Battle for the Soul of Poland Rages On

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

The furor over a cross erected in the front of the presidential palace in memorial to the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski who was killed in a plane crash in April has ignited an already heated debate between liberals and conservatives about the role of Church and state in that country.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that demonstrations have been raging in the streets in front of the presidential palace ever since president-elect Bronislaw Komorowski announced plans to move the memorial cross to another location. Himself a Catholic, Komorowski wanted to move the cross in preparation for his swearing in today, saying the palace was “a sanctuary of the state” and should not be used as a memorial to his predecessor.

The announcement touched off a firestorm between outraged Catholics and the conservative Law and Justice Party and the more liberal factions of the country, both of which are vying for power in one of Europe’s most Catholic countries.

“This cross is the sign of our faith and of Poland,” exclaimed one protester.

Earlier this week, when several priests arrived to take the cross to a nearby church, demonstrators accused them of neglecting to defend the symbol of the Catholic faith and of not being “true Poles.”

Not long after this incident, President Komorowski decidied to leave the cross where it is for the time being with the hopes it would ease tensions.

One of the country’s liberal political groups, the Democratic Left Alliance, said the debate over the cross proves that a “religious war” is raging in Poland and called for a greater separation of church and state. However, as the Journal points out, this group was in power twice in the past two decades and never raised the issue.

To date, Poland remains a staunchly Catholic country where the faith is taught in public schools and a cross hangs in the assembly room of the Polish parliament. As recently as the 1990’s, efforts were made to enthrone Jesus Christ as the King of Poland. Our Lady of Czestochowa, also known as the Black Madonna, was declared Queen of Poland in 1656 by King Casimir.

But protestors say they still feel that the state is hostile to Catholicism and even the nation in general.

The Journal noted that while singing a traditional Catholic hymn, demonstrators ended it with the words “Oh Lord, may you return a free fatherland to us” – a version traditionally used by Poles whenever their country is occupied by foreign powers.

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