This was a difficult year for almost everyone, and the Church in Poland was no exception. The Church saw a rising wave of criticism, disciplinary measures from the Vatican (also towards accomplished hierarchs), the loss of faithful from churches after the lockdown, and the symbolic confirmation of the departure of youth from the Church in the form of the pro-abortion protests. Yet, if we were to choose an event which best illustrates the situation we have found ourselves, it would be the cancelation of the planned beatification of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński. I do not debate the rightness of the decision, because perhaps there was no other choice. If I bring up an event, which had not taken place, it is because its absence makes us aware of what is happening around us — and much is happening. We are witness to the dissolution of the form of the Church in Poland that we knew. It was built by the greats: Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, John Paul II (born Karol Wojtyła) and Father Franicszek Blachnicki.
The first of these builders, primate Wyszyński — who after the war, after changing borders, after the murder of thousands of priests and the destruction of Polish and Catholic identity by Nazis and Communists — lay the first foundations of a new Catholicism. Father Blachnicki gave us the youth ministry and the idea for its formation. John Paul II, adding his greatness and charisma, became the uncrowned king of Poland. Thanks to him, our faith endured and opposed the wave of secularization. Unfortunately, the incredible impulse offered by these greats began to run out a few years ago. Now, we are witness to its complete exhaustion. There is no shortage of commentators who have compared 2020 to 1517 which began the reformation. Similar changes are ahead of us today. For the youth, these “Big Three” are merely history, and they increasingly fail to remember them. Their brilliant-for-their-time pastoral ideas have also lost their dynamic. The changing world makes it so, that we must find new methods, new impulses, of spreading the gospel. The gospel cannot and should not be left in the museum of the saints, and if we want to be faithful to them, we should stop replicating their methods, and find our own just as they had to in their own time. It seems that for now we are in the end stage of the previous form of Catholicism and without ideas for a new one. We cannot see, perhaps transitorily, candidates to become the next Wyszyński, John Paul and Blachnicki.
The Polish Church is divided almost as much as Polish society, and it lacks visionaries. Attachment to political parties is considered a program. This probably won’t last forever and new leaders will appear in time. But for now, we can see that the previous formula has come to an end and that 2020 will be a year which symbolically ended a certain stage in the history and existence of the Polish Church. I think that in the future, historians will consider this year to be the beginning of very deep change. This is even more likely because this year is also very significant to the Church throughout the world. There is no shortage of commentators who have compared 2020 to 1517 which began the reformation. Similar changes are ahead of us today. This is why the symbol of the changes is the fact that what was meant to be the crowning of the great epoch of Cardinal Wyszyński has instead become the symbol of its end.
Title image: Pope John Paul II, right, embraces Polish Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski Oct. 17, 1978 after a holy mass has been celebrated inside the Sistine Chapel, source: AP Images.