by JOZEF ANDREW KOSC
As a child growing up in the Polish diaspora, I often visited the land of my forefathers for family occasions and celebrations. But the visit I made a few weekends ago marked my first to the nation as an adult. The occasion was the wedding of a dear friend in the Polish countryside, just outside the city of Wroclaw. And what I encountered during the four-day affair was the remarkable remnant of a living, breathing, holistic Catholic Europe.
In Poland in 2018, an unabashedly Catholic society is fully integrated into a modern European polity and economy. This society represents an integral and democratic Catholicism, one that has resisted the anti-culture of postmodernism and neoliberal cosmopolitanism. Americans might describe it as a national Benedict Option—though the Poles would reject Rod Dreher’s term, since most have little conception of the aggressive secular liberalism that exists across the rest of the West. For them, cultural Catholicism is a normal way of life.
Arriving on a Friday in the city of Wroclaw and stumbling into the university’s Jesuit chapel, I was surprised to discover hundreds of young parishioners of university age. The chapel could fit almost a thousand persons, and yet there was little space to stand when I arrived. I assumed it must have been a local feast day or celebration. On the contrary, it was merely a First Friday. And a weekly devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus.
Walking about the Old Town, I felt I had been transported into a parallel Europe in which Christendom had been buttressed, rather than dethroned, by modernity. Groups of nuns (both old and young) were a not uncommon sight on the streets and in restaurants, walking about in traditional habits. Priests in cassocks sat in cafes and rode the bus. Strangers greeted each other in shops and pubs with “Szczęść Boże!” (God bless!). Public squares were filled with young couples and children. How different this felt from the cathedral towns of France and Germany, where once-great abbeys now stand empty, waiting to be dismantled for lack of vocations. How distinct from the streets of London, where clergy have for years been advised against wearing habits for fear of assault and harassment. The peaceful city was far removed, too, from the streets of Paris and Berlin, where throngs of police stand at the ready in anticipation of Islamist attacks. The culture of fear that permeates the post-9/11 world in Western Europe was nowhere felt or seen in Wroclaw. Instead, there was an air of social cohesion and Christian communitarianism.
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