HOPE ON BIG CROSSROADS OF THE CHURCH
FR. IRENEUSZ SKUBIŚ
Recently we have heard talks and statements of Polish bishops on the visit ‘Ad limina apostolorum’, about the necessity of getting prepared for this visit. The previous visit of this kind took place during the cadency of pope Benedict XVI in 2005. How much bishops reminiscence this visit also during the times of the Holy Father John Paul II. And here today we are witnesses of the visits of Polish hierarchs of the Church during the pontificate of pope Francis – the visit so much awaited.
What kind of pope did Polish bishops go to?
Surely many of you asked the question, what this meeting with the Pope would be like, who has recently arrived in Rome from a far-away country, who surprises and incites comments with his attitude and way of behaving. However, one thing became clear: pope Francis is extremely popular with believers. They are really listening to what he has got to tell them. Big crowds of them arrive in meetings with him and they enjoy being with the Holy Father, listening to his words, his friendly accepting every smile. There must be a mystery of pope Francis in it, which has not been completely uncovered. He arrived from Latin America, from Argentina, he brought faith which is lively and obvious, which pours hope into people’s hearts, which arouses trustfulness. What is astonishing, is his way of looking at the universal Church, at the prayer of the Church expressed in the worldly divine service of Eucharist and the worldly Rosary prayer. First of all, we were used to the long pontificate of John Paul II, to which one was going ‘like into smoke’ – as the Polish Pope used to say. After him, there was the great pope Benedict XVI, who was unchallenged in his knowledge of theological teachings and strongly rooted in the teaching and the attitude of John Paul II. He was somebody very close and friendly to our bishops.
Visiting apostolic tombs and Roman basilicas
And here Polish bishops are arriving to pope Francis in order to see and meet personally Peter of our times. We recall St. Paul who arrived at Jerusalem in order to meet with Peter - and he spent two weeks there. The visit of Polish bishops lasted from 1 to 8 February. The first day – bishops of metropolis of Gniezno, Poznań, Łódź and bishops of the Byzantine-Ukrainian rite from the archdiocese of Przemyśl-Warsaw and the diocese of Wrocław and Gdańsk. Experiences of bishops are extremely positive. They get to know the pope who is very close to them, understands them, talks with them like a brother with his brothers, is clear in talks. There might have been fear in some bishops, but the reality dissipated it. Pope Francis is a clear person and everybody who is close to him, also becomes clear. This clarity results from the gist of the visit ‘Ad limina apostolorum’, because this is a pilgrimage to tombs of the Apostles, this is a great prayer of bishops at the tombs of the martyrs for faith. It is necessary to note that all meetings of bishops start with the Holy Mass celebrated in the basilicas: Our Lady the Major, St. John at Lateran, St. Peter behind the Walls and St. Peter in Vatican. At the basilica of St. Peter, at the tomb of John Paul II, Polish bishops were celebrating the joint Eucharist, presided over by cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz.
This is a meeting with a father
There are the first impressions after the meeting with pope Francis for which everybody is waiting. Pope Francis let others get to know him as a father and a person of an unusual class. This is what the primate of Poland, Józef Kowalczyk says about the meeting of the group of Polish bishops with the Holy Father: - First of all, I am very glad that the Holy Father creates the fatherly atmosphere, as John Paul II had used to do. Without any distance, without any stage-fright, without any Byzantine style. When I was introducing the group of bishops, the Holy Father was saying: - Sit down, let’s sit down, everybody, there is no reason to be nervous or emotional. We speak about concrete things in which we are interested. The Holy Father asked among the others, about the catechesis for adults, about administering the sacrament of reconciliation. He also confessed that his showing mercifulness is connected with St. sister Faustyna Kowalska. He expressed his thanksgiving to the Primate of Poland for the gift of the Polish Pope for the whole world.
This is a very important statement of Polish bishops that they are not arriving to the Holy Father, onto the proverbial ‘red carpet’, but they are coming like to a father with whom they can talk and who understands them, who shows his knowledge of the situation in Poland, gives his examples of understanding the Polish society. Pope Francis is aware of difficulties with which the Church in Poland is struggling.
Issues of talks
The Holy Father was glad about the information of bishops that in Poland people often go to confession, that they use the sacrament of reconciliation, that especially during the Lent, priests in Poland have got a lot of work. It was accepted by the Holy Father very well. It is worth noting the question of the Holy Father about mass media, about the attitude of the Church towards them. Pope Francis is aware of the biggest sins of mass media. Firstly – they tell only half the truth, so they sometimes lead people into de-information; secondly –they slander people; and thirdly – they attack those who deserve respect in order to deprive them of their good name. And this -as archbishop Marek Jędraszewski reported – causes a chaos in the international life, and also in particular societies, nations or countries. As bishops state, when they were talking with the Pope, there were a lot of issues.
Greek-Catholic bishops thanked for the help of the Roman-Catholic Church for the Greek-Catholic Church in the times of communism and the words of support for Ukraine. The auxiliary bishop of the archdiocese of Przemyśl-Warsaw Eugeniusz Popowicz asked the Pope for a prayer in the intention of the Ukrainian nation.
Gratitude for John Paul II
After the first meetings of the Holy Father with Polish bishops within the visit ‘Ad limina apostolorum’, Archbishop Józef Kowalczyk stated in his statement for ‘Niedziela’ that this is the presence on big crossroads of the Church, which is the universal Church. Every meeting with Particular Churches – both for the universal Church and for each of the Particular Churches, in this case for the Particular Church in Poland – brings a lot of experiences and everybody becomes richer through their exchange.
Visits in particular congregations are very important meetings of bishops with Vatican officers. This is just here where some detailed discussions take place. Polish bishops have an occasion to present the Holy See their problems and questions about important canonical issues in which the Roman Curia is interested.
Bishops are welcomed by the Holy Father in the spirit of gratitude of the universal Church for the Church in Poland and for the saint Polish pope John Paul II. They also receive expressions of gratitude for Polish saints, for St. Faustyna, who through the idea of Divine Mercifulness which she was spreading in the Homeland of John Paul II, became a beloved saint in the whole universal Church, which was testified also by the Holy Father Saint Francis.
The more time has passed since the transition of blessed John Paul II to Father’s home, the more we discover the deepness and the spirit of his teaching – said the metropolitan of Gniezno archbishop Józef Kowalczyk during the first Holy Mass celebrated together by Polish bishops during ‘Ad limina’. The Eucharist was celebrated on 3 February in the Roman basilica Santa Maria Maggiore.
‘Ad limina’ is an experience of great hope and joy. Maybe mass media, which see evil everywhere and lack of values, often influenced the awareness of some groups in Poland, diminishing the significance of the Polish Church. However, it turns out that this Church is beautiful and is deeply rooted in the culture of the universal Church. Just this beauty and this greatness are appreciated by the current Pope, representatives of the Roman Curia. And this is great joy and hope on the crossroads of the great universal Church.