In the week that the Pope returned to his homeland, perhaps for the last time, JENNIFER SYM introduces our focus on Poland with a look at its rich and impressive Catholic heritage
EN YOU think
:if Poland, do
you think of
mountains, lakes and beaches? Of warm, hospitable people? Of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Europe? Of Chopin and international film festivals?
No? Not surprising, really, because thousands o f wars of Polish cultural heritage have been overshadowed by years of political instability. But with occupation over and stability assured, Poland is once again able to share its charms with the West in this, the 1,000th anniversary year of the City of Gdansk.
It has been recently said that "without referring to the Church, it would be impossible to understand Poland's history, culture, traditions and customs". It would also be fairly difficult to miss the connection visually, with
14,000 Catholic churches and chapels across the country, not to mention the many statues and crosses by the roadsides. For Poland is a country with rich and vibrant traditions, one of which is Catholicism, with the cult of the Virgin Mary particularly important, patron as she is of the majority of the country's 500 shrines. These not only attract thousands of pilgrims each year, but are the setting for mystery plays and large religious fairs, at which crowds pray, and play, together.
The most important of these shrines is the 15thcentury Basilica of the Sacred Virgin Mary at Jasna Gora in Czestochowa, visited by nearly 5,000,000 each year to take part in what are known as the Great Festivals: The Feast of Our Lady Queen of Poland (May 3), The Feast of The Assumption (August 15) and
The Feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa (August 26). This is the home of the fabled Black Madonna, an icon painted by St Luke the Evangelist on wood taken from Our Lady's table at Nazareth. Pilgrimages to the monastery date back to 1382, and are increasing in popularity; 50,000 participate regularly in the Great Warsaw pilgrimage, and the 6th World Youth Day was held there in 1991, with John Paul H and a crowd of 1,500,000.
IN THE HILLS of Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, the silver figure of the Weeping Madonna stands in a 17th-century Bernadine monastery and Basilica, surrounded by churches and chapels symbolising the Way of the Cross. As is usual in the joyful, participatory nature of Polish Catholicism, during
Holy Week amateur actors stage a Passion play, while mid-August sees five days of processions for the Burial and Triumph of Our Lady.
Since 1877, pilgrims have been congregating at what has been called the "Polish Lourdes". Gietrzwald, a small village also known as the "Czestochowa oldie North", has approximately 1,000,000 visitors a year to the shrine of Our Lady Dolourous, "Queen of Poland"; and Bardo Hill in Walbrzych also attracts many to the chapel built on the spot where Our Lady of Tears left her footprint on a rock in 1400.
There are, of course, other reasons to plan a visit to Poland. So much of its extraordinary landscape is unexplored by tourists and is, thankfully, unspoilt.
For once, the brochures do their subject justice.
A prayer for the dying: Poland's first hospice
IN 1993 I SPENT SiX months in Warsaw as an English teacher. It was an exciting time to be there. Poland was just beginning to savour, with cautious optimism, its long-awaited freedom, realising simultaneously that such liberty brought with it many new problems. That is the way of Polish history, however, in times of trial Polish courage and endurance is particularly apparent.
For me it was a time of a thousand new experiences, from the sadness and horror of Auschwitz on the trip I had so hoped to avoid, to the beauty of sitting in the ground's of Chopin's birthplace listening to his music drifting quietly through the morning air. I became acquainted with a culture of which I knew little, in which the very essence of survival had so often found itself in conflict with respect for other individuals, particularly the weak and vulnerable.
I specifically taught a group of people with physical disabilities. Some of them were victims of quite horrific accidents, others suffered constant pain for which less medication was readily available than here in the West. Together they had formed an association for mutual support, without which many members would have been extremely isolated.
In all this, I never ceased to be impressed by their determination to continue with life in as normal a way as possible, society at that time being so fraught with problems that it had little time to consider the difficualties of such minority groups. Two years later, returning to my father's home to of Krakow, the sad and beautiful medieval city once the capital of Poland for six centuries, I encountered similar courage. The St Lazarus Hospice is the first purposebuilt hospice in Poland. Although still under construction at that time, it opened in December 1996. That it exists at all is a tribute to the ceaseless and tireless efforts of its many supporters.
Nearly 20 years ago, Dame Cicely Saunders from St Christoper's Hospice in London provided the inspiration for St Lazarus when she gave a series of lectures in Poland. The concept of providing hospice-type home-care began, the aim of constructing a permanent institution at that time a distant dream. Until the fall of Communism, much opposition was encountered from the regional authorities. During the uncertain days of Martial Law, meetings of planners and supporters were of necessity suspended. Arson attacks, demonstrations, not to mention the constant prob lems of funding the building work delayed progress. Money was provided from throughout the US and Europe for surgical and medical equipment so desperately needed for homecare and outpatient clinics, as well as for the building itself.
In 1994, 287 patients were treated and in 1996, that number rose to 412. The new building, in the shadow of the Ark of the Lord church, where parishioners had to wrestle with the authorities for over 20 years before being free to worship in a building they had built themselves, includes its own chapel purpose-built to accommodate patients' beds.
So much of Poland has been destroyed in her people's yearning for liberty, but their persistence in struggling to maintain a common dignity for everyone is exemplary.
Land of my father
In 1993, NIK JANIUREK travelled to Poland, from where his father came to England some 50 years ago. Here he recalls his journey of discovery
BEING A SECOND generation Pole — my father was displaced to England in 1940 — I was ebullient at the prospect of exploring my paternal roots and satisfying a curiosity for Poland fermenting far beyond its natural lifetime.
I was on a train to Cracow, his birthplace, now listed by Unesco as one of the world's most historic sites, and traditionally the cultural centre for the Polish intelligentsia. It was a typically Eastern Bloc train, upgraded to accommodate Western bureaucrats and a quietly overriding capitalistic tendency that had yet to filter down to the extremities of the economic hierarchy. I was alone in my compartment, travelling at night from Prague, and fast asleep. Fiftythree years had passed since my father had left Poland. Three months had flittered away since the horizon had engulfed my view of the Dover cliffs from the ferry to France and signalled the beginning of my pilgrimage to Eastern Europe. This was the culmination of my trip and the true raison d'être for the whole venture.
I slept while crossing the border until rudely awakened by customs officials and police demanding documentation — a surly bunch, probably craving sleep and taking out their resentment on anyone they found so quiescent. They asked a few questions, during which feigning incomprehension proved both facile and expedient. My Polish vocabulary only just extended to double figures, never having learnt it from my father, and accordingly they soon grew tired of the inarticulate foreigner before them, their interest in my familiar sounding surname quashed, they left me to my own devices.
I was awake but I was exhausted. I looked out of the window into the blackness of the night, able only to make out my own reflection in the glass, and thought: "I'm here. I'm in Poland." A surge of emotion washed over me uncontrollably. And for a fleeting moment, a split-second, I couldn't wait to tell my father that I'd made it to Poland.
The moment passed as quickly as it came and my mood collapsed from exuberance to melancholy, tempered by regret. My father had died 18 months before while I'd been travelling in South America. For that instant on the train when he was as alive in my mind as ever gave a poignancy to my subsequent month there that defies explanation. Time and again I was reminded of him. Time and again I searched for analogies in the places I visited and the situations I encountered to relive his memory.
In Warsaw late one night, walking through the grim, grey streets that are Stalin's legacy, I was shouted at from across the road. "Hey," the figure screeched in a hoarse whisper. "What are you doing?" Somewhat taken aback, I shrugged and after a moment's thought I simply told him, "I'm walking". "What, now?" he exclaimed. "You crazy!" And with that we exchanged grins and he disappeared.
The incident touched me, not only for its humour but also for the man's benevolent attentiveness, which underlined my perception of the Polish people: strangely compassionate, yet detached. Poland's history testifies to its tenacity and resilience, but the country has taken a beating that has left many cynical and reluctant in a wider destiny over which they have hadlittle control.
I really never did discover my roots. My expectations exceeded that whict was reasonable. I'm proud I'm Polish — well, half of me, anyway. I have tremendous respect for my father's people and for my father. My journey to Poland was a valuable lesson in humility but at the end of the day, you can't search for the remnants of a parent in their place of origin, hoping to bring them back to life, without running the risk of crossing paths with disillusion.
Europe and the bishops
Continued from Page 7 Moreover, the annual Europe Day Letter, issued in the name of the Conference, has always been upbeat and positive. Last year's letter, in a clear pitch for support for the Citizen's Europe from the punter in the pew ended: "Let Europe Day be an occasion for giving thanks for all the material and spiritual blessing which forty years of European integration have brought us and for committing ourselves in a spirit of opennesss and generosity, to that friendship between ordinary Europeans, like ourselves, which the European Union is doing so much to promote."
So the Catholic bishops are Europhiles. Their vision of British society beyond the Millennium has an essential European dimension to it. Yet the inquisitive Catholic may still press the bishops to come up with a vision of European society beyond the election. Does a clear profile of the EU of the future consonant with Catholic social doctrine emerge from the 120 articles of the bishop's statement?
PERUSAL of The Common Good leaves the reader in no doubt but that the social critique which the bishops apply to contemporary Britain applies mutatis mutandis to the EU as a whole. The bishops' commendation of parliamentary democracy and the mixed economy as indispensable conditions of 'the just and compassionate social order' imply welcome of the EU's making commitment to democracy as a sine qua non of qualification for membership and the fundamental philosophy of the Single Market.
The UK freely entered the unique family of nations now known as the EU in 1973: not only does The Common Good take membership for granted, it also endorses the political culture and economic system operative within the EU.
For one moment one might be pardoned for thinking that the bishops hired a posse of ghost writers from the European Documentation Office
in Luxembourg or Jacques Santer's speech writer to draft The Common Good. Commissioners' speeches and the official EU propaganda machine trot out the buzz words "subsidiarity" and "solidarity" with such regularity that we are impervious to their meaning. And now, and this comes as a shock even to Catholics, it appears the EU spokesmen have borrowed our robes, they have hijacked terms coined by no less than Pope Pius XI and Vatican II!
If the EU is as committed to subsidiarity and solidarity as it claims, the English bishops can only applaud and welcome as fundamentally Catholic the EU vision of European society. Yet the bishops' problem with the EU, as emerges clearly from reading between the lines of The Common Good, is that there is not enough subsidiarity and solidarity in today's integrated Europe. The bishops' robust advocacy of "subsidiarity" in British society applies even more emphatically to the larger and more complex multi-tiered human community which is the EU.
Having defined subsidiarity as "decisions being taken as close to the grass roots as good government allows," the bishops concede (par.22) that powers can be passed upwards, even to an international body (in casu the EU institutions), if the common good and the rights of families and individuals (the grass roots) would be the better protected thereby. It is evident, however, that in the bishops' vision of the "community of communities" which constitutes the EU, it is the downward transference of powers and decision making which is paramount.
Their reiteration of the principles laid down by Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno (1931) is a remarkable broadside against "big government" ( la Jean-Luc Dehaene) and the overweening, centralised state with its bureaucratic apparatus, and a plea that greater control over their destiny be returned to ordinary citizens, not least the poor.
In a tone which recalls many pastoral letters from episcopal conferences in the developing world, our bishops throw their weight behind the 'preferential option for the poor'. In their view the achievement of a society which is just and compassionate makes greater solidarity between the different groups within society indispensable. When it comes to the EU The Common Good admits that the relationship between individual member states should be governed by the twin principles of subsidiarity and solidarity, yet it insists that these principles must extend to relations with the international community. The bishops do not specifically advocate that greater economic and social cohesion which the authors of the Maastricht Treaty believe to be a sine qua non for solidarity between the member states.
They are however at pains to remind us that there is an international or global common good which we have a duty to promote.
Thus, the bishops implicitly reject a fortress Europe, plead for an EU which nurtures the universal common good and, with that preferential option for the poor and the Pope's dream for the Millennium very much in mind, suggest that there is no more eloquent expression of solidarity with the poor than a firm commitment to relieve the international debt burden.
THE IMPERATIVE to promote solidarity as a keystone of the just society translates itself inevitably into an episcopal concern for the world of work and industrial relations. The Irish bishops have already issued a ground breaking pastoral Work is the Key (1992) and on 28 February this year, in the week when unemployment in Germany reached its highest level since World War II, the German bishops together with the EKD (Lutheran Church) published a major statement on economic and social questions (Fur Eine Zukunft in Solidaaritat und Gerechtigkeit) which, according to Deutsche
Welte, received a warm welcome in all sections of German society. It is no surprise that employment and working conditions should also be central to our bishops' concerns.
Paragraph 91 of The Common Good might have been borrowed lock, stock and barrel from the (notorious) protocol on social policy (the Social Chapter) adopted by eleven of the twelve EU member states at Maastricht in December 1991. A not so subtle endorsement of EU social policy may have fallen short of an open rebuke to the out-going Tory administratioini, yet it clearly suggests that the bishops must welcome the new government's commitment to signing the Social Chapter.
Reluctant to become hostages to fortune after 1st May, the bishops have not taken a stand on the single currency, British accession to the Schengen Agreement, the Social chapter, a common EU defence policy, federalism or a future referendum on membership. They have studiously avoided pronouncements on those Euro issues on which the main domestic political parties remain divided.
None the less, our bishops, in a series of recent statements have taken a firm stand on Europe which, given the present climate in the UK, is decidedly political. The bishops are pro-Europe, they support UK membership of the EU, they readily salute the achievements of the European communities and, when push comes to shove, they share the Delors/Santer vision of the integrated Europe of tomorrow.
What they ask is more subsidiarity — implicitly they call for readjustment of the democratic deficit and greater transparency in EU administration — and greater solidarity, especially with the wider Europe, the developing world and our own poor.
Finally, convinced that it is possible to be both British and European, the bishops want English Catholics to help the new Europe search for its soul.