland the awareness of sin is still keen. Those who have committed deadly sins do receive Holy Communion, evaluates Fr Prof. Zdaniewicz.
Fr Prof. Janusz Marianski, specialist in sociology of religion and morality, at the Catholic University of Lublin, thinks that the scenario of 'saying good-bye to God', which is typical of many Western countries, need not determine the changes of religiousness in Poland. And it is also possible that Poland, with a considerable role of religion in social life as a means of cherishing hope of many Poles, will remain 'a special case' in secularised Europe. Polish religiousness after 1989 is characterised by an increase in people as members of movements and religious communities.
- The phenomenon of deprivatisation of faith is much more frequently noticed in numerous environments. People want to identify themselves with some religious group and a much bigger number of them want to speak about in public, says Fr Prof. Piotr Mazurkiewicz, lecturer at Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski University in Warsaw.
Prof. Miroslawa Grabowska, Institute of Sociology, University of Warsaw, claims that it is a clear expression of 'renewed religiousness'. 'Renewed religiousness' is connected to a great extent with new movements and communities in the Church, which originated in Poland as earlier as in the 1960s and are still growing. In the early 1990s 8% of the Polish society declared to be involved some movement whereas in the late 1990s the number increased to 10%. In 2002 the Light-Life Movement was active in 48 % of all Polish parishes, in 31% there were the Living Rosary, in 25% - the Renewal in the Holy Spirit, in 16% - the Liturgical Service of the Altar, in 13% - the Covenant of Families, in 10% - the Neocatechumenate Movement and in 9.5% - the Movement of the Nazareth Families.

Why we trust the Church

- One fourth of all priestly vocations come from movements and Catholic associations, says Fr Prof. Waclaw Depo, President of Rectors of the Major Seminaries in Poland. He stresses that the Church in Poland does not cope with the problem of crisis of vocations in spite of population decline. Furthermore, Poland has the biggest number of priestly vocations in Europe. The highest figure of vocations was in 1987, when over 9,000 seminarians prepared for priesthood. In the years 1998-2001 the number of seminarians, both diocesan and religious, was about 7,000 and it has maintained the rate and even slightly increased. In 2005, there were 7,249 diocesan seminarians and 2,490 religious seminarians as well as 218 foreign seminarians (from Byelorussia, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Argentina and Portugal).
Another important feature of Polish religiousness is the fact that the Church is sensitive to the needs of young people. Fr Krzysztof Pawlina, author of the book 'Polska mlodziez przelomu wiekow' [Polish Youth of the Turn of Centuries], says, 'In Poland one can see an increase in the number of young people who have deep faith. In 1994, 6 percent declared to believe deeply and three years later it was 10 percent. In Fr Pawlina's opinion the changes of youth religiousness are caused by another factor. Until 1989 adherence to the Church was a sign of opposition against the totalitarian system. Today the role of the Church has changed. It becomes a place of religious experience more than a place of social life. Deeper religiousness has been clearly influenced by the fact that media pay more attention to faith and the Church. It is thanks to the media that people realise that religion is a normal element of social life.
- So one can say that we are a religious nation, more and more deeply religious people, evaluates Fr Prof. Witold Zdaniewicz. He thinks that it is meaningful that as much as 87% of people believe that Christ is present in his Church. And this is the fundamental answer to the question why Poles have confidence in the Church. Their confidence is based on the conviction that the Church is not a property of bishops or priests, but the Church is the work of Jesus Christ.

"Niedziela" 30/2006

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl