Religion in Today’s Poland
BY AWAKE! CORRESPONDENT IN POLAND
THE people of Poland are known worldwide for being very religious. In fact, about 95 percent of the population professes to be Roman Catholic.
Religious celebrations are taken very seriously in this land and are an integral part of the national tradition. Especially in the countryside, religious holidays can be very colorful and festive, with participants wearing folk costumes and people joining in games.
The press regularly features such events, as well as pilgrimages to famous places of worship and religious processions. Baptisms, church marriages, name days, and first Communions are likewise highly esteemed occasions.
In 1978, Karol Wojtyła, from Poland, became Pope John Paul II. This gave further impetus to the Catholic religion in Poland. Proud throngs welcome their fellow countryman whenever he visits his native land.
All these religious activities give the impression to people outside Poland that the Polish people share a deeply held and publicly manifested faith. In Poland, however, Catholic leaders and other observers express concern over the changing attitudes and habits of growing numbers of church members.
The Polish Perspective
Prominent representatives of the Polish Catholic hierarchy along with journalists and social researchers have a different view of the state of the Catholic religion in today’s Poland. With increasing frequency, strongly worded statements are issued by leading figures in response to worsening crime, decaying moral standards, and declining interest in church doctrine and practice. Much of the discussion revolves around the question, What impact does the popular Roman Catholic form of worship have on the everyday life of the people?
For example, Polish Primate Józef Glemp noted increased secularism among people and spoke of the need to oppose the wave of neopaganism in the country. In the Catholic magazine Ład, writer Wojciech Chudy gave a more detailed analysis of the situation. He said: ‘We have to consider the issue that has been bothering priests, sociologists, and psychologists of religion for years—the clear division between religious and daily life. You listen to a sermon, but the moment you get out of the church, you simply forget about God’s world. You fall into another world, a world of our daily struggle, where you lead your life as if there were no God at all.’
Archbishop Henryk Muszyński, vice president of the Episcopal Conference, goes further, saying: “The Gospel has not managed to transform us inside. Polish people are Christians only statistically. It’s hard to deny that most people view Christianity more as a habit than as a religion.”
Changed Values—Changed Conduct
Such expressions show that leading representatives of the church worry about the profound changes that have occurred in public values and conduct. For one thing, the formerly typical religious devotion appears to be losing ground to other concerns.
To illustrate, in one sociological study, Poles gave the first place of importance in life to family, followed by honesty, justice, kindness, and reliability. Things related to God and religion came in only 16th. A consequence of this is decreasing church attendance, even among the many who profess to be believers.
Polish bishops also worry about statistics indicating widespread disregard for church teachings. For instance, in a survey on religious matters by Irena Borowik of Jagielloński University, only 50 percent of respondents said that they believed in an afterlife, 47 percent thought that priests should be allowed to marry, and 64 percent approved of divorce.
Another study, published in the magazine Wprost, indicated that “69 percent of the Polish people condemn the church prohibition on using contraceptives, 56 percent object to the ban on abortion, and 54 percent approve of premarital sex.” These figures reflect the current divisions in thinking within the church.
The church gained much esteem over the past two decades because of its role in opposing Communism. Now, however, continued church involvement in political and social issues seems to be causing resentment, resulting in an even deeper division between church members and the church hierarchy.
What Is the Real Solution?
Prior to the historic political changes of 1989, specific rules of conduct had been imposed by the government. Much of that is now gone. A new political system has brought democracy and personal freedom but also the struggle to survive in a liberalized free market economy. Many here feel that Polish society was simply not prepared for such a radical change. What was lacking?
To survive morally and spiritually in today’s world requires faith that is based on something deeper than religious habit or ceremony. Each individual must acquire a faith that is firmly rooted in a personal knowledge and understanding of God’s Word, the Bible.
Pope John Paul II himself recently acknowledged the need for Christians to be regular readers of the Sacred Scriptures. He invited people “to cultivate a more intense and frequent contact with the Word of God.” He added: “Learning to read Sacred Scripture is fundamental for the believer: it is the first step of a ladder, which continues with meditation and, thus with real prayer.” The Pope encouraged “whoever is in search of the truth . . . to walk nourishing himself every day with the bread of the Word of Life.”
Nineteen centuries ago, long before life became as hectic and unstable as it is now, Jesus Christ asked God to protect his disciples from the spiritually weakening influences around them. He prayed: “Sanctify them by means of the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17) And the reason that the Bible “is truth” is that it is God’s Word, not man’s. The apostle Paul wrote to one congregation: “When you received God’s word, which you heard from us, you accepted it, not as the word of men, but, just as it truthfully is, as the word of God.”—1 Thessalonians 2:13.
Because the Bible is “God’s word” and “is truth,” it can provide what we need to fortify ourselves in this secular world. The Bible states: “All Scripture is inspired of God and beneficial for teaching, for reproving, for setting things straight, for disciplining in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.”—2 Timothy 3:16, 17.
Many sincere and intelligent people in Poland and around the globe are finding that personal study of the Bible provides a solid basis for faith in God and his purpose. It is this kind of faith that gives them the strength to live a genuinely Christian life in today’s increasingly secular world.
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“Polish people are Christians only statistically.”—A Polish archbishop
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There is widespread disregard for the teachings of the church
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