We welcome the new Primate of Poland
Fr Ireneusz Skubis
The news that the Holy Father Benedict XVI appointed Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk the new Metropolitan of Gniezno and at the same time the Primate of Poland spread over Poland like wildfire. Archbishop Kowalczyk is a well-known person. The position of the Apostolic Nuncio, which he held for many years, made the Polish Church play an important role among the Churches in Europe and gave a definite way of her functioning in unity with the Holy See. John Paul II, the Polish Pope, appointed Archbishop Kowalczyk his nuncio to Poland in 1989. It was important because of the situation of the Polish Church then – the Church had to take many decisions related to new directions of her functioning. Naturally, the functioning of the Church is above all the properly conducted pastoral work but apart from that there are numerous ecclesiastical and church-state institutions where the Church realises concrete tasks; there are problems that have an important historical meaning and every diocese or metropolitan have their own problems. On the one hand, we have the huge heritage of the Church and the nation and on the other hand, we have the big and accelerated present reality in which the institution of the Apostolic Nunciature together with the Nuncio participates vividly. That’s why it was good that a Pole was appointed a nuncio in that new reality. He knew life in the Polish People’s Republic perfectly well. He studied in the Warmia Major Seminary ‘Hosianum’ and so he knew the situation of the Church in Poland as well as the situation of the Polish parishes and priests. As the apostolic nuncio he had to collaborate with the Polish clergy. Therefore, he did not need many words to understand the representatives of the Church in Poland and the representatives of the Vatican. The activities of the nunciature are connected with the Church of the given country in a discreet way. Apart from the ecclesiastical stream there is the collaboration between the Church and the government. Like any state representation the diplomatic mission of the Holy See plays a very important role in the state. We realised that the Holy Father John Paul II, who cared for the good of the Church in Poland very much, sent us his best representative to help us solve our biggest problems.
We remember the day of the ratification of the concordat between the Polish state and the Church (1998). It was not easy at all to negotiate the content of the document, which was testified by the long period of its ratification. Thanks to this bilateral agreement the legal status of the Church in Poland was established. It was Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk that oversaw the process of working out this document and then he supervised its realisation. He also managed to reorganise the network of the ecclesiastical administration in Poland, naturally collaborating with the Vatican administration and the Polish Bishops’ Conference. Therefore, the role of the Nunciature and the Apostolic Nuncio in the history of the Church in Poland and the history of the Polish nation cannot be overestimated. As a community of the majority of baptised Catholics we owe to the Nuncio the reality of the Church that has been prepared in a modern way and which according to the directions of Vatican Council II is to lead God’s people to God and at the same time should function properly in the state realities. Apart from the two important works the author of which was Archbishop Josef Kowalczyk there are numerous matters that filled the daily life of the Nuncio and which were many a time struggles against many factors and which required huge diligence, patience, prudence and wisdom. It seems that Archbishop Kowalczyk fulfilled these tasks and today when he comes as the newly appointed Primate of Poland we are satisfied and peaceful. We can only pose the question: what Poland does its Primate come to? Since it seems that we again are in a very difficult situation – the President died in the crash and so did the elite of our nation. And this nation is looking around and asking which way to go. Poland is as if in the time of a great vigil. We realise that there is some strange competition between various parties; that there is the time of big and accelerated propaganda campaign, i.e. often false advertisements and manipulation. All of this can terrify us and one can say that we fear the nearest future. Earlier when the king died it was the Primate that ruled. He was called ‘interrex.’ Today we have democracy and the function of the Primate is of more honorary character. But we are living in the period without the head of the state. That’s why the new Primate is for us some sign of hope that under his leadership we will see the way easier. So the decision of the Holy Father Benedict XVI to give Poles the new Primate in the person of the one we know well, the one who performed many important tasks for Poland and its Church was good. The first bishop in Poland– ‘Primus inter pares’, the Primate of Poland, will certainly be an important sign for the Polish hierarchs. The new Primate was appointed in the Year for Priests. It is also a sign. The motto of this year is the words, ‘Faithfulness of Christ, Faithfulness of Priests.’ We would like to wish you, dear Primate, that you could experience this wonderful faithfulness of Christ on the new way of your ministry for the Polish Church and we wish you faithfulness of Polish priests and faithfulness of the whole Polish Church so that the desire expressed in the Jasna Gora Vows that the whole Polish nation remained faithful to the Cross, the Gospel and the shepherds of the Church could come true…