FaithWorld

from Photographers' Blog:

An island of religion in a sea of secularism

Warsaw, Poland

By Kacper Pempel

When Pope Benedict XVI announced last week that he was stepping down, the mood in my country, Poland, was overwhelming. This is one of the most devoutly Catholic countries in Europe, which still proudly identifies itself as the birthplace of Benedict's predecessor, Pope John Paul II. On the day of the announcement my colleagues went to the church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw. The worshipers coming out of the church were in a state of shock. "It’s so sad. It’s such a shame. But what can we do? I can’t believe it,” said one woman as she left the Holy Cross church in the Polish capital, who gave her name as Maria. “I am very sorry because I really like the Pope. He is continuing the teachings of our Pope (John Paul II).” Janusz, another worshiper, said: “I don’t think it’s true. In my opinion it would not be a good solution. It would definitely be a huge pity for Poles and Catholics.”

I spent the last few months traveling around Poland taking photographs of Polish people demonstrating their Catholic faith: going on pilgrimages, attending mass, children having religious lessons in schools. I photographed the statue of Jesus in Swiebodzin, near the Polish-German border, which stands 33 meters tall. I visited a huge church built since the fall of Communism in farmland in Lichen, in central Poland. As I drove towards the church, its gold-colored dome, 98 meters high, looked incongruous surrounded by cows grazing in a pasture.

The building was so vast that it dwarfed the worshipers and the village around it. I went to another new church in the Warsaw suburb of Wilanow. Filled with young, middle-class families, it stands in stark contrast to the image many people have of Catholicism in Poland, a religion for the old and the poor.

But one incident sticks in my mind from my time trying to capture Catholicism in Poland. It happened while I was at an open-air mass in Jasna Gora, the holiest site in Polish Catholicism, which attracts hundreds of thousands of pilgrims every year. I was trying to photograph a group of worshippers on the grass. As I always do on occasions like this, I was trying to be discreet. But one man, in his 40s and wearing a leather jacket, asked me to stop taking his picture. "Get out of here," he said. "You're from UB." That was the acronym for the Communist-era secret police, which used to spy on worshipers because they were considered potential subversives. I moved away and started taking pictures of another group nearby.

It is a reaction I often get. There is a divide in Polish society between devout Catholics and the increasingly popular secular movement. Secularism is growing in influence, especially among young Poles. They consider themselves Catholics, but don't go to church every week and do not follow the church's teachings on issues like contraception or in-vitro fertilization. Because of this change, the more devout Poles feel that they are under threat, they feel persecuted. That, I think, is why they are so suspicious of having their picture taken.

from Photographers' Blog:

How I became a pilgrim

I grew up in a country with deep Catholic traditions. I was just a year old in 1978 when Polish cardinal Karol Wojtyla became Pope John Paul II. It was a huge surprise in the then‐communist country, a satellite of the Soviet Union, that a son of Polish soil could become the head of the Catholic Church - which was painfully divided by the Iron Curtain.

Over the years, it became a natural feeling that the pope was Polish. The words ‘pope’ and ‘Pole’ becoming synonyms in my mind. John Paul II visited Poland eight times as the pontiff but I only had one chance to see him live when his papa‐mobile passed my home in 1991. I was 14 years old and took a picture of the event.

Unfortunately, during my professional career I never took a picture of Pope John Paul II. My first such assignment came only after the late pope passed away and I was sent to Rome for his funeral. It was a really hard time with no sleep, no time for eating or bathing. I just wandered about taking pictures of thousands of pilgrims sleeping along the Vatican streets and waiting for several days to attend the funeral ceremony. The air was full of grief. I also queued for hours to get to the St.Peter’s Basilica following an endless stream of people who wanted to honor John Paul II and to take a picture of his body exhibited to the public.

Eyewitness: How John Paul made an Italian-American “part Polish”

Reuters Vatican correspondent Philip Pullella covered the late Pope John Paul for almost all of the pontiff’s 26-year papacy and followed him on most of his many voyages around the world.  In keeping with news agency tradition, his reports focused on the pope and rarely if ever mentioned his own feelings as he followed him year in and year out. On the day that John Paul was beatified, we want to break that tradition and give readers Phil’s personal view of his experience covering the Polish pope.*

By Philip Pullella

Phil Pullella with Pope John Paul on the papal plane returning from a trip to Kazakhstan and Armenia, 27 September 2001)

Although I was born in Italy of Italian parents and raised in New York, I consider myself “part Polish”. This is thanks to the man beatified on May 1. But perhaps even more than my proximity to the late Pope John Paul, it was my closeness to his countrymen and countrywomen that left an indelible mark on my soul. And I don’t mean soul in the religious sense, but in the poetic sense. I have no Polish blood, but I have a part-Polish soul. Of this I have no doubt.

Factbox: Roman Catholic Church’s saint-making process

(Pope John Paul II covers his face during mass in Banska Bistrica in this September 12, 2003 file photo/Radu Sigheti)

The Vatican is preparing to elevate the late Pope John Paul II one step closer to sainthood Sunday.

Here are some key facts about the canonization process by which the Roman Catholic Church makes a saint:

Pope John Paul’s beatification stirs pride and hope in Polish Church

(A procession at the Virgin Mary’s Offertory Minor Basilica in the centre of Wadowice, 22 May 2006/Tom Heneghan)

(A procession at the Virgin Mary’s Offertory Minor Basilica in the centre of Wadowice, 22 May 2006/Tom Heneghan)

In the sleepy town of Wadowice in southern Poland, they are sprucing up the main square and renovating the house where its most famous son, the late Pope John Paul II, was born as Karol Wojtyla 91 years ago. Wadowice, its streets decked out with stalls hawking kitsch papal memorabilia, hopes John Paul’s beatification on May 1 — the last step before sainthood — will lure even more pilgrims to the modest two-storey house which is now a museum.

The Catholic Church here and across Poland also hopes the beatification in Rome, bestowing on John Paul the title of ‘blessed’, will rejuvenate an institution whose image has been somewhat tarnished in his native land by political squabbles and a lack of charismatic leadership since the Pope’s death in 2005.

Muslims honor Jewish Holocaust victims at Auschwitz

auschwitz1

(Israeli Grand Rabbi Meir Lau speaks at the Victims Monument at Auschwitz Birkenau, Poland, February 1, 2011/Michal Lepecki)

Prominent Muslims joined Jews and Christians at the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz on Tuesday in a gesture of interfaith solidarity designed to refute deniers of the Holocaust such as Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. About 200 dignitaries from across the Islamic world, from Israel, European countries and international organizations such as UNESCO took part in the visit, which included a tour of the site and prayers in Arabic, Yiddish, English and French.

“We must teach our young people in mosques, churches and synagogues about what happened here,” Bosnia’s Grand Mufti Mustafa Ceric told Reuters. “This awful place should stand as a reminder to all people that intolerance and lack of understanding between people can result in… such places as Auschwitz.”

World’s tallest Jesus statue unveiled in Poland

poland statue (Photo: Unveiling of the statue of Jesus in Swiebodzin, western Poland November 21, 2010/Sebastian Rzepiel)

About 15,000 Christian pilgrims and tourists streamed into the western Polish town of Swiebodzin Sunday for the unveiling of what has been billed as the world’s tallest statue of Jesus.

Polish television stations showed throngs of worshippers marching in procession with religious banners and placards proclaiming “Christ the King of the Universe.”

The brain child of retired local Roman Catholic priest Sylwester Zawadzki, the figure soars to a height of 33 meters (108 ft) which he said symbolized the 33 years Jesus lived on earth. It is three meters taller than Brazil’s statue of Christ the Redeemer which stands on a mountain top overlooking Rio de Janeiro.

Pope puts his stamp on Catholic Church future with new cardinals

consistory 1 (Photo: Pope Benedict leads the consistory in Saint Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican November 20, 2010/Tony Gentile)

Pope Benedict installed 24 new Roman Catholic cardinals from around the world on Saturday in his latest batch of appointments that could include his successor as leader of the 1.2 billion member church.

Twenty of the new cardinals are under 80 and thus eligible under church rules to take part in the conclave that chooses a successor after the death or resignation of the current pope.

The new cardinals include Archbishop Donald Wuerl of Washington D.C., who, as a senior figure in the American capital, will likely play a leading role in the U.S. church’s response to the sexual abuse scandal.

Guestview: Why has Pope Benedict chosen a European strategy?

Pope Benedict will boost the European majority among the men due to elect his successor when he creates 24 new cardinals at the Vatican on Saturday. The nominations are part of a wider strategy by the German-born pope to strengthen Roman Catholicism in Europe. The following is a guest contribution and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Jean-Marie Guénois is deputy editor-in-chief of the Paris daily Le Figaro and a specialist on religion. The article first appeared in French on his Religioblog.*

pope 1By Jean-Marie Guénois

We always knew that Benedict XVI is a European pope, but lately he’s been proving this more and more clearly. In this phase of his five-year papacy, the the old continent is clearly his priority. For the past two years, the European destinations have taken  precedence over all his travel (France, Czech Republic, Malta, Cyprus, Portugal, United Kingdom). Twelve of his 18 international trips have also been devoted to Europe. As for the visits due next year, they will all be in Europe: Croatia, Spain and Germany (his third visit there as pope). (Photo: Pope Benedict with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero as King Juan Carlos looks on in Barcelona November 7, 2010/Albert Gea)

The choice of these medium-haul flights could be explained, of course, by his age. At 83-1/2, Benedict takes it slow and easy. Must we recall the health of John Paul II at the same age, six months before his death in 2005? But the real explanation for these short-distance, time-saving trips is surely elsewhere. How can we best explain this? It can be done explicitly, through the speeches the pope delivered in those countries. But also implicitly, through the diagnosis bishops bring to Rome on the state of the European churches.

Giant Jesus statue rises above Polish countryside

jesus 1

A statue of Jesus Christ that its builders say will be the largest in the world is fast rising from a Polish cabbage field and local officials hope it will become a beacon for tourists. The builders expect to attach the arms, head and crown to the robed torso in coming days, weather and cranes permitting, completing a project conceived by local Catholic priest Sylwester Zawadzki and paid for by private donations.

Standing on an artificial mound, the plaster and fiber glass statue will stand some 52 meters (57 yards) when completed, taller than the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer with outstretched arms that gazes over Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, Polish officials say.

jesus 2

“I’m happy because this project will bring publicity to our town, not only in Poland but also from the global media. Other countries are showing a lot of interest,” said Dariusz Bekisz, mayor of Swiebodzin, a town of about 21,000 people in western Poland some 100 km (60 miles) from the German border.