Page 5, 17th August 1979

17th August 1979
Page 5
Page 5, 17th August 1979 — Poland and Ireland false analogies the Pope should avoid

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Locations: Rome


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Poland and Ireland false analogies the Pope should avoid

During his coming visit the Pope may well compare Ireland with his own country, Poland, but, as PETER HEBBLETH WAITE points Out, the comparisons conceal some sharp differences.

NO GREAT powers of prophecy' are needed to guess that Pope John Paul, at some stage during his visit to Ireland, will make a comparison between Ireland and Poland. He is likely to adapt the Polish slogan, Poionia sewer Melts. to Ireland and exclaim "Ireland always faithful."

It is true that Poland and Ireland have for a long time felt a certain sympathy for each other, even if it was not backed up by much actual contact. Both have seen their nationhood denied for centuries. Both have been sustained by a deen-rooted and popular Catholicism.

Both have had a great devotion to Our Lady and been steadfastly loyal to the papacy — not always to their own advantage. Both have important diaspora communities dotted round the world.

But these points of comparison conceal some real differences. It is to he hoped that the Pope will be made aware of them. This is one of the tasks that the British Minister to the Holy See might be expected to perform.

One ambiguity lies in the use of the term "partition." Poland was partitioned towards the end of the eighteenth century. The country was carved up between Prussia, Russia and Austria. The Polish "state" ceased to exist, but the "nation" survived thanks to the language, culture and Catholicism.

There were varying degrees of oppression in each area. The Russians were the most savage, the Austrians jeast. There were bloody revolts put down by force. The end of partition came when the Polish republic was proclaimed on November I 1, 1918.

Defeat in 1939 meant another and even more terrible partition. It has been the misfortune of Poland to have had powerful neighbours and no natural frontiers. It has been pushed this way and that, like a concertina, on the map of Europe.

There has been no such difficulty in identifying Ireland. it is an Island. "Partition" is the word still used to describe the division of contemporary Ireland. But it is misleading to think of it as comparable to the Polish situation in the nineteenth century. Such a view would lead to the erroneous conclusion that the IRA arc heroic freedom-fighters struggling to east off the last shackles of British colonial rule.

If the Pope were to talk of the present-day partition of Ireland on the Polish analogy, he would miss the crucially important distinction: it is that there exists in Ulster a Protestant majority who do not wish to be linked with the Irish Republic. It does not help to pretend that they do not exist or that their fears are groundless. That would play straight into the hands of Ian Paisley.

A second false analogy is that

between Knock and Czestochowa. True, Our Lady is hailed as -Queen of Poland" at Czestochowa and the basilica at Knock is dedicated to Our Lady, "Queen of Ireland." But Czestochowa has much deeper roots in the Polish national psyche than Knock has in the Irish.

It recalls battles and victories over the Protestant Swedes. It evokes the gallant few resisting and overcoming superior forces. To this day the title Our Lady, Queen of Poland, makes a political point: it says something about where true sovereignty lies.

Knock is more recent and has a different feel. Irish historians have argued that the famine and emigration of the 1840s produced a break in Irish history, The whole infra-structure of society was destroyed. it was painfully rebuilt and the Church played an important part in the rebuilding. But the Catholicism which was "restored" was Rome-centred„ ultra-montane and given to Italianate devotions. Some of the features associated with Irish Catholicism — devotion to the Sacred Heart and prudery — were a product of this nineteenth century restoration.

Knock, believe it or not. was part of this restoration process. Despite the famine. Our Lady had not turned away from Ireland. But, as it has developed, Knock has become less and less like the older Irish shrines where one climbed a mountain on one's knees. A pilgrimage was meant to hurt. It helped prayer. The modern Knock is rather more comfortable.

Another difficult theme for the Pope would be the identification of Catholicism and being Irish; for that would unjustly rule out of the nation the Protestants of the south, a small but not insignificant group.

The one genuine link between Poland and Ireland is the tradition of mass pilgrimages and popular piety. The Pope has the greatest respect for popular piety. Unlike many intellectuals he does not despise it, but neither does he exploit it demagogically. lie subjects it to a process ot conversion or what he calls cutechesis. As bishop in Poland he constantly reminded his hearers of the theological content of their popular beliefs.

His mariology, for instance, has a double scriptural starting point. Our Lady is seen at the foot of the Cross where she becomes the mother of John. But John represents us all. So to call Mary Mother of the Church is a reminder that we have become brothers of Jesus — and that is a fundamental Christian truth.

Secondly, he sees Mary in the upper room, among the disciples, among, that is, the Church at prayer. We do not pray alone — and that is another fundamental Christian truth. If the Pope manages to bring out these aspects of Marian devotion, Protestants (provided they listen) would he less able to reject it out of hand as gross superstition.

But it is unlikely, indeed impossible, that the visit could be kept on this level of pastoral pedagogy. It will be a political act, whether or not he goes to the North. For, even if he does not go to Ulster, he cannot ignore its existence.

What, then, can he say? He could, and almost certainly will, quote his own neglected message for World Peace Day 1979. It contains one passage of direct relevance to Ireland: "Human affairs must ne dealt with humanely, not by violence. len sions, rivalries and conflicts must be settled by reasonable negotiations and not by force ... Recourse to arms cannot be considered the right means for settling conflicts."

That statement cuts at the root of the IRA ideology which is persuaded that change has only come about in Ireland through recourse to violence. Change comes from the smoking barrel of a gun. A pontifical denunciation would not abolish the IRA at a stroke, but it would encourage those seeking a negotiated solution.

Secondly, wedded as he is to Vatican II, he could remind his hearers that ecumenism is not an optional extra or a luxury for Catholics but a solemn duty. Striving for reconciliation, patiently, imaginatively and despite rebuffs, is part of the Christian message. The Pope could leave Mr Paisley looking like the dinosaur.

None of this would produce a "solution" to the problem of Ulster and the Pope does not possess a bagful of magical solutions. But he could contribute powerfully to changing the climate in which the problem is discussed.

Another passage in his message for World Peace Day could come in here. He speaks of the need to avoid "pre-fabricated formulas, which drag the heart along downward paths." We all have to learn a new language if we are not to he trapped by the cliches of the past.

If the Pope can say that and apply it in the Irish context, he will be more helpful than if he pursues misleading analogies between Poland and Ireland.

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