The power of Poland’s “invincible national spirit” and resilience to countless foreign invaders lies not with her government or military, but rather in the nation’s Christian identity, its president said on Friday.
“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,” Andrzej Duda, president of Poland, said April 15.
This was the core of his message to the National Assembly’s session commemorating the 1050th anniversary of “Poland's conversion”: the baptism of Mieszko I on Holy Saturday in 966. Mieszko is regarded as the de facto founder of the nation.
Duda noted that “Our Christian legacy continues to shape the destinies of Poland and of each and every one of us, Polish people, until this very day.”
The Secretary of State of the Holy See, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, celebrated the anniversary of Poland's conversion by saying Mass in Gniezno, the nation’s ancient Christian capital, on April 14.
He met with the Polish bishops April 15, telling them that the Poles' “faithfulness to God, to the Gospel and to the Holy See has garnered the respect and esteem of other nations, and made the Church in Poland a bulwark of Christian faith and charity and a light in the darkness that has enshrouded Europe so many times.”
Even after countless invasions, most recently by Nazi Germany and by the Soviet Union, Poland’s national identity has not only survived, but grown even stronger.
Duda explained that “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.”
He lauded the nation’s Christian heritage “as the principal and final shield of freedom and solidarity.”
The Nazis, he said, imposed their regime through the works of “bloody terror,” while the communists “promoted an atheistic ideology” in the hopes of making the Polish give up their Christian faith.
It was Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski of Warsaw who protected “the Polish and Christian identity of the nation against indoctrination and repression” with a “National Retreat” and nine year novena to prepare the Polish people to celebrate the 1000th anniversary of their baptism in 1966, Duda recalled.
The celebrations lasted an entire year and were observed not only by those in Poland, but expatriate Poles around the world in spite of the communists’ efforts to block access to the celebrations, even going so far as “arresting” a copy of the icon of The Black Madonna, Our Lady of Czestochowa.
“The 1966 millennial celebrations … revealed the timeless significance of the Baptism of Mieszko I and the uniting power of Christianity for our community.”
“A tree may be felled,” Duda said. “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.”
It is for this reason that “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,” he said.
“We have always taken and we will always take pride in this invincible national spirit,” he stated. “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.
Today, Poland faces new challenges as “natural rivalry between different civilization models” have reached “an unprecedented intensity.”
To be sure, debates are going on throughout all of Europe about how to best address these “new challenges.”
For their part, Duda said, Poland should “trust the strength of our identity” and draw on the “rich treasury of ideas, experiences and solutions” developed by both the Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian traditions.
Concern and care for the “dignity, rights and aspirations of all citizens” should take precedence “over rivalry and a play of interests,” he said. Equally important is that Poland draws upon her “heritage of tolerance and openness” to ensure that “our freedom and our material as well as spiritual strength are preserved and allowed to grow further.”
Drawing on the words of St. John Paul II, who said on the eve of the nation’s admittance into the European Union that Poland had an opportunity to “enrich the West spiritually, the same West that brought the Christian faith to us,” Duda said that Poland “will stay true to her Christian heritage.”
“For it is in this heritage that we have a well-tested, strong foundation for the future.”