Rorate Caeli

HOPE: Celebration of the 1050th Anniversary of the Baptism of Poland

It went little noticed over the weekend by the media (including "Catholic" media) but Poland marked the critical anniversary of the nation's baptism in the year 966. If only all the nation's presidents would proclaim the truth Faith in this way.

See below for his address to the National Assembly. There is hope. 

Mr. Speaker of the Sejm,
Mr. Speaker of the Senate,
Madam Prime Minister, 
Your Eminence Cardinal Legate,
Your Eminence Primate of Poland,
Your Excellency Archbishop, Metropolitan of Poznań,
Former Presidents of Poland,

Members of Parliament,
Representatives of European Parliaments,

Your Excellency Archbishop, Apostolic Nuncio, 
Your Excellencies Archbishops and Bishops,
The Reverend Priests,
Representatives of Churches and Ecclesiastical Communities,
Your Excellencies Ambassadors,

Representatives of Local Authorities,
Dear Hosts and Guests present here today,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Baptism of Duke Mieszko I is the most important event in the entire history of the Polish state and nation. I do not say it was, I say it is for the decision taken by our first historical ruler had predetermined the whole future to come for our country. Our Christian legacy continues to shape the destinies of Poland and of each and every one of us, Polish people, until this very day. This is what Holy Father John Paul II had in mind when he observed: ‘Without Christ, one cannot comprehend the history of Poland’.

Tradition has it that the baptism of the ruler of the Polan people most likely took place on the Holy Saturday of 14 April 966. And it was already at that point that Poland was born. From the baptismal waters it emerged for a new Christian life. It was born for the world, emerging from the prehistoric era and entering the arena of European history. It was also born for its own sake: as a national and political community, since the adoption of the Latin rite at baptism defined our Polish identity. From that time on, we started thinking and speaking of ourselves as ‘we, the Poles’.

Back then, we said ‘yes’ to freedom and self-determination. We demonstrated that we were capable of building our nation and our own state solicitous about its welfare. To build it, defend it and die for it. It was not predetermined that the work would succeed, that a community would be formed. And yet, the work was crowned with success. A community was successfully built on a foundation of faith which has ever since inextricably grown into our identity, often featuring in our history as the principal and final shield of freedom and solidarity. By being baptized our forefathers defined the core around which the magnificent Polish nation would then be formed. And in the darkest moments, when our enemies tried to destroy the Church in order to bring down the groundwork of our Polish identity, the Polish people would defy the object and would crowd in temples in pursuit of their sense of community, and thus testifying to the timeless wisdom of the decision once taken by our forefathers.

Therefore, 966 is the most important landmark in our history. In our solemn ceremony today we celebrate the 1050th anniversary of ‘the birth’ of our nation and our Homeland. It is a signal honour and a great joy to have us all gathered here in Poznań, the seat of the first bishopric on Polish soil; to have the Republic's highest authorities, the Episcopate and clergy of the Catholic Church and other Christian Communities reunited with representatives of many friendly countries from Europe and the world to inaugurate the celebration of this venerable jubilee. I cordially thank all our distinguished and most welcome guests for coming.

This is a great celebration time of the ‘Polish spirit’, which is the source of our pride and joy. It will carry on into coming months to spread all over the country. It will culminate in the first ever visit to Poland by Pope Francis and the World Youth Days. I trust that thanks to the vast efforts made by the organizers, thanks to active engagement of thousands of volunteers, this will be an occasion for unsurpassed spiritual experience.

Commencing these jubilee celebrations, we turn our minds to the previous occasion of the millennial celebration of the Baptism of Poland in 1966. This was an extraordinary experience for our whole community and a unique event of the kind in Central and Eastern Europe.

We, the Polish people, had been then struggling for 27 years under a regime imposed on us first by German occupying forces, then by communists after the war. Equally the former and the latter worked to weaken and break the bond between our nation and the Church. They realized that this way they would shake the very foundations of our community, that a nation deprived of its spiritual anchorage would be easily remodelled into enslaved masses. To this end, the Nazis applied bloody terror. The communists in power after the war sought to make the Polish people turn away from Christianity. They promoted an atheist ideology, persecuted priests and the faithful alike. They even went as far as to imprison the Primate of Poland.

And in those days, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński was inspired with the idea to protect the Polish and Christian identity of the nation against indoctrination and repression by organizing a great National Retreat. It was ushered in by the 1956 Jasna Góra Oaths of the Polish Nation, a direct reference to the oaths made by King John II Casimir in Lvov 300 years earlier. Then, a nine-year novena followed to prepare the Polish people for the millennial celebrations.

Fifty years ago, in April 1966, the millennial celebrations of the Baptism of Poland began. On 3 May, on the green at the Jasna Góra Sanctuary 250 000 of the faithful took part in a commemoration. The celebrations lasted a full year, bringing together countless numbers of Polish people. Moreover, the jubilee was celebrated among more than 50 000 of expatriate Poles in London and Chicago, Rome and Paris, even in remote Australia and New Zealand.

One can safely claim that thanks to the initiative of the Primate of the Millennium, the entire Polish nation reinforced its bond to its Christian heritage. This happened in spite of the obstacles mounted by the communist regime who for instance ‘arrested’ a copy of the icon of Our Lady of Jasna Góra, provoked the faithful to clash with the police, tried to bloc access to the millennium celebrations and to disturb their course, and finally organized rival 1st millennium of the Polish state celebrations, forcing whole crews of factories and institutions to participate.

The 1966 millennial celebrations and the particular role played by the Primate of the Millennium, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, revealed the timeless significance of the Baptism of Mieszko I and the uniting power of Christianity for our community. The nation rejected the false slogan: ‘The Polish People’s Republic is the crowning glory of the millennium of our state’. Nor were the Polish people misled by the propaganda initiative to build one thousand schools to commemorate our millennium, this in spite of the fact that it produced valid and good results for the development of education and improvement of teaching conditions. The Poles opted for the faithfulness to the Church, authentic love of their Homeland and hope for regaining of freedom. The authority of the bishops and priests was reinforced. The life’s work of Primate Wyszyński paved the way for the pontificate of the Holy Father John Paul II and for the peaceful ‘Solidarity’ revolution.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Millennium had lent us, Poles, a sense of sovereignty in its most fundamental dimension: as free people and free citizens. Many initiatives taken by parish communities in defence of their priests and churches throughout the duration of the People's Republic of Poland, full commitment of the faithful who kept illegally building new churches in defiance of the authorities, spontaneous efforts to get organized and mass participation in the celebrations from 1956 to 1966, all of this proved that there is a massive power to be unleashed in our community, our power whose origins lie in our shared national and Christian identity. The power which manifested itself on a number of occasions in our history in recent centuries, which helped us to weather the most trying experiences: the loss of civil liberties and of an independent state, the attempts to denationalise and de-Christianise our people. The power which carried us through confrontation with our enemies, partitioning powers, occupying forces and led us to win and get the upper hand as even stronger and more united a nation.

We have always taken and we will always take pride in this invincible national spirit. We can and are willing to draw on this great treasure of ours. It is also a lesson for the future for us: that we, the Polish people, can accomplish great, momentous things, if only we work together in accordance with the values that unite us. The values that have their source in the unbreakable bond between the Polish spirit and its Christian roots.

A thousand and fifty years ago, Poland joined the Christian community of that era. She did so of her own accord. Aware of the benefits that this act would bring, including political benefits. Thanks to Duke Mieszko’s far-sighted decision Christianisation provided a powerful stimulus for Poland’s development. The state gained a stronger basis on which to build its security and sovereignty. Over time it became increasingly modern, more efficiently governed, more internally integrated.

The preachers of the Good News opened before the Polish people an enormous treasury of spiritual riches, promoting the Christian vision of man in our culture. Since the end of the 10th century, the Decalogue and the Gospel have become ever more deeply rooted in millions of hearts on the banks of the Warta and the Vistula, the Oder and the Bug, the Neman and the Dneper rivers. They have provided a motivation to build a better, more humane world. That is why our joining the domain of Christian civilization, in its Latin rite, represented a real breakthrough for us.

The three pillars of this civilization have also become the pillars of Polish identity and culture.

The first of the three pillars has been and remains Greek philosophy, or the love of wisdom. And that is the primacy of objective truth. Precise instruments for investigating and analysing reality. An immovable foundation for the development of all sciences to this very day.

The second pillar has been and remains Roman legal thought and government concept. The idea of the rule of law. The idea of a republic, i.e. a state that is a common good of the citizens that rule it. It is also the civic ethos, an ethos of privileges connected with responsibilities. These are principles improved and tested over the centuries, principles that provide the groundwork also for modern-day civil, criminal, procedural and national law.

The third pillar has been and remains the core of Christian thought: the Old and the New Testament, the Decalogue and the Gospel. This novel, revolutionary vision of humanity as a family, as a community of brothers and sisters equal before the Father and His moral law. It is also a call for peace, for repentance for any evil done and for forgiveness for any wrongdoing one has suffered. An imperative to give priority to the human person over objects, over mundane advantages and the desire for possession. The protection of the weaker ones, an appeal for solidarity in helping the needy and the brilliant subsidiarity principle. It is the recognition of the dignity of women and the contribution made by them to the lives of societies in various fields. The idea of government and superiority as service and the belief that rulers, too, are subject to moral judgment. Christianity is also a unique concept of the separation between the sacred and the profane, that which is divine and that which belongs to Caesar. The idea of autonomy, but at the same time of cooperation between the secular and spiritual authorities. These are also institutions such as the university and the local school, the hospital and the orphanage. It is a new vision of military, medical and economic ethics. And, last but not least, the heights of art and genius, achieved by artists inspired by Christianity: visual artists, architects, musicians and poets.

Therefore, it should not come as a surprise to anyone that it is only in the circle of this particular civilization that ideas and phenomena such as the concept of inalienable human rights as every human’s birthright, constitutionalism, a democratic state of the rule of law, universal international law, workers’ and emancipation movements and the modern public debate ethos have appeared. All of them are deeply rooted in the Christian heritage.

Today, it is not only Athens, Rome and Jerusalem that define the scope of this civilization. Thanks to the efforts of the 30 generations of Poles, new important centres have been added to the map of Christianitas.

For example Gniezno, where the relics of St. Adalbert, who spread the faith with his word and not with the sword, repose. Toruń and Frombork, cities connected with Nicolaus Copernicus, the chancellor of the Warmia chapter, and the author of one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of human thought.

Cracow, the city of St. Bishop Stanislaus of Szczepanow, a brave proponent of the idea of moral duties of public authorities, the city of the Cracow Academy and of the Reverend Paweł Włodkowic (Paulus Vladimiri), one of the most outstanding theoreticians of religious tolerance. It is the Cracow of Karol Wojtyła, Saint Pope John Paul II, who ushered the Church into the third millennium in the full sense of the term.

Poznań, the bishopric capital of Bishop Wawrzyniec Goślicki, a 16th-century author of original conceptions of government, which became a source of inspiration for the authors of the American Constitution and numerous other opponents of monarchic lawlessness.

Brześć Litewski (Brest-Litovsk), the place where an ecclesiastical union was contracted, one of the most important efforts at reconciling the Christian West and the Christian East.

Częstochowa, the city one needs to visit in order to appreciate the special status and respect that women enjoy in Poland. The city where Bogurodzica, The Mother of God, a hymn regarded as the first national anthem of Poland, continues to be sung before the icon of Our Lady of Jasna Góra, Poland’s most venerated cult object.

Warsaw, the capital of a state without stakes and religious wars. The city where the Sejm of the Polish Commonwealth enacted the Confederation of Warsaw, the first legislative act in the world to guarantee universal religious tolerance. This is Warsaw, the seat of King John III Sobieski, the victor of the battle of Vienna, and the city on the outskirts of which an invasion of communist barbarism against Europe was stopped in 1920. These are hundreds of localities, especially in Poland’s old eastern Borderland region, where ethnic and religious minorities used to live peacefully side by side. 

Last but not least, these are localities connected to the lives and achievements of our numerous compatriots, world-famous artists, men and women of letters, scholars and inventors, individuals who have impressively paid back a debt of gratitude to the culture which had shaped them.

Christian civilization, for the past 1050 years co-created and defended with great dedication by the Polish people, is the result of titanic work and struggle of millions of people, an effect of numerous inquiries and experiments, historical trials and errors. It is a mature, universal creation, with a powerful impact on humanity as a whole.

It is not a fossil. It keeps organically evolving. It needs its young leaves and sprouts just as much as it needs its hidden roots. It also needs a trunk to mediate between them, that is a natural synthesis of the old and the new.

A tree may be felled. One may poison its roots and watch it wither. This does not take a lot of effort or too much time. However, to plant a new tree and wait for it to grow and bring fruit is a long process.

That is why the price for destroying the foundations of our civilization and attempts to replace them with other concepts, incoherent and loosely sketched, has always been and will always be enormous suffering and devastation. This was most clearly demonstrated by the 20th century and its two ideological projects: communism and Nazism, with their horrible consequences.

The 21st century has quickly faced us with new, difficult challenges. In a global village, the natural rivalry between different civilization models has attained an unprecedented intensity.

In Poland and in Europe, debates are ongoing on how to address these new challenges. I personally believe that the thing to do in this situation is to trust the strength of our identity, to draw on the rich treasury of ideas, experiences and solutions developed in a combined mainstream of the two great traditions: the Greco-Roman and the Judeo-Christian ones.

They are what we should base our actions on.

Indeed, the primary responsibility of the President, the Senate, the Sejm and the Government of the Republic of Poland is solicitude for our present day. Solicitude to ensure a Poland and a Europe where the dignity, rights and aspirations of all citizens are respected and protected. Solicitude to ensure a Poland and a Europe where solidarity and a sense of community should take precedence over rivalry and a play of interests. However, solicitude to ensure a good tomorrow is an equally important task for us. Solicitude to ensure that our heritage of tolerance and openness, our freedom and our material as well as spiritual strength are preserved and allowed to grow further. 

Ladies and Gentlemen,

We are gathered here together today. In the Poznań of the Piast dynasty, the cradle of our state and of our nation, the cradle of our community, on the 1050th anniversary of Mieszko’s baptism. We are here because we understand the responsibility that we shoulder. Our responsibility both towards history and towards the future generations of Poles.

In the eve of Poland’s accession to the European Union, Pope John Paul II pointed out that this was a great opportunity for our nation to enrich the West spiritually, the same West that once brought the Christian faith to us. Europe needs Poland, and Poland needs Europe, said the Holy Father. That is why, in paying tribute to our far-sighted predecessors of 1050 years ago, I would like to state most emphatically today that, following the guidance of our great compatriot, Poland is and will remain true to her Christian heritage. For it is in this heritage that we have a well-tested, strong foundation for the future.

Andrzej Duda
President of the Republic of Poland