At the sound of a bell from the altar, relayed over loud-speakers, about 50,000 people at an open-air mass last month in the Polish capital dropped down to kneel in the street.
It was a powerful symbol of Poland’s deeply felt Roman Catholicism, a reminder of the scenes in the 1980s when, inspired by Polish Pope John Paul II, people prayed in the streets and brought down Communist rule.
But modernity intruded on this recent moment of spiritual contemplation. The size of the crowd meant some worshippers, who arrived late, had to listen to the mass standing outside a sex shop with signs in the window offering “exotic dances”.
Society in Poland is changing and with it, the relationship between the Polish people and the Catholic church.
In this country where, since the end of Communist rule, prime ministers have sought the blessing of the church before making important decisions, Catholicism is losing its influence.
Opinion polls show that the number of people who go to church or pray regularly is in decline.
And now a series of initiatives – on in-vitro fertilisation (IVF), ending state subsidies for the church, and homosexuality – is challenging Catholicism’s role at the heart of the state.
“We want to separate the secular state from religion,” said Andrzej Rozenek, a lawmaker with the ultra-liberal Palikot movement. It surprised many by becoming the third biggest party in parliament in an election last year.
“We’re trying to show Poles that there are other values”…
Poland’s ties with Catholicism are rooted deep in history, but were given a fresh intensity by Karol Wojtyla, a clergyman in the city of Krakow before he became Pope John Paul II.
During a visit to his homeland, in 1979, the new pontiff gave a sermon at a mass in Warsaw. Poland was run by an unpopular Communist leadership that crushed dissent.
“May Your Spirit descend and renew the face of the earth,” the pope said in a prayer. He made a dramatic pause, and then added: “The face of this land.”
His message was clear…
Yet people have become less assiduous about their faith. In this, Poland is following the same pattern as countries like Spain and Italy, which grew less religious as they grew richer.
Since 2005 the proportion of Poles who pray every day has fallen from 56 percent to 38 percent…
Despite the profound changes under way in Polish society, Catholicism still runs deep…
The whole piece is here.