A YEAR OF WORK OF A NEW AMBASSADOR
On the occasion of the first anniversary of beginning a mission for the Holy See, Włodzimierz Rędzioch talks with an ambassador Janusz Kotański
WŁODZIMIERZ RĘDZIOCH: – Last year, on 23 June 2016, Mr. Ambassador submitted credentials onto the hands of pope Francis. What was the first meeting like between the ambassador of Poland and the Pope from Latin America?
JANUSZ KOTAŃSKI: – That meeting was very important and touching. It was the first time I had met with pope Francis then and it seemed to me that despite the strong character, he is a bit shy, delicate. I began the meeting with the words: ‘Polonia Semper Fidelis’ – Poland always faithful. It has been so for centuries, and it is so now, too. certainly, for me, as an ambassador, it was an occasion to present my mission and tasks connected with pursuing the policy of the Polish government and the president of Poland. The Holy Father showed a lot of understanding towards those plans. At one moment I asked him whether I could say something personal. I told Francis about a journey which I had made a year earlier to Peru and Bolivia with my wife (and it happened just before the papal pilgrimage to Bolivia). On the Bolivian plateaus Altiplano, far above the world, we got to a village of the Indians Ajmara with a small church in which there was an image of Merciful Jesus. I told Pope then: ‘Holy Father, when you are in Poland, please, light this flame of Divine Mercifulness’. Hearing those words Francis got clearly moved. I would like to add that the journey to South America was an occasion for me to get to know the reality of this continent with its terrible poverty. I understood then why the Pope is so sensitive to the problems of poverty and why he bears in his heart the fate of people abused and persecuted on the so-called peripheries of the world.
– Soon at the beginning of your mission in Vatican, Mr. Ambassador had to take care of the pilgrimage of Francis to Poland for the World Youth Days. What, in the opinion of Ambassador of Poland for the Holy See, was that journey for the Pope and for Poland?
– Yes, nearly on the first days of my work I and the Pope flew to Poland and later I was returning to Rome with him by plane. That pilgrimage was the Holy Father an occasion to get to know our country which he had not known. Before that he had used to meet with Poles in Argentina but those were not contacts with Poland.
– And what Poland did Francis see?
– He saw a democratic, safe country, which had got prepared for his visit perfectly – everyone emphasized it. The country completed the high-level tasks. He also saw religiousness of our politicians, who do not treat religion instrumentally. He saw that president Andrzej Duda and the prime minister Beata Szydło are people of faith. He saw a living dynamic Church. He saw young people, who pray, go to confession and participate in the Holy Mass, and that it is not religiousness show. He could feel beautiful religiousness to Mary among Poles, when visiting Jasna Góra. The Pope was also in Oświęcim, in the former death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, in the prison cell of St. Maksymilian, and I think that he understood there that our country, the victim of two leftist totalitarianisms, is also the land of martyrs. That pilgrimage, in my opinion, was a breakthrough in perceiving Poland by Francis. The Pope could see what nation we are like, that we are really the hope of Catholicism in Europe. And, on the other hand, Poles could get to know the Holy Father and see how direct man he is, how quickly he makes contacts with believers, especially with the youth.
– Are there any issues during the pontificate of Francis, which would be contradictory between the policy of Poland and the Holy See?
– I do not see any such issues. First of all, because we have common values. Poland is still faithful to civilization of love for which John Paul II had fought, and will be building it together with the Holy See. Media are trying to make people to believe that Poland has got a different attitude to the issues of refugees. I think that during a year of my mission I explained in Vatican what our arguments are – we help people touched by the war on the spot: in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Syria. Because those people, in definite majority, want to return their homes, when the conflicts end. And we are helping them to survive on the spot, not to emigrate to the unknown. Besides that, I reminded that in Poland there are other migrants – first those were the Chechens, the muslims, later a big wave of the Ukrainians, and now the Crimean Tartars are arriving, also followers of Islam. This situation is compatible with the old tradition of Polish tolerance. It is necessary to emphasize another aspect of the issue – Poland, similarly as other countries of the Visegrad Group, does not close up to refugees but opposes to their enforced relocation.
– What were the most important moments in the work of Mr. Ambassador of Poland in the last year, besides the mentioned pilgrimage of Francis to Poland?
– I often had an occasion to meet with the Holy Father. The last time I met with him was during the general audience for the European Federation of Associations of Catholic Families. I think that this contact and recognizing the ambassador of Poland by the Pope are very important. I had an occasion to meet with the state secretary cardinal Pietro Parolin twice, with archbishop Paul Gallagher, responsible for the foreign policy of the Holy See and with the chiefs of the dicastery of the Roman Curia, rectors of papal universities in Rome, and also with nearly all ambassadors accredited for the Holy See, and there are 179 of them. Sometimes these are meetings with deeply religious people, looking at Poland with hope – for example, the current ambassador of South Korea flew to Poland a few years ago in order to make a pilgrimage from Warsaw to Częstochowa. Those were very important meetings because it is necessary to remind everybody about the role of Poland in the contemporary world, about our history, about the teaching and heritage of John Paul II. Moreover, it is necessary to pursue bilateral policy between Poland and the Holy See and at the international level. In addition there are conferences which I managed to organize in the embassy, for example, about the primate Stefan Wyszyński and about archbishop Antoni Baraniak. We must remind that Poland, being a non-sovereign country for decades, has survived thanks to Catholicism, that Polishness and faith are often the same things. It is worth mentioning that a conference and an exhibition about Eucharistic miracles have always been popular. I also organized a concert of carols in the basilica Santa Maria in Trastevere - a titular church of the primates Wyszyński and Glemp, and recently, on 17 June – a rally ‘Following the Roman routes of Karol Wojtyła’ – of Karol Wojtyła, not John Paul II. As one can see, there were a lot of such actions and at various levels.
Moreover, I would like to emphasize one fact: the Embassy of the Republic of Poland for the Holy See used to make and keep contacts with the Polish Episcopate Conference which is a very important thing because it is important to pursue a policy which realizes assumptions of concordat.
– What are plans for the nearest future?
– Together with the Polish Institute we are organizing a show of an American film about beatified Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko.
– Mr. ambassador is a reliable diplomat and a historian. How does formation of a historian help to fulfill the mission for the Holy See?
– A historian knows the past, is studying it, makes conclusions for today and works with the thought about the future. Therefore, the fact that I am a historian, and a historian of the Church, to add, really helps me in diplomatic work just here. It is obvious that we can learn on mistakes. I have been observing the policy of the Holy See for the last year and I can say that Vatican makes conclusions from the past. And it is necessary to add that its diplomatic relations with other countries are very broad and have a long history. Besides that it seems to me that the rank and prestige of the Holy See are increasing more and more – all over the world for decades there has not been such a concern or commotion, such a number of religious or ethnical conflicts, domestic wars or conflicts among countries like now and in this difficult situation the only worldly authority is the Holy Father together with the Holy See.