Christianity did not allow itself to be shut away
Sermon delivered in Poznan on 23 June 2006
Archbishop Jozef Michalik
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today the Archdiocese of Poznan and the Church in our homeland are celebrating the important 50th anniversary of the events, which were to play an extremely creative and glorious role: they became the seed sown in order to die and yield a hundredfold crop. Today we have walked along the streets of this old city, which has built the Polish and Christian identity, the Catholic identity, and which has formed our Polish national cultural and social conscience, and throughout ages the city has made us conscious of what is the most important thing and what are the things our Nation and we cannot leave.
The Province of Wielkopolska is not only characterised by its love for labour and order but also love for the Polish land to a great extent, even to the paradox of the 'Wagon of Drzymala', the Uprising in the Wielkopolska Province or the bishops of Poznan: Dunin, Ledochowski and Baraniak who were imprisoned for the freedom of the Church in Poland.
In the history of our nation there were many situations, which the Gospel described, 'Suddenly a violent storm came up on the sea, so that the boat was being swamped by waves'. The boat was to sink but the disciples kept rowing and knew whom to call for help. They did not forget that he was with them and they called 'Lord, save us! We are perishing!' Then Jesus got up, rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm. However, he told them very important words, 'Why are you terrified, O you of little faith? I am with you'.
Such situations happened many times in our lives, in the life of our city and in the history of our nation. The most important thing is to see the danger and to call for help; not to give up but 'keep rowing' and ask Jesus for help and rescue. Seeing our human efforts and trust in him he does not forsake us. He will help us and he actually helps us.
He also helped 50 years ago. The year 1956 was not easy in the post-war Poland that was destroyed and frightened by the expansion of ideologies that were brutal towards Europe. The post-war cold war was a modern, ruthless ideological war; the war for which countries did not only stint financial means and also sacrificed thousands of human lives to keep it going. It is enough to mention that Stalin closed the Catholic and Orthodox churches in Russia and Ukraine, and Chrushtshov continued that policy in an even more ruthless way. We should mention the ideological expansion and network of secret agents with the help of which Marxism held sway in the Western countries. One can learn a lot about those events from Suvorov's books. He did not exaggerate at all. On the contrary, there are some oblique statements in his books: the West did not say anything about the crimes the communists committed; the West was silent and continues to be silent. And even the writers and politicians, who were the Nobel Prize winners and who published in 1956, helped the West. Later they published paeans to communism in Russia, China and Cambodia.
In Poland two-thirds of the dioceses did not have bishops. The Primate of Poland Stefan Wyszynski, Bishop Baraniak and Bishop Kaczmarek were imprisoned and others were removed from their dioceses and placed in monasteries. Many priests were stuck in prison. There were many trials and the most faithful patriots were sentenced. The Home Army (AK) and heroism of its soldiers as well as the heroism of the participants of the Warsaw Uprising were mocked during several decades. It could have not been otherwise since it were the Russian officers who took command of the Polish army, thus destroying the good opinion about Russian ordinary people and ruining Pole's gratitude for the great sacrifice of millions of Russian soldiers who died in the fight against the Nazi invaders. It was in those post-war years that aversion to Russian methods and mistrust towards their leaders were aroused. One should talk about this in order to free oneself from the thinking and spirituality of 'the biblical old man'. Fortunately, the Polish people could differentiate between the leaders and ideologists on the one hand and the worthy sons of Russia, Germany, Jewry and other nationalities on the other because they all were harmed by their leaders more than it has been said, and these are the nations who suffered more than us and many a time were attempted to be completed annihilated.
This was the historical background: fully controlled system with a competent Security Office, of the unexpected and extraordinary event that took place in Poznan, and one can say with conviction: Glory to you, indomitable city! You were the first in your heroic struggle for freedom and justice!
The H. Cegielski Metallurgical Plant employed 13,000 workers. According to the reports the working conditions were very poor. High efficiency norms were imposed and they could not be realised. The punishment was severe (lower bonus and unjust taxes). The workers proposed changes and began discussing with the authorities. They even went to Warsaw, demanding, among other things, to have their bonus returned and that the working hours for women should be shortened, especially for those women who had several children. They wanted prices for basic food to go down. The talks and negotiations failed. Ten thousand people went on strike and began demonstrating very early in the morning. Other works and factories joined the strike of the Cegielski Plant and in the area of the former Prussian Imperial Palace a crowd of about 100,000 assembled. Having been informed about the situation the Central Committee of the PZPR met in Warsaw and immediately at 10.00 a.m. took a decision to use force in order to pacify the city. It was already at 11.00 a.m. that the first shots were fired. Four divisions (2 armoured divisions and 2 infantry divisions), altogether 9,987 soldiers (including students of military schools), 2,144 militia, 359 tanks, 61 cannons - all of them were used against civilians and those who captured guns (in the prison and police stations) were 400 people at the most. The protesters behaved with dignity and the observers (Dag Hammarskjold, UN Secretary General was in Poland during those days) stressed that no bank was robbed and the international fair hall was not smashed. The city was pacified in one day and night. About 100 people were killed and over 1,000 injured. Among the killed ones was Romek Strzalkowski, a thirteen-year-old boy and a symbol, since children and young people showed their solidarity and concern with the whole nation. Romek marched in the first row and carried a banner, demanding return of religion to school. It was evident that the residents of Poznan did not forget about God: demanding bread and freedom they had courage to call to God. I want to congratulate to you, Brothers and Sisters, I congratulate to you, Your Excellency, and you, members of the city councils, for the fact that you supplemented the inscription on the monument, giving a witness of your deeper view on the world and God who is the Lord of time. One should always remember about God, offering the sacrifice for 'freedom, law and bread'. Without God, and without religion, freedom is incomplete, insincere, and sometimes dangerous; rights have no solid foundations and bread becomes bitter.
The people of Poznan did not think only about themselves, they remembered about the whole nation and the Church. That's why, in June 1956 they demanded freedom for Cardinal Stefan Wyszynki, Poland's Primate, who was imprisoned in Komancza, in the diocese of Przemysl. Karol M. Splett, Bishop of Gdansk, was kept in the monastery in Dukla, several kilometres away from Komancza. There were more imprisoned bishops and priests. Poznan spoke up for them and they asserted a new look at freedom. Soon after that June another event could have happened and it happened - 'the Polish October'. In the meantime, on 26th August the National Vows were renewed at Jasna Gora. Thus people entrusted the fate of their homeland to the Most Holy Virgin Mother. The preparations for the 1000th anniversary of Christianity in Poland began. Gomulka seized power, the Primate and other bishops were set free and religion returned to school (for two years).
Today we need to remind others of these events, talk about them, make conclusions, and teach history so that we know how to live.
What should we do next?
Conclusions flowing from the Poznan June Uprising 50 years ago Poznan made people willing to act. It was the first city to show its courage to defend the values that were eliminated from life. Without that mass rising, without those victims, people would not have had courage to protest in 1968 and 1970, there would have been no 'Solidarity' movement of the year 1980 and the changes of 1989.
Only after many years, only today, we can see what moral damages our nation suffered when it was smashed by false anti-human ideology, based on lies. We are still living in the same country but we stop loving it and feeling motherly attachment. So far about two million Polish people have left to work abroad and among the immigrants there are the best sons and daughters of our Nation. We give what is the best and we disperse without hope for better fate of our country.
Material impoverishment and lack of jobs are the facts. And nothing has been done to improve the situation. Is it not a paradox that under the pretext of privatisation Polish property was sold out and the Polish possibilities that the government must buy the concession to build motorways, the concession that the previous government got rid of? Soon the government will have to re-buy sugar factories, cement plants, steel works and banks, and surely land. A symbol of disease which has affected us is the press, oil and other affairs, scandalous defiance of everything what the legal government tries to undertake and ideological witch-hunt of modern atheists who, having not known complete good, fear ethical, moral, religious truth, and they want to push the nation into a corner.
I think that today we need hard work, an uprising, almost a Poznan revolution, full of sacrifice, that would reform people's thinking, help people get rid of their old habits to live in half-truth, half-honesty and half-involvement. Another urgent and important task is to pay attention to school, family and ethics of work, meaning the concern for honesty of employers and employees. The employer, including the state, cannot pretend that he pays for work and the employee cannot pretend that he works.
A few days ago teachers and some other groups organised a youth manifestation against the Minister of Education in Warsaw. It turned out that there were also some underage young people (there were 10 underage people among 18 arrested ones). The slogans were explicit and brutal: to remove, drown him like Fr Popieluszko ( to 'put him into a bag and into the lake'. We know who drowned Fr Popieluszko and we could guess who would like such methods.
What do people have against the Minister of Education? Well, the fact that he is not 'ours', he does not belong to 'our party'. We may not like the minister but we should always respect social norms! Young people must not be manipulated. A worse charge is that the minister wants schools to teach patriotism and today teaching patriotism is a crime, today it is not acceptable, today one should cut people off from the roots of our Nation.
The situation becomes even more anomalous when in the European Parliament Poland is accused of sins she has not committed, namely xenophobia, homophobia and europhobia. Show me another nation that being faced with death sentence saved some many Jews during World War II. Allow me to honour Poznan who did not consent to a manifestation that would demolish morality. Good manners and taste should be protected today as well.
One can make all things relative and justify them by referring to modernity, right to freedom, self-fulfilment, but surely, that would not make people happy; it will break them down completely instead of helping them. We have lived to the times when defence of nature laws is heroism and one should do this in order not to get lost in the tunnel of darkness.
Let us ask an important question: What has left from the heroic uprising of June '56 and what can we, or rather must, we do in the future?
One need to look at history and our past with responsibility so that we can courageously and properly carry out our responsibility for the present time and not get lost in the future. In my opinion the first conclusion from the Poznan June, Gdansk August and Warsaw May is to remember that one cannot separate daily professional life from faith and that conscience and bread go hand in hand in people, and this is the characteristic of human being and it determines human dignity.
The second conclusion refers to the need to be in close relationship with ordinary people, the need to respect workers and farmers, the poor and those who are treated with contempt, to respect each man because he is the strength of the Church and the Nation. We need cultural and intellectual elite who grows out of the whole Nation, but we should not get separated from ordinary people. They are the strength of the Church and the society.
Several weeks ago Pope Benedict XVI visited Poland. He came to strengthen our faith but at the same time we saw that he had great hope towards Polish people: we are to become witnesses of faith to the West, we are to prove in a tangible and emotional way that Christianity is vivid, fruitful and it has not allow itself to 'be closed in a museum'. 'Faith is a deeply personal and human act', said the Pope, 'it is trust in a person, no ordinary person, but Jesus Christ himself.' And conversion, a new style of life from faith, must come from this encounter and trust in Christ.
Today it is clearly seen that the pessimistic vision for the Church has not come true. Polish mass Catholicism has turned out far harder and not some surface Catholicism as many commentators as well as the so-called environments of open Catholics have estimated. The Church in Poland does not want to turn her back on any man and group who want to serve God's people, nor does she want to undermine them. In the Church there is room for Radio Maryja, for a weekly, for a Catholic monthly, because prayer and intellectual reflections of some writer, artist and columnist, which are full of concern for the Church, are needed. The situation of the Polish Church is not very bad although we should not forget that we must be 'perfect just as your heavenly Father is perfect'.
The report prepared by the Institute of Church Statistics, run by the St Vincent de Paul Society, says that in the years 1991-2001 the number of deeply believing people increased from 10% to 19.8%. The number of believers who regularly go to church increased from 52.4% to 58%; 65% of parishioners declare regular Sunday attendance. More and more Catholics reject marital infidelity and abortion. In 1991 the number of respondents who accepted abortion was 19.1% and in 2002 the number was 10.7%.
Two new shrines were built, born out of faith, namely Lichen and Lagiewniki. The number of laymen who undergo some kind of spiritual formation in various groups, associations, communities (ca. 10% of Catholics in Poland belong to such groups) is unique in Europe. The leading groups are: the Life-Light Movement, the Neocatechumenal Way, Renewal in the Holy Spirit, Faith and Life as well as Rosary Circles and some 150 bigger and smaller groups. Laymen themselves promote more and more initiatives, which testifies to the fruitfulness of the teaching of John Paul II, the Bishops Conference and priests. And glory to them for these actions. So we have a lot to thank God for.
As the only country in Europe Poland has developed a network of houses for single mothers; 52% of such centres in Poland are related to the Church. The hospice movement is growing. In Poland there are shelter houses and Brother Albert houses; the activities of 'Caritas' embrace the homeless and provides food for thousands of hungry people; the network of houses for terminally ill people has also religious aims: to accompany those who suffer and pass away. All these things are thanks to people of simple heart and vivid faith, thanks to the fact that the Church appreciates the role of an engineer and teacher but never despises and will never despise and turn away from man who works in factory or on land. We are glad that 95% of the youth (and grown-ups) declare to have a relationship with the Church; the examples are Lednica, Taize as well as participation in walking pilgrimages to Jasna Gora. And we should praise the youth, their parents and chaplains. The Church must keep having courage of love and confidence in people as well as courage of faithfulness (tenacious and heroic) to tradition, principles of the Gospel and requirements of God's commandments.
Lord God has not stopped loving people today, loving and forgiving man and longing for man's conversion. The Polish laboratory of faith is working, in co-operation with the Holy Spirit. Here is one evidence: the musical group 'Arka Noego' [Noah's Arc], which is famous in Poland and abroad, was the initiative of the heavy metal musician Robert (Litza) Friedrich, who was converted to Catholicism; in Poland the black leather Harley drivers meet on the Feast of Divine Mercy at Jasna Gora and then begin their annual rally to the cemetery in Katyn.
Yes, dear Brothers and Sisters, patriotism and faith have various forms. Similarly, we need a relationship between culture and work on the one hand and faith on the other; man needs God and the Church and similarly Lord God and the Church need man. They need you, Brother and Sister, where you are and where you live.
I do realise that there are many fields that need to be improved, our faith and love are still too little; egoism destroys family and social life and it affects our families as well. Let us try to look at our lives as John Paul II taught us: to see what is good, to preserve good but not to neglect dangers, to warn against threats and to protect against evil. And above all, we should not ask what we can gain today but what we can give to our brothers and sisters, to the Church, the Nation and Europe. The Christian Nation, with a thousand year old history, history that was born here, at the baptismal font of Mieszko I, in the Poznan cathedral, cannot lose its long perspective but it should look forward to the future with responsibility and without fears and complexes. It should be ready to take up new challenges and to discern the signs of the times.
While dedicating the monument Archbishop Stroba delivered a homily in which he said, 'The White Eagle is emerging at the feet of crosses just like Poland is rising from the death of her children and from forgiveness and reconciliation'.
Yes, dear Brothers and Sisters, Poland has not wasted the sacrifice of her children. She cares for them, she gets strengthened from them and today Poland must also remember that her value and strength depend on the strength of the bonds between the Eagle and the Cross. Yes, under this sign a Pole has the chance to be a man of conscience, honesty, sacrifice and spiritual beauty. Tadeusz Kosciuszko said, 'There are defeats in which a hidden victory doses'. The defeat that happened 50 years ago brought a great victory and today we want to thank God for this victory.
Archbishop Józef Michalik
President of the Polish Bishops' Conference