The Communist Era: Golden Age of Catholicism in Poland?
ISOLATION HELPED TO PRESERVE IDENTITY & FIDELITY
“Only under the Cross, only under this sign, Poland is Poland and a Pole is a Pole,” wrote the 19th-century poet Karol Balinski, echoing the inseparable and undeniable Polish symbiosis of nation and religion. A Pole need not be Catholic to achieve true Polishness, Balinski would argue, but he must accept the enduring, millennium-old legacy of Catholicism in Poland. Indeed, the actual history of the Polish state begins with its baptism in A.D. 966 by King Mieszko I.
Under the Cross Poland was born. And under the Cross Poland saved Europe from the Ottoman invasion at the gates of Vienna in 1683. King Jan Sobieski III declared afterward, Venimus, vidimus, Deus vicit (“I came, I saw, God conquered”). And under the Cross Poland yet again saved Europe in 1920 — this time from the Bolshevik invasion when Polish forces defeated the Red Army at the “Miracle on the Vistula.” The victory definitively crippled the Bolsheviks, at least for a few decades; Vladimir Lenin referred to it as “an enormous defeat.” And in 1989 Poland cemented the Soviet demise in Central and Eastern Europe through its Solidarity movement, which was irrefutably accompanied by decades of Catholic resistance.
Dozens of other events throughout the history of Poland occurred in which Christ Crucified or the Blessed Virgin Mary was credited with miraculous intervention. Likewise, on dozens of other occasions, our Lord has allowed Poland to be brought to her knees like the Prophet Job in order to test her virtue.
Adam Mickiewicz, Romantic poet and bard of Poland, reflecting on a century of partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth at the hands of its neighbors, referred to his country of the 19th century as the “Christ of Nations.” Poland’s persecution and the suffering of her people were to bring about the salvific redemption of mankind, Mickiewicz envisaged, an endeavor some may argue is underway as the ever-expanding modernist mushroom cloud that detonated in Western Europe is now being repelled by unlikely heroes in the East.
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We need a clearer understanding of the Church’s relationship with her past and her tradition that will help guide us along the uncharted road ahead.
The bishop must announce to the rich and poor, to the powerful and weak the fullness of truth, which sometimes irritates and offends, even if it always liberates.