WITH VISIT TO POPE FRANCIS – FOR STRENGTHENING ONESELF
WORD OF THE CHAIRMAN OF THE POLISH EPISCOPAL CONFERENCE ARCHBISHOP JÓZEF MICHALIK TO POPE FRANCIS, DELIVERED DURING THE VISIT ‘AD LIMINA APOSTOLORUM’
Today we are coming to Your Holiness as a teacher of faith, thanks to whom each of us feels fully the Church, because we are looking for Lord’s words in Your word. This meeting was awaited and touching because from the beginning of Your ministry at the Holy See we have been realizing the fact that Your Holiness strengthens our Church not only with the charisma of word but also with a testimony of a witness of courageous and lively faith. We thank Holy Father for this testimony.
Today we are coming here not to teach but to listen and we are more astonished to say that Holy Father does everything in order to listen to the voice of the times and the voice of the Holy Spirit together with us, which is not always easy, but is always fascinating and beautiful.
The Church which is in Poland today, is not so much different from the Church of ‘yesterday’. In the history of Poland we have never been anti-roman or anti-papal. Reformers, squandering promises of XVI century or a speech in the next centuries, did not manage to implant hatred in the Catholic Church. Also Nazism and communism with their ideology of aggressive atheism, despite that in many points, for example, the sphere of ethics, it hurt us a lot, did not hinder our relationship with the Gospel and the Church. For us every pope is not only the successor of St. Peter in the historical perspective, but also the successor of Christ in the perspective of faith. We were very glad with the election of John Paul II and we thank for the decision about his canonization and canonization of John XXIII, but for us John Paul II has never died because he was living in Benedict XVI, and is living in pope Francis and will live in the successors of Your Holiness.
The Church in Poland has its problems, fears and defects, because unlike any other nation, we may be feeling the sad heritage of the original sin deepened with the heritage of communism, and also the contemporary inflow of secularism, which is aggressively trampling on any holiness today, including the holiness of nature rights. We see how the prince of darkness is systematically sowing weeds especially on God’s Nineveh. It is a great pain for us, and we are trying to sow a seed of God’s holy Gospel, remembering that ‘Evangelii gaudium vita est’ and ‘Ecclesoa semper sanctificanda’.
Statistically the state of the Church in Poland is simple: about 38 million of population, who in 93 per cent declare to be baptized, 44 dioceses, nearly 110 active bishops and 46 retired bishops. Our episcopate is authentically a unity in the matters of faith, morality and pastoral discipline. We have fervent clergy who are well prepared to realize their vocations, there are 10 universities and theological faculties. In the year 2013 4262 young Poles got prepared for priesthood and 501 women were in novitiate. Approximately, over 50 per cent Catholics participate in the Holy Mass on Sunday (we regret that it is not 100 per cent).
75 per cent Poles are against abortion at present (in the recent years their number has increased by 6 percent according to the data on 5 January 2014 of the Catholic Informative Agency).
2015 Polish missionaries work on missions, among whom there are 640 nuns and 50 laymen. Over 200 priests work in Eastern countries of Europe.
A big challenge is labour migration of a few million young people, crisis of family (about 30 per cent of divorced married couples) and dramatic decreasing birth rate.
Our relations with the democratically elected government are based on a proper dialogue, the concordat with the Holy See is respected, but we are worried by today’ systematic concealed and open fight against God and God’s laws in whole Europe which is seen in legislation and in world media which are also conjugated with the media network in Poland. Being unprepared 20 years before, we have come into this confrontation after regaining full independence. And what is more important – struggling with forces of darkness in us is not easy.
We are going to face new challenges but we do not give in difficulties. We are glad that we sometimes suffer because of slanders for the name of Christ.
Teaching children and the youth catechism takes place in all schools, including the primary ones, there are movements, associations and formation groups of Catholic laymen. There appear new pro-life actions out of initiatives of laity, for example, laymen have again collected over 600 thousand signatures against legal abortion – still permitted in Poland in three cases – unfortunately, acknowledged by the parliament, there appear new weeklies and magazines of laymen close to the Church, in a programme of the national television there have been a few hours reserved for 20 years, assigned to Catholic programmes, there is also the Catholic Television Trwam, in each diocese there are radio stations of ecclesiastical character and Caritas has been functioning in all dioceses for a few years. Edition of Catholic weeklies and magazines reaches a million of copies. We also undertook attempts of new evangelization based on coordination of already existing initiatives, with consideration of people being distanced from the Church.
There are also a few initiatives of pastoral ministry of the youth of the nationwide range, gathering tens thousands of young people, for example, ‘Lednica’, ‘Przystanek Jesus’, and also pastoral groups, for example, the academic ones, ecclesiastical Foundation ‘Work of the New Millennium’ which supports over 2500 young people from families with many children in gaining education. The movement of permanent pilgrimages is still lively, and counts even hundred thousand pilgrimages to the sanctuary of Our Lady in Częstochowa and to other sanctuaries.
We are renewing the invitation and we are waiting for Holy Father on the Worldly Youth’s Days in Kraków in 2016, hoping that Holy Father will enrich us with His prayer and reflection also in other towns, especially that in the year 2016 we are going to celebrate the 1050th anniversary of the baptism of Poland.
Finally, I want to say that in Poland there is no family which would not pray for Pope. This everyday prayer lasts at Jasna Góra and in all dioceses. Let Holy Father not lose courage because he is never alone and let Him have courage to demand much from us, reprimand us as often as it is necessary, and raise us to a full unity with Christ.
We are also asking for a prayer for us, and strengthen our ministry in the Church of Christ with apostolic blessing.