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Poland is still the land of Blessed John Paul II

Its people have confidence in themselves and the mission of the Church

By on Thursday, 5 July 2012

Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary, Krakow (AP)

Church of the Assumption of Virgin Mary, Krakow (AP)

I have just been to Poland, which is why I have been out of radio contact for the last week. I had been meaning to go for some time, feeling that this was a country that all Catholics should visit, and I come back with my suspicions fully confirmed.

First there are the churches. They are quite magnificent. The baroque splendours of many of Krakow’s churches survived the destruction of war, and several of them are easily equal to the churches of Rome. Unlike Rome they are set in a serene and largely traffic-free environment. Moreover, these churches all seem to be places of religious devotion; many of them have perpetual adoration, and there were people at prayer in all the ones I visited.

In Warsaw’s historic centre virtually every building was damaged beyond recognition, but there the churches have risen again from the rubble of war. Kudos to the people who saw to their rebuilding. In contrast to the British government after the war, the Poles restored what had been destroyed, rather than replacing them with something modern. This was clearly a matter of national pride. Ironic to think that these churches were rebuilt under the rule of the Polish United Workers (ie Communist) Party, just as Britain under both Labour and Tory governments was busily demolishing what the Luftwaffe had spared, all in the name of progress. Warsaw, as a result, is a charming and delightful city, unlike so many of our British urban spaces.

But it is not just churches, it is the people in them that count (though I do happen to think that architecture does matter too.) I was struck wherever I went by the huge amount of young nuns and priests I saw. The nuns were all in habits of the old-fashioned type – the sort that the late Alice Thomas Ellis found so beautiful. The priests were by and large wearing cassocks. The heat was fierce, up to 35 degrees, but although one or two priests had rolled up the sleeves of their cassocks, the nuns seemed quite unaffected by the heat. They were, I have to conclude, one bunch of tough Sisters.

But seriously, these were people who have not lost confidence in themselves and the mission of the Church. This was, and still is, the land of the Blessed John Paul, and his spirit was clearly not confined to himself. We have got a lot to learn from him, I think. From his place in Heaven, he teaches us still.

  • Henry

    This beautiful architecture is a cultural consequence of the Catholic philosophy of salvation by both faith and works in contrast to the Protestant philosophy of salvation by faith alone. The Reformation concept of salvation by faith alone has lead to puritanism and utilitarianism in that neither building of beautiful churches nor sacred art are necessary as long you believe in the Bible/Jesus. This later lead to the bland modern culture in the UK and US; no good cuisine, bland modern architecture, no joy or family -just a lot of career/work to make money and buy lots of stuff. If we turn of our televisions off,  perhaps we can forget these aspects of contemporary British and American culture and pray for a better future when cultural consequences of Protestantism run their course and man recognizes the importance of beauty again.

  • David

    In the U.S we call this the Protestant Work Ethic. Due to many poles emigrating to the states at the turn of the century we have many fine Catholic churches such as St.Hyacinths Basilica and St.Mary of the Angles. 

  • Ken Kiesnoski

    Many Polish-American Catholic churches were built to resemble St. Mary’s in Krakow (pictured in the photo accompanying the article). It’s an iconic structure that is echoed not only in Polonian (worldwide Polish) communities worldwide, but also in the traditional “szopki” (Christmas creches) Poles and Polonians create each holiday season. Rather than looking like stables, the creches resemble fantastical spins on St. Mary’s form. Regarding the “Protestant work ethic” we hear so much about: It’s funny but Poles — always die-hard Catholics — have been found by the EU and OECD to be the second-hardest working people in the market democracies. (And Catholic Bavaria happens to be the wealthiest and most productive part of Germany). The idea of a Protestant work ethic (devised by Protestants) may be valid, but it doesn’t mean non-Protestants are layabouts! ;-)

  • Welbeck

     utter rubbish outstanding Protestant architecture can be seen in Scotland, Denmark, Germany and Sweden etc. Your uneducated bigotry is most unwelcome,

  • Adam

    One point. The old town of Warsaw is indeed beautiful but the rest is quite awful.

  • Alexander Lucie-Smith

    Disagree. I liked the park in Paga; and I liked the building given by Stalin…..

  • Bartosh

    If you are from the states or ever been there if you call Poland awfull i do not know what you can call  parts of the states it is a slumb area example NEW YORK ONE OF THE DIRTIEST 
    CITY I HAVE EVER SEEN iT IS NOT LIKE THE SONG by Frank Sinatra i know the Americans make heros with any bum on the street ,or any slum area a paradise by spending billions to bullshit in propoganda.

  • http://thereluctantroad.wordpress.com/ Anthony

    Two summers ago I spent 10 weeks as an evangelical missionary in Poland. Two months ago I joined the Catholic Church. Now I want to go to back to Poland and appreciate the historic sites! 

  • Charles

    Beautiful architecture there is either former Catholic churches/buildings seized by Protestants such as Westminster Abbey or copies of Catholic churches such as St. Pauls cathedral. There is no such thing as Protestant architecture; Gothic, Baroque, Renaissance, Palladium etc is all Catholic created.

    The only small exception is Georgian which is based during the reign of the 4 King Georges but not necessarily religiously inspired so I don’t see it as Protestant nor is it particularly inspiring.

  • John

     It is a misunderstanding that the Protestant work ethic equals hard work while the lack of it equals the opposite. The great empires of the world all had a good work ethic while they were in  power; Spain, France, Rome, & Austria  could not have had empires without a strong work ethic at the time of their greatness. What the Protestant Work Ethic really means is that productive labor is more virtuous than leisure. This is in contradiction to all the great philosophers from Aristotle to Augustine who placed great value in leisure time for intellectual reflection, rest, family, and prayer.

  • https://openid.org/locutus LocutusOP

     For the image of that magnificent church alone, I thank you.

  • teigitur

    Where in Scotland, exactly? As its where I live it would be good to know.

  • teigitur

    Great return journey! Welcome home.

  • Welbeck

     Are you saying only Catholics are inspired by their faith when it comes to architecture whereas Protestants are not? No doubt you share the same views on Muslim and Buddhist architecture.it is interesting how some people cannot accept the achievements of others because they do not belong to their group.

  • Parasum

     “The Reformation concept of salvation by faith alone has lead to puritanism”

    ## Puritanism was a God-send. It’s superficial to criticise people of the calibre of Thomas Brooks & John Flavel & Thomas Watson, & others of their stature (of whom there are many), unless one has read them. But Catholics who would not be able to tell Calvin’s “On the Eternal Predestination of God” from Luther’s “Bondage of the Will” dismiss them, for all the world as though Puritanism was nothing more than the shrivelled monstrosity people mistake it for. The CC would have been very blessed if it had possessed anything resembling the Westminster Confession of Faith – the nearest equivalent is the Catechism of the Council of Trent, but that was intended for the clergy. 

    That salvation by faith led to a movement as fruitful as Puritanism is definitely in its favour. Catholicism is good at praising its past – but how much of that past do Catholics actually know ? There’s no point in getting excited about the Fathers, if one’s knowledge of them would fit on a postage stamp.

  • Patrickhowes

    I too like you,love Poland and its people.Their courage and their faith is admirable.They are hardworking and loyal.Their problem has always been their neighbours.How did they manage to rebuild the New Warsaw in harmony with the old Warsaw and yet you only have to visit our bombed out cities to see what post war architecture did to the souls of our cities.But most importantly what of its Church?.They were a bright light through decades of communist and Nazi rule,which surely was more oppressive than Secular Britain.But did their hierarchy cave in?Did their priests run dry as ours have?.Britain has been blessed with some good Catholic Cardinals,Bishops,writers and leaders.Cardinal Newman enjoyed ministering to the workers in the factories at the mills in Birmingham.He was no doubt impressed by how their faith kept their families going.But why is it that we cannot produce strong leadership here?.Why does the Church almost apologise for being Catholic?There is an apathy and an indifference which shocks me.It is as if the Church is doing nothing to stave off her own demise .Things became difiicult in Spain.Yet there is a serious sense of renewal going on.I would say that in France too there are many signs of renewal.Poland is unashamedly Catholic and  The Church knew how to survive decades of persecution by just being Herself.Strong leadership,unflinching belief in her sacramental life and of its morals and values in education.My local parish and school in Somerset are full of faithful Poles.Can they teach us a lesson?.Can they come to our aid as their pilots did during the Battle of Britain.Maybe not,but,perhaps they can teach us one thing and that is that we need to be perhaps a little bit more humble and accept that things have gone terribly wrong!Our leaders expecially need to have a rethink!We perhaps need to observe how they support each other and rebuild a sense of a Catholic community again.Being “inclusive” is great as long as it does not eradicate our identity.
    God Bless Poland  and if only we could attract its nuns and priests to these shores!

  • guest

    I went to Poland a few years ago to make a pilgrimage to some of the sites of Blessed JPII in Krakow and Wadowice.  As someone of Asian appearance, and travelling with someone who was clearly of Jewish ethnicity, I was shocked at the racism we had to endure just to pay homage to the “universal” Pope and this really detracted from the overall experience.  I could never recommend anyone to visit that country but wouldn’t stop them either.

  • Hopkins

     Buddhists and Muslims do have beautiful architecture; unfortunately Protestants do not as they are not a different religion but a different denomination which took with them much of the Catholic architecture for their use but did not invent any new architecture of their own. This is a historical fact not a denigration of Protestantism

  • theroadmaster

    Recently there has been speculation that the forces of secularization are taking root in post-communist Poland as represented in the very secular agenda of the incumbent administration(Civic Platform party), who are intent in legalizing in favor of widening criteria for abortion and extending marriage to same-sex couples.  But Catholicism had very deep and ingrained roots in Poland, over a Millennium or more and has proofed impervious to such terrible ideologies as nazism and communism. We have set the rot engendered by liberalism and materialist rationalism in the West and there is a real danger of such a scenario replicating itself in countries like Poland, which are in the act of reconstructing themselves socially and politically, after the overthrow of the communist yoke.  But the public witness of Polish citizens to their Catholic Faith, from across the age and socio-political spectra, will continue to give hope for the survival and good health of Catholic, Christian values in the native country of the late, Great, Blessed Pope John Paul 11.