Anxieties about a permanent decline in attendance at religious events have been expressed in Poland, where no more than 8,000 people are expected to attend the 12 September Warsaw beatification of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski (1901-1981) and the Mother Roza Czacka (1876-1961), founder of the Franciscan Sister Servants of the Cross.
In a pastoral letter to be read at all Masses on 5 September, the country's bishops’ conference says it hopes the twin beatifications will give Catholics “prophetic intuitions for taking up current pastoral challenges”, as well as for “paving new paths and opening new perspectives for action” in the Polish Church.
However, the event's host, Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, said the Mass in the capital's new landmark Divine Mercy basilica, to be led by Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, Prefect of the Vatican's Congregation for Saints’ Causes, would have to be “modest and dignified, within pandemic limitations”, with only 2500 bishops, priests and invited guests allowed inside, and around 70,000 expected to watch TV coverage nationwide – far fewer than with previous national religious events.
A former secretary-general of the Brussels-based Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Union (Comece), Fr Piotr Mazurkiewicz, told The Tablet the beatification ceremony, postponed from 2020, would reaffirm the place of Christians in public life, while also serving as a “form of penance … recalling good and saintly aspects of Christian life” after recent clerical abuse-related scandals.
However, in a homily on Sunday at the western town of Szamotuly, Poland's Catholic primate, Archbishop Wojciech Polak of Gniezno, warned the country was still riven with “half-truths and fake news”, which risked “destroying mutual relations, undermining trust and poisoning social, Church and family life”.
Recently, in The Tablet, Derek Scally, Berlin correspondent for The Irish Times, wrote an analysis of the current culture war around the Catholic Church in Poland. He wrote: “As an Irishman, I used to joke that my people were the best Catholics in the world. Researching my book of the same name, though, I realised the Poles had a strong claim to our now tarnished crown. While Ireland is grappling with the glory and shame of its collapsed Catholic legacy, however, Poland’s Church-state alliance is, depending on your perspective, reaching new highs – or lows.”