Removing the cross with priests’ hands
Fr Witold Jedynak
The state authorities and a considerable part of their political supporters begin to be disturbed by the so-called Smolensk cross, which commemorates one of the biggest national tragedies in the contemporary history of Poland. Therefore, on the pages of ‘Gazeta Wyborcza’ President-elect Bronislaw Komorowski has just announced his desire to remove the cross. But it seems that the authorities lack courage to assume full responsibility for a removal of the cross from the Presidential Palace. And they ask the hierarchical Church for help, involving the Church in a very dangerous game, which could end in social mistrust of a considerable part of the Catholic nation towards the hierarchy. Poland’s contemporary history does not know any situations in which believers publicly insult Catholic priests, which happened during the attempt to remove the cross to another place. Suggesting the responsibility of the clergy the presidential minister said on television that it was a church celebration that could not be held. If it was a religious celebration why considerable forces of the city guards, police and the National Security Office were mobilised outside the Presidential Palace?
Moreover, a metal fence separating the believers from the cross was installed. Why didn’t Komorowski and representatives of the government come to take part in the peaceful solemn procession? They declare to be Catholics.
The Polish people and the whole world saw the attempt to remove the Smolensk cross in the media. Numerous TV stations broadcast the terrifying and embarrassing event. The guards used violence and gas against the protesting crowd that wanted to defend the cross. Unfortunately, the authorities who said earlier that democracy had won during the elections, separated themselves from citizens by a cordon of uniformed functionaries and a fence just after the elections.
The events outside the Presidential Palace show that the representatives of the clergy were involved or rather manipulated to play in the game in which they should have not been. Polish priests have always been with the nation, supporting it morally and religiously, especially during suffering, disaster and slavery. The relationship between the clergy and the nation let people endure the most difficult experiences the Church and Homeland faced. The enemies of religion and the Polish spirit did not manage to break this unity, even when Poland had been partitioned and then occupied by the Nazis. Thanks to the solidarity of unity of the laity and the clergy the Polish Church survived the times of communism and was strengthened but not humiliated and degraded as it was the case in the other countries of the Eastern block. And suddenly the Catholic priests are standing against the gathered crowd to remove the cross, which commemorates the victims of the crash at Katyn, from the Presidential palace and thus fulfilling the wish of the state authorities…
The unprecedented event in Poland’s contemporary history evoked the anger of the Catholics defending the presence of the cross in public places. The laity expects priests to be always with the nation, continuing the beautiful patriotic-religious tradition. Realising the order of the state authorities regardless of their political supporters has never served the good of the clergy. Priests are not state functionaries so that politicians could use them to fulfil their purposes. That’s why the attempt to remove the symbolical ‘Smolensk’ cross using the hands of the Polish priests has been negatively evaluated by a considerable part of the Polish Catholic society. Whereas the authorities, supported by their media-political supporters, are testing how far they can move forward… and whether they hear ‘Non possumus’ at last.
The Author is a professor of sociology, lecturing on sociology of religion in the Institute of Sociology of the University of Rzeszow.