Poland. Amid the Great Central European Plain
Michał Serwiński CMF
Polish Claretian Province
Master of bible theology
Academic chaplain WAWRZYNY in Wrocław.
Each manifestation of a lack of peace and a challenge to reconciliation has specific causes and circumstances. For example, the part of Europe where the Polish Province of Claretian Missionaries is located was severely wounded and divided.
Causes of disunity
The conflicts in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries significantly impacted the mutual attitude of the societies of this part of Europe. Violence, rape, aggression, and unjustified use of force have led to deep divisions. Poland, under the rule of the invaders and under occupation during World War I, experienced various repressions by the occupiers. In the Prussian partition, corporal punishment was applied to children who spoke Polish at school. A famous event that should be mentioned is the strike of Polish children in Września during the 1901/1902 school year. Teachers and the police punished them because they refused to speak German in religious lessons. It was similar to the Russian partition, where there was a fight against Catholicism. The Russian language was obligatory in offices, schools, naming, and printed publications.
The further history of our part of Europe, marked by the violence of World War I, did not repair the divisions between nations but deepened the existing split. World War I led to the regaining of independence by many countries and the creation of entirely new ones. An example is Poland, which appeared on the map of Europe after 123 years of formal non-existence. Unfortunately, not all of its neighbors recognized the new borders, and it caused further tensions between the countries of Central Europe. The outbreak of World War II confirmed the prevailing antagonisms.
The invasion of Ukraine, which started on 24th February 2022 by the Russian Federation, is an escalation of the war that has been going on since 2014. It is a recent picture of the ongoing wounds in the nations of this part of Europe.
The 20th and 21st centuries turned out to be a period of national persecution and wars, the cruelty of which was so far unknown to man. This time has painfully experienced all humankind, writing forever bloody traces in the pages of its history. So many people died during this time, and a lot of time needed to pass to forget it.
- Wisdom of the past
The healing power of forgiveness touched the painful wounds of the past in a letter from Polish bishops to German ones. The letter, later called the message, was signed by Polish bishops, incl. Cardinals Stefan Wyszyński and Karol Wojtyła on 18th November 1965 during the session of the Second Vatican Council. It is considered one of the essential stages of Polish-German reconciliation after World War II. From the letter comes the quote: “We forgive and ask forgiveness” [literally: we grant and ask forgiveness]. In a letter written in German by Archbishop Kominka, Polish history was summarized, highlighting the dark and bright sides of Polish-German relations.
Based on the previous experience of the Church in the Polish-German process of reconciliation, we must remember that reconciliation is not only a provision in individual articles of the agreement. Instead, reconciliation is primarily a joint work of people who carry it out, including the youngest.
- Today’s challenges on the path of reconciliation
An essential task of the Church and our Congregation operating in this part of Europe is to bring a typical dialogue “to the table of one.” Listening is the first step to getting to know each other, better understanding, and accepting one another. Reconciliation is primarily about mutual respect. It is awareness of sensitivity. That is why it is essential to get to know the other side and to seek understanding. It is worth getting rid of harmful – always harmful by nature – simplifications and stereotypes; it is worth learning friendship and empathy.
The second foundation of reconciliation must always be the truth. There can be no room for blank spots, taboos, or falsehoods in the shared history and the present. Good relations require mutual knowledge of each other, respect, and truth. They are not possible without honesty. Even harsh reality is better than hypocrisy and a lie.
The third step is to see the richness in the historical diversity in which the Christian faith has been shaped. Finally, it is the implementation of common projects and activities in individual countries by the Church communities operating there.
Michał Serwiński CMF