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The core of the great Solidarity movement was the dream of freedom and democracy, understood as an innate right of every human being to decide his or her own fate and to share responsibility for the fate of the nation.

Home » News » Free Church in a Free State. Lecture by Rev. Tomasz Dostatni OP

Free Church in a Free State. Lecture by Rev. Tomasz Dostatni OP

- The social and political transformations of 1989 have an exceptional place in Poland’s 20th century history. Christians took active part in their implementation. A good example were the Christian Culture Weeks, which facilitated the consolidation of many diverse intellectual communities. The joy of freedom regained was enormous. Soon, however, the first misgivings appeared. Christians had well-tested methods of operating in a communist country but after the fall of communism they could not find their bearings in a democratic environment and slipped into distressing triumphalism, said Rev. Tomasz Dostatni during a meeting at the Prof. Bronisław Geremek Centre Foundation.

On 24th  February  2015 the Prof. Bronisław Geremek Centre Foundation hosted the last lecture in the cycle  “Assessment of the Polish Transformations”. The lecture, titled Free Church in a Free State: an Assessment of the Polish Transformations  was delivered by Rev. Tomasz Dostatni OP.

Dostatni is a Dominican friar,  writer, pastor to the intelligentsia, recollection preacher and translator.  He graduated in philosophy and theology at the Pontifical Academy of Theology  in Krakow. In 1990-1995 he was novice master, parish priest of the Polish Personal Parish and correspondent of Radio Vatican and the Catholic Information Agency in Prague. Engaged in the ecumenical movement and social dialogue. Winner of the Angelus Prize in the “Man of Media Culture” category.

Dostatni began with some personal reminiscences about the patron of the Foundation. In the mid-Eighties Bronisław Geremek was a lecturer  at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology attached  to the Dominican Monastery in Krakow. The students knew about his  role as Solidarity adviser and political engagement, though he impressed them most of all as an outstanding medievalist and brilliant lecturer. – I was overawed: as a young cleric I met a professor who was persuasive and incisive. He expressed himself succinctly, clearly and beautifully – that is the image of him I will always remember, Dostatni emphasized. A few years later Geremek was invited to join  panel debates titled “What Kind of Europe?”  at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan. – I prepared for the meeting by reading Professor Bronisław Geremek’s habilitation dissertation “People of the Margin in Medieval Paris”. During a break he asked me what I thought of the book, written some years earlier. I replied that I had been amused by some of the Marxist arguments he had used. The Professor smiled and commented: “Those were sins of my youth.”

Dostatni’s lecture focused on the four basic concepts highlighted in the preface  of the pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes adopted by Vatican II: joy, hope, grief and anxiety. Their impact on the social life of Poland and the Catholic Church after 1989 was the central theme of his discourse.

The first years of freedom demonstrated that Christians in Poland  had lost their true evangelical joy and openness towards others. Polish open Catholicism, represented by the milieus of Znak, Tygodnik Powszechny, Więź and Catholic Intelligentsia Clubs underwent a veritable test of fire and the outcome was not favorable. The initial joy was replaced by a strategy of confrontation . Polish Catholics decided to instrumentalize the Church - and politicians from certain parties cheered them on.

Regrettably, John Paul II’s visits to his homeland did not change this. Sadly, we have witnessed a gradual departure from the principles of his teachings. John Paul II’s vision was not simple; it is enough to recall the internal criticism within the Church of the ecumenical meeting at Assize. In some deep sense, Christians lost the thirty years of that pontificate.  The problem is that no effective tools have been  developed to utilize the heritage of Karol Wojtyła. What remains are increasingly vague reminiscences. We are losing the foundations of ecumenical dialogue and dialogue with other religions. In Poland, we  note a revival of anti-Semitism, reflected e.g.  in  integrist attitudes of the young generation. On the other hand, it is young people who are  finding their place in religious communities, as exemplified by the activity of Rev. Jan Góra.  Such striving for community can doubtless be considered a function of present-day Christian hope.

Still, it appears that nationalist and xenophobic tendencies -  characteristic of the listeners of Radio Maryja – are taking the upper hand. The Polish Church cannot resist the temptation of an alliance between the altar and the throne. Its decisions are  guided by triumphalism founded on deceptive statistics. Meanwhile, true problems lie elsewhere. The Church is being rocked  by scandals of a sexual nature (the cases of Archishop Paetz and Archbishop Wesołowski), political ones – underpinned by fear of disclosure of past collaboration with the communist regime (the case of Archbishop Wielgus), or economic ones – with the overriding concern for the Church’s institutional interests (the case of the Church-State property commission). Furthermore, the Church is incapable of efficiently resolving its internal conflicts (as evidenced by the case of Rev. Lemański). – I hope that my Church will muster enough strength  to discuss all  these matters not only in political and legal terms but – more importantly – in a religious context. After all, we are dealing here with the sin of debauchery, added Dostatni.

Significantly, the pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes bids Catholics  to perceive reality in a spirit of evangelical “signs of the times”. Thus, we are at the juncture of formulating critical assessments – something that the Polish Church will have to cope with. And so, we are seeking an efficient formula of operation  in a free state by Christians, who may yet regain faith in joy and hope thanks to Pope Francis.

J.G.