Pope's pilgrimage vs. Polish affairs
Rev. Msgr Ireneusz Skubis, Lidia Dudkiewicz, Milena Kindziuk and Artur Stelmasiak talk to Cardinal Jozef Glemp, Primate of Poland.
- What is the main message of Benedict XVI's pilgrimage to Poland?
- First of all, it was a great journey of faith throughout Poland. Although he followed the footsteps of John Paul II he actually wanted to strengthen our faith. Thus he encouraged us to have full, integral faith. He spoke about personal relationship with God and about the necessity to combine faith with life in accordance with the commandments. His homilies, which contained deep and original message, served this purpose. John Paul II's homilies were also based on biblical texts to a considerable extent, and the Pope succeeded to emphasise various aspects of the Bible. People reacted to Benedict XVI's words in the same way that had reacted to John Paul II during his pilgrimages.
- Did the Pope also refer to some concrete situations in Poland, for example in his homily in the Warsaw cathedral?
- Yes. He spoke clearly that Poland should be open to the universal Church and it should bring help to other Churches, which has been done. The Holy Father's words confirm what has already been applied. Since Polish missionaries do not only support our immigrants but also help local Churches all over the world. We keep receiving requests to send our priests abroad. In the Warsaw cathedral there were significant words concerning clergy. The Holy Father drew up clear guidelines, very concrete requirements. He challenged priests to proclaim first of all the word of God and care for spiritual good.
- Benedict XVI said that he did not expect a priest to be an expert in economics or politics but he expects that believers oppose the temptations of relativism and permissivism. These were strong words, which some environments regarded as criticism of the Polish Church. Is that really so?
- I think that this is not criticism of the Church but a reminder that we should follow obvious, fundamental truths. Weakness has been visible in the Church for long, weakness of both laymen and clergy. But one can also see power, which means overcoming weakness and constant conversion as well as rejecting the temptation of relativism. The Gospel speaks about that. And the Pope reminded us of that truth. In fact, he came to make our faith strong and not to criticise us. Naturally, we are aware that we could have done many things better, that we could have been more active, and priests could have been more zealous. We know that very well. And the words of the Holy Father confirmed that. But most of all, he encouraged us and strengthened our faith. We realise that those words are the words of Peter's Successor who leads the whole Church.
- In the cathedral in Warsaw Benedict XVI also said that 'Yet we must guard against the arrogant claim of setting ourselves up to judge earlier generations, who lived in different times and different circumstances.' These words were immediately regarded as an allusion to the Polish current affairs concerning the vetting in the Church. Do you think we could understand this statement of the Pope in this way?
- Yes, I think you can refer these words to the situation in the Polish Church. Vetting is a very difficult and complicated problem. However, I think that vetting should not only embrace the ecclesiastical environment. A priest should be treated as any other citizen. And so should doctors, teachers, clerks and journalists. There is no reason to select clergymen among whom one to a thousand could have been a collaborator whereas in other circles the proportion could have been one to ten. It is easy to harm thousands of honest priests who fulfilled their missions in a reliable way. One can also harm heroic priests who did not yield under pressure of the communist regime. I do not also understand why we are not speaking about decommunisation while speaking about vetting. Or why we do not speak about those who made people collaborate, broke people's consciousness, harassed honest people using psychological and physical methods...
- So that means that you are not going to establish a commission on vetting the clergy in the Diocese of Warsaw?
- Certainly not. In my diocese I do not want a commission to trace and investigate priests because it would have bad impact on the atmosphere in the archdiocese, creating an unnecessary aura of suspicion. Many people could be morally harmed. The Holy Father clearly suggested that it was difficult to judge people who lived in different circumstances and different times. He also spoke about the need to learn to experience Christian penance.
- Thus vetting should not be conducted in the spirit that Fr Isakowicz-Zalewski in Krakow wanted to do?
- As for me, not in this way. It is the historians, scientists and not priests that should conduct the research.
- You mean the accuracy of the accounts, don't you?
- Yes, vetting is a very complicated problem because we are not sure whether the documents are reliable or not. I am personally convinced that at first we should decode the communist system itself, the methods to break people, etc. One should also present those who were heroes and to show that only some people could display heroism because it demands special courage. We cannot demand all people to be heroes. This concerns the communists as well. Therefore, the call for vetting, generally speaking, is very up-to-date and very useful but it is also important that we should reject aggression, that we should use cultural methods to seek justice or to pursue our rights; that should be done in truth and peace as well as in the spirit of forgiveness.
- Benedict XVI also said that he had come to experience faith. Can we say that he saw enthusiasm and adherence to the Church?
- Yes. That was especially visible in Blonie Park in Krakow where the Pope had the occasion to see spontaneity of a large gathering. He was extremely warmly welcomed, he saw great maturity of the Polish people, which was, by the way, formed by John Paul II. In fact, such large gatherings began in the Church during the pontificate of John Paul II. It was during his pontificate that we learnt to organise great celebrations and to prepare liturgy for huge gatherings. And this is some kind of novelty, one can say: extraordinary pastoral ministry.
- But during his pilgrimage to Poland Benedict XVI did not imitate John Paul II.
= Benedict XVI is different. But this does not mean that he behaved in certain situations like his predecessor. Following good examples is useful.
- The Holy Father also alluded to his expectation of fervour of new evangelisation in Poland, which would save Christian values in Western Europe. How are we to understand that?
- In Europe one can see the spirit of the new ideology of consumerism, which John Paul II spoke about many a time. Poland can help other European countries to get out of that.
- And as Benedict XVI said Poland could be a land of special witness?
- Not only could but actually is. Our faith, which experienced so much, has allowed us to survive in crises and to gain victory. But we do realise that we see lack of faith, too.
( The media received the news that the Pope flew in a helicopter over the National Shrine of Divine Providence. Did the Holy Father say anything about the church?
- He was very interested in the construction of the church. We also talked a lot about the dogma of Divine Providence. He was clearly interested in that subject. However, the Pope flew in a different helicopter than me and I cannot say whether he noticed the church itself.
- Is the papal pilgrimage an inspiration to continue the construction of the church in Wilanow, Warsaw?
- The construction of the Divine Providence Shrine is being continued in accordance with our involvement and financial means. The construction will go on and this process cannot be stopped. On the other hand, we will always deepen the theological foundations of this great truth about the Divine Providence. The Pope, I think, will speak on this topic as well.
- What is your opinion about the meeting of Benedict XVI with the youth? Can we compare the World Youth Day in Cologne with the meeting in Blonie-Krakow?
- Surely a common feature was the enthusiasm of the young people. They share the same characteristics: joy of life, kindness, smile, and desire to collaborate. However, the gathering in Blonie-Krakow was more homogeneous than the one in Cologne. Here the majority was Polish. Thus it is hard to compare these meetings. But certainly, both meetings refer to the great mass gatherings of youth with John Paul II. The World Youth Day in 1991, which was held in Jasna Gora, gave those meetings a new, global style. It was the beginning of the large meetings with the Pope, which were held in other places in the world: Paris, Denver and Toronto. And one should admire the young people who in spite of being tired, cold or sleepy want to seek spiritual good, fearing no difficulties.
- Did the Holy Father say how he experienced that meeting with the youth and that great enthusiasm?
- I saw him being glad to face Polish cordiality and hospitality. The meeting with the young people in Krakow was one big smile, which the Pope took from John Paul II. Benedict won our hearts with his radiant smile and spiritual warmth. He won the young people with his words and the way he spoke. He wanted to be nearer to them when he read the Polish words, directed to them. And the young people appreciated that. He was a lecturer for so many years and one can say that he looked at the growth in the Church from the perspective of his desk, library and theological issues. And now he takes a little child, hugs and kisses it. This great theologian, Joseph Ratzinger, shows that apostleship is realised first of all in meeting another person and that one should go out to people.
- Do you agree with the opinion that for Benedict XVI, who was called 'armoured cardinal' it will be easier to be a pope from now on?
- To some extent. However, it seems to me that it began with the Wednesday and Sunday audiences for the faithful in Rome and not with his visit to Poland. But, of course, it was the Polish people that showed the greatest evidence of love, adherence to the new Pope and acceptance of his person during his pilgrimage to Poland.
- So can the first foreign visit of Benedict XVI constitute a turning point in his pontificate? The first visit of John Paul II to Mexico in 1979 had a similar opinion?
- One could say so.
- What is the significance of the Holy Father's visit to Jasna Gora?
- It happened so that the Pope arrived at Jasna Gora on Mother's Day, 26th May. He was deeply moved when he prayed before the Miraculous Picture of our Lady of Jasna Gora. This is one of the most evident characteristics of 'the sentimentality' of this pilgrimage. Since Benedict XVI followed the footsteps of his great Predecessor. The Holy Father presided over the Eucharistic celebration, which is so characteristic of Polish piety. Thus he indicated that the Marian dimension is very important to Christian faith.
- During Benedict XVI's visit there was an ecumenical encounter in Warsaw. What is its significance for ecumenical life in Poland?
- It shows a constant development in mutual talks. It says that we are not strangers when we meet; that actually we are sister Churches; that we want and can get to know one another. The place of the meeting was important, too. It was the Lutheran Most Holy Trinity Church in which the declaration of the mutual recognition of the validity of Baptism was signed. It is worth paying attention to the words of the Orthodox Archbishop Jeremias. In his deeply theological address he expressed the great desire for unity.
- The Holy Father showed how we should put ecumenism into practice. He mentioned the role of interdenominational marriages, which can become true laboratories of unity.
- The Pope told us that we should continue dialogue concerning this issue with other Churches. He said that we should establish principles acceptable to all for contracting interdenominational marriages, for example Catholic-Orthodox or Catholic-Protestant marriages. He also encouraged us not to be afraid of this phenomenon and he expressed 'the wish that in this delicate area reciprocal trust and co-operation between the Churches may grow, fully respecting the rights'.
- The visit of Benedict XVI to the former German camp Auschwitz-Birkenau was an important part of the pilgrimage. Immediately after the visit there were accusations that the German Pope should have said 'I apologise'.
- The Holy Father did his best as the Head of the Catholic Church and at the same time as a son of the German nation. He spoke very courageous and moving words and he referred to his German origin three times. He admitted that he simply had no words in that place. And the fact that he did not say 'I apologise'? He had to apologise on behalf of whom? The word 'apologise' is not some spell that would make something happen at once. The Pope cannot apologise on behalf of all Germans since there is no collective responsibility. He can apologise on behalf of those who were executioners and he did express his sorrow. First of all, he came there as the Head of the whole Church who encourages people to deepen the mysterious intentions of God, which we can get to know only to a small extent.
- The Italian Vaticanists claim, however, that the fact Benedict XVI did not say 'I apologise' meant his criticism of John Paul II' request, spoken in 2000, concerning the forgiveness of the faults of the Church.
- That astonishes me. I think that this is a confusion of terms. As if one did not know when to apologise and as if one did not know that this would not solve all problems. This is a complete misunderstanding: to see criticism of the guideline, which John Paul II drew up.
- The whole Poland helped to organise the pilgrimage: ordinary people, priests, bishops, as well as the state and local authorities. Would you like to say on the pages of 'Niedziela' a few words to these people?
- In fact, this was an expression of great co-operation and one aim: to receive the Holy Father and his retinue with all due respect and to help the faithful meet and pray with the Pope. The routes, decorations, altars, sections in the open air meetings, tickets and ways of transport had to be prepared. The organisation required much effort, work and finances. We always reached a consensus both in Warsaw and Krakow, where the requirements were the biggest, as well as in other towns. The fact that everything was well organised resulted from good co-operation of various committees: the state and church as well as municipal and diocesan ones. The state was responsible for security and the representative aspect. Thousands of policemen were involved, not mentioning vehicles, motors, etc. One could see the effects of that collaboration and mutual kindness. Huge crowds of believers and the whole nation benefited from that.