With the Primate of the Millennium towards reconciliation
Archbishop Jozef Michalik
Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski was the authority during the times of his ministry. Can he be a guide/leader in the Polish land today, too?
When the Polish bishops sent their millennial letter to the bishops in Germany with the words 'we forgive and ask for forgiveness' their decision evoked various reactions, also in the priestly environment. On should remember that in the post-war period Poland faced the imposed situation and through that the alleged friendship with the Soviet Union, which was confirmed by various laws. Moreover, hatred towards the Germans, who starting World War II harmed Europe and Poland, and who harmed the world, was promoted intensively. However, one should add that the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement, signed in August 1939 as a pact between the Germans and the Soviets, concerning Poland's division, was erased from history and memory. Furthermore, the fact that after the Germans had entered Poland on 1 September 1939 the Soviets invaded Poland on 17 September could not be even mentioned in the post-war Poland and those who talked about it faced the threat of imprisonment. The whole propaganda was anti-German. Some facts were exaggerated and overstated. A myth was created: a great aggression and real threat from the Germans who were actually divided and much weakened.
It is worth noticing that after the war the Christian German organisations distanced themselves from the Nazi politics, which was not reported in Poland. And one should always fight against false ideologies and not against nations. It would be a big threat, also today, if we thought that, for example the Russian nation, the Jewish nation, the Arab nation or any other nation is evil. Nation is created by people and most of them are people of conscience. It is ideologists that impose schemes that can be dangerous. One must not forget that the anti-German spirit, the anti-Russian spirit, the anti-Semitism or the anti-Polish spirit are attitudes that are fundamentally non-Christian.
Faith teaches love
This is what happened when the Polish bishops went to Rome to the sessions of the Second Vatican Council, and because they noticed that the nation was led in a wrong direction by the government they decided to do something about it. Being responsible for the formation of conscience and faith that teaches loves and not hatred, the bishops of the counciliar times, preparing the Christian nation to begin the celebration of the Millennium under the leadership of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, stated that one should give up that way and that they had to oppose the ideologisation of history and past. They decided to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of Christianity in Poland and to invite our neighbours with whom we were close in that history, in good relationships, we accepted the grace of faith through them. Thus the idea to write letters to particular Churches and nations originated. The letter to the Germans was not a letter to the nation or the government but a letter to the bishops, a letter of shepherds to shepherds, written in the Christian spirit in which, representing the decisive majority of the baptised in Poland, the bishops spoke the words of the Gospel about forgiveness, which we all know and which we should follow in our lives and pass them to others - about love of enemies, about forgiveness, about reconciliation.
The Polish bishops did not manage to return from the sessions of the Council when in Poland there was a big attack against Primate Wyszynski and the bishops because of their letter. The politicians, publicists and government did not notice that the world was taking the same direction; they did not notice because they experienced the Russian slavery and yielded to fears and lies because all what happened in the people's republics had to be agreed upon earlier and approved by Moscow. The bishops did not want to ask anyone's consent. They simply wanted to experience the 1000th anniversary of Poland's Baptism in a Christian way. There was an extraordinary propaganda campaign against the words, 'we forgive and ask for forgiveness.' The media manipulated the content of the letter; they added something and something was omitted and there was some inconsistence - people were at a loss. Returning from Rome Primate Wyszynski was prepared for the worst, expecting to be arrested again and that persecutions would be intensified. He asked the bishops not to return to Poland at the same time. He himself came as the first one with a few bishops; the other bishops remained in Rome so that he could see the development of events. Of course, the whole attack was against him, which he endured with dignity, being convinced that he did it for the name of God and that he could not act otherwise.
Then I was a student at the Academy of Catholic Theology in Warsaw but I had many contacts with people. In my home diocese the reaction was an expression of unity with the bishops. People said, 'Let us wait until the situation gets clear.' But the voice of reason and truth could not be heard since the Catholic and independent press did not exist; the media were submitted to the communist authorities. In the capital there were attacks, manifestations but the Varsavians showed critical attitudes towards the activities of the propaganda. When the Primate reached the capital numerous people met him at the station and in the cathedral as well. The Primate went to the pulpit and delivered a homily. We all listened with bated breath. He spoke about the Council. He presented his meeting with the Pope and then turned to Bishop Choromanski, the Secretary of the Polish Bishops' Conference, thanking him that during his absence he had assumed responsibility for the Church and taken upon himself attacks of hatred and accusations. Primate Stefan Wyszynski, whom the nation respected very much and with whom the nation identified, said, 'Entering the cathedral I kissed these toil-worn hands of Bishop Choromanski thanking him for all his efforts sacrificed at the basis of this meeting.' People were much moved and naturally supported the Primate fully. Then the Millennial celebrations began and the Jasna Gora Vows were realised in the dioceses. The authorities made it difficult for pilgrims to go Czestochowa. Trains were cancelled and cars were stopped and controlled all the time. But despite these difficulties people kept the intuition of faith being convinced that something was wrong since the propaganda was so much intensive and aggressive.
Homeland is a collective obligation
Today believers expect from their shepherds a similar, firm attitude in unmasking false propaganda as they did before. One should always trust God more than people's networks or some accidental impulses but we must not omit the truth, and expressing our opinions we should try to be faithful to what we see and how we interpret the Gospel in a concrete matter. The problem is that today not all opinions are equally reported by the media. Faith should never be separated from life, the level of faith from the social level, but it has nothing to do with direct involvement in the interests of concrete political parties. I often say that today Poland seems to be party-oriented and not state-oriented, not nation-oriented because the things that are mentioned and cared do not serve strengthening the nation but the struggle concerns the interests of this or that party. One should emphasise that this baptised nation is a Christian nation, is a Catholic nation and has obligations flowing from that; the nation has the sense of dignity, has God's grace, has long-term perspectives that are firmer than some political party. But how can we make this opinion conspicuous? I am not going to do it in some improper or dishonest way. The Servant of God Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski used to say that to proclaim lies one needed a system and to proclaim the truth only one man was needed.
We tried to discover the figure of Primate Wyszynski during his lifetime and today we are doing the same. It was neither Rome nor Krakow nor Warsaw but the pontificate that revealed Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. Thanks to his pontificate John Paul II is a Blessed Pope of the Church in Poland and he is a saint of the universal Church. Thanks to him we have possibilities of a much more universal approach to the truth.
Times change, requirements rise and I have not the slightest doubts that today it is not enough to go to church and go to confession once and take Communion from time to time. It is not enough. Every family, every Christian must be involved in the Church if we want faith to survive. Today each of us should receive Holy Communion every day. Each of us should be active in the Catholic Action or in the Catholic Youth Association or in the Neocatechumenal Way or the Light-Life Movement or the Association of Catholic Families or be a member of the rosary circles and support others by daily prayers. Every authentic Christian should be involved additionally since otherwise the avalanche of laicism and cold secularism will destroy us. What else can we do apart from reminding people of these things? The Church is strong because of her unity; the Church is strong because of Christ and man, i.e., the nation as it is - agricultural, aristocratic, 'intellectualistic,' simple, pious and sinful. Today there are hidden attacks against Poles' adherence to land - this strategy aims at separating people from land, the nation from its Christian culture, work on land that is to feed all hungry. Today people are still reacting properly to such ethical matters, e.g. to those dying of starvation, experiencing cataclysms. The perspective of 'partner relationships' evokes fears. In two, three years much can changed in us if we do not follow this line of faithfulness.
Value of life
The present situation also reveals many positive phenomena and one should build on them. They undoubtedly include deepening knowledge about the value of life from conception till natural death. It was not long ago, during the communist times, when as a bishop I began contacting schools and I saw that in the final grades of secondary schools one or two out of 25 pupils thought that life began from conception and abortion meant killing whereas others regarded it as an ordinary treatment. I even read an article of some editor in 'Tygodnik Powszechny' who claimed that, on the basis of the authority of Medieval medicine, life began on the 40th or the 70th day from conception. Today the discussion has changed. We must proclaim that God decides about life - its beginning and its end. If we forget that all that is evil will be permissible and possible if God's law, the law of nature, is eliminated in one field it will be possible to negate God's law completely.
Recently there has been the first funeral of prematurely born babies in Krosno, the Diocese of Przemysl. 54 small white coffins with black little crosses and one big coffin in which all these small coffins were put inside were carried to the cemetery and buried in a worthy way. These were bodies of unborn children but they were saved based on Christ's will of salvation - the desire of their salvation included in the family of believers. These children participate in the universal salvific will of the Church. These are holy souls; these are 'innocent young men,' saints in heaven. One can pray to them; they are saved and their bodies deserve respect. The interesting thing is that it was lay people that initiated this idea - from conscious faith connected with life, drawing consequences from the truth that life is sacred; that it begins from conception, that an immortal soul is in every body, that man is God's child and awaits resurrection. It was lay people, doctors, that proposed this initiative. They saved the little bodies from being thrown into dust-bins, and these people gave testimonies of their faith.
There have been more and more initiatives of laymen who want to help the old, the deserted. Care centres in villages, hospices run by Caritas, foundations for young people, e.g., 'Wzrastanie' are created. For many years there have been houses for lonely mothers in the diocese. Lay men and woman become involved in these centres, helping others, especially the old, the disabled, the lonely and the harmed. Journalists suggest to publicise these activities and give statistics. I am not against statistics but first of all I support quiet work, good deeds. They should be supported by the slightest gestures so that the heart and soul of the nation live through good deeds, through prayer, through proper attitude towards Lord God and the reality we are living in. It will be the invincible power.