Tuesday, September 17, 2013


...of this visit to Poland have been many...at Wawel, at Wadowice, at the Shrine of the Black Madonna at Jasna Gora....

But probably the most memorable was joining the crowds pouring in to the great Ark Church at Nowa Huta. We had arranged to go there for Sunday Mass because, as we discovered last Spring, it is a wonderful experience. Nowa Huta was built as the great socialist experiment, on land outside Krakow, with a steelworks dedicated to Lenin and slabs of housing for people taken from villages in other parts of Poland. It was meant to be a great Communist paradise. Working conditions were grim, freedom of speech was banned, and the promises of  a dizzily wonderful life remained hollow.  It became - and remains - a great centre of opposition to Communism.  There were riots here in the 1980s as Communism collapsed. Today the streets and squares are named after anti-Communist heroes - the most notable being Reagan Place - and the statue of Lenin has gone, torn down as thousands watched and rejoiced. A major feature of Nowa Huta, and the thing that ultimately made the place famous, is the Ark Church, built by volunteer labour after years of campaigning for official permission, and opened by Archbishop Karol Woytila, the hero-bishop of Krakow who led his flock with courage and wisdom during the years of Soviet oppressive rule.  It stand as a great modern symbol of hope and peace and strength.

There are Masses throughout Sunday and the crowds surge in. I noticed that people are quite formally dressed: lots of the men in jackets-and-ties. We were  fortunate to find seats for Mass - people pack in at the back and in the various galleries. Big modern sanctuary, numbers of altar-boys. The singing is heart-warming.

It was so good to be at a big traditional Sunday Mass in this great church. Hearing the Mass in Polish somehow made one sense the universality of the Church - one felt completely at home, while aware of  being miles from home. The liturgy was reverent but nothing special: a young boy did the readings, people knelt for Communion, there was the traditional Polish muddle about coming-and-going for the latter. People were silent and prayerful in church after Mass, no immediate outbreak of chatter. As we all surged out, the bells were ringing for the next Mass and people were flowing towards the church from across Nowa Huta...

The Church in Poland faces plenty of challenges. But there is a bond between Church and people that is deep and strong and life-giving.


pelerin said...

It is good to hear of your highlights of your visit to Poland. However I am surprised that your hearing Mass in Polish 'made sense of the universality of the Church.' I would have thought that it is only when attending Mass in Latin that one can feel completely at home in a foreign country.

I recently attended Mass in Lourdes in the Extraordinary Form several times with people of varying nationalities and we were all very much 'at home.' The Masses there celebrated in umpteen different languages including Serbo-Croat have divided up the pilgrims instead of uniting them IMHO.

Joanna Bogle said...

Which just goes to show how wrong it is to assume that your own view is the only correct one. Just because you believe that "only" - interesting choice of word - attending Mass in the Extraordinary form can make you feel at home, doesn't mean that you are right. Think again. "Umpteen different languages" in Lourdes can be part of what makes the pilgrimage there so memorable and glorious a part of the Church.

The reason why some people worry about the Extraordinary Form is precisely because too many of its supporters seem to be keen, like you, to insist that it is the only acceptable form.

It took several centuries of reflection and prayer and debate and thinking and pondering and argument before use of the vernacular in liturgy was accepted as possible. And the wider travel that has become part of the life of so many Catholics has shown that using different languages does not divide people: indeed rather the reverse seems to have happened. For centuries, Catholics in Europe fought wars with one another despite having a common liturgical language. Today, with all the ghastly things we face, we at least seem to be getting on with one another rather better in Europe.

When you go to Poland, go to a Mass in Polish: you may like it.

Suzanne Oliapne said...

What a wonderful experience you had in Poland! I especially like how a negative (Communist Paradise Ghetto) has turned into a positive with people using that as an example of how Communism is an evil. The people of Poland are great examples to all of us in the Catholic Church.
Suzanne Olipane
Colorado Springs, CO

Malcolm said...

It is a reasonable point that in many parts of the world the vernacular is contested. In most parts of England, no, the normal accepted language is English. But in Wales it's maybe not so easy. On the other hand, despite having school Latin, I can't follow a reading in Latin. As Woody Allen said, 90% of life is showing up, and you don;t have to understand to be at Mass, you just have to be present. But you've got to ask whether it's really a good thing that people don't become familiar with the gospels.
Pope Francis has said that you can't expect to restore the Church through purely disciplinary measures alone. I'm sure he's right about that.