Poland has had a shift to the political right, as evidenced by the recent victories of the “Law and Justice” party in both the presidential and parliamentary elections this year. One reason for the election of the conservative-nationalist party is the growing migrant crisis, which many Poles see as a threat to their control over their own borders and society. Young people in particular are growing more conservative in their views; approximately 67 percent of the Polish high school and university students who voted in October’s parliamentary elections supported right-wing candidates.
On November 11, the recently ordained Father Jacek Międlar of Rzeszów addressed 70,000-100,000 Polish patriots at a controversial Independence Day rally in Warsaw. His speech delighted the crowds but outraged opponents, who characterize his theological take on Polish nationalism as “pseudo-Christianity.”
There was nothing meek about the blond young man clad in a black cassock and a hooded sweatshirt when he shouted to the sea of people and Polish flags, “Glory be to Jesus Christ and his Holy Gospel! Now, everyone, loudly: Glory be to Jesus Christ!”
“For ever and ever, amen!” the crowd roared.
What followed was not the Rosary but an oration that drew no boundary between Polish Catholicism and Poland itself.
“Dearly beloved,” began young Father Międlar, “the enemies of the homeland and the enemies of the Church are furious today because they see a huge, enormous army of patriots, army of nationalists, and army of supporters who have ‘God, Honor, and Fatherland’ in their hearts and are ready to give their lives for them. But I am more than convinced that leftist propaganda is trying its best to destroy us, to destroy the Church, to destroy the Polish nation. We cannot let them do it. We are the Church Militant. We are the warriors of Great Poland. They aren’t even aware that the more they attack us, the more our pride grows!”
“Pride!” the crowds shouted lustily. “National pride! Pride! Pride! National pride! Pride! Pride! National pride!”
In his speech, Father Międlar stated that the concerns of strongly nationalist, devoutly Catholic Poles are ignored, and that there are people who want them to shut up. However, citing Pope Francis, the young priest encouraged his hearers to “go to the peripheries” to “preach the truth and Christ.” “Be ready to be spat at,” he warned. “Be ready to be persecuted. But our strength, our courage, is in the one Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ!”
After characterizing his hearers as an army of both the Catholic Church and of Poland, Father Międlar likened a forced acceptance of Muslim migrants to the Soviet occupation. He added:
“Dearly beloved, we’re not afraid of the peaceful Muslims, but they’re a minority. We’re afraid of fundamentalism. We do not want violence, we do not want aggression in the name of Allah…. We must oppose it. We do not want the hatred that is in the Koran, in Surah 5 [expressed for Jews and Christians], but we want the love and truth of the Gospel. We want to fight with the sword of love and truth, to which Saint Paul the Apostle calls us in the sixth chapter [of the Epistle] to the Ephesians [6:14-17]. The Gospel, and not the Quran!” he shouted.
“The Gospel,” roared the crowd again and again. “And not the Quran!”
In past years, the Independence Day rally, organized by groups characterized by the Polish media as “far right,” has been marked by outbreaks of violence, including scuffles with the police. “I went to the Independence March a few years ago,” relates Anthony, 40, a Warsaw businessman. “A hair-raising experience. Riots. Tear gas. Charging skinheads.”
This year’s rally had no such episodes, perhaps because Father Międlar preached against hatred even while acknowledging his crowd’s rejection of Islam:
“Leftist and Islamic aggression aimed at everything Christian and national makes us very afraid. … But we’re also afraid that our fear will turn into hatred. And we, as Christians, cannot let this happen. That’s why we, the Christians, want dialogue. But no one wants to talk to us, instead calling us fascists, racists, xenophobes, and infidel dogs. We can never allow this [succumbing to hatred]. We don’t want to fight with the hammer of hate they [the left-wing] want to push in our hands…. We want to fight with the sword of truth. With the sword of love! With the word of the Gospel! With the Sword that is Jesus Christ, our living Lord and Savior.”
Roman Catholics constitute 87 percent of the population of Poland. Roman Catholicism is deeply embedded in Polish life, a source of comfort in times of poverty, war, and oppression. In 1795 Poland was wiped off the map, divided between the Russian, German, and Austrian-Hungarian empires. Polish attempts at revolution were savagely quashed, but Poles kept their dreams of independence alive through their language, history, customs, art, and religion. When, after the First World War, Poles regained their independence, they established November 11 as their independence day. Twenty years later, Poland disappeared again, crushed between Germany and the Soviet Union. When Second World War ended, Poles lived uneasily under Soviet domination while such heroic priests as Jerzy Popiełuszko risked their lives speaking out against communist oppression.
Although Poland joined the European Union in 2004, many Poles resent being told what to do by European Parliament, especially when its demands conflict with traditional Polish values. Particularly galling to Poland’s nationalists is the EU’s insistence that Poland accept Muslim, not just Christian, refugees.
University student Bartosz, 27, traveled from London to attend the Independence March. A self-styled reactionary, he wants Poland to leave the European Union. “People are getting increasingly sick of all the progressive/lefty/liberal propaganda, and now also legislation, coming
from there,” he wrote by e-mail. He also believes Poland should leave the EU because of “the continuous loss of sovereignty, which some people consider humiliating.”
As he belongs to a religious order—the Congregation of the Mission, or the Vincentian Fathers—Father Międlar is not under the jurisdiction of a bishop. However, according to the national newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, his parish in Wrocław is divided in their opinion of their priest’s appearances at nationalist rallies. Some parishioners have congratulated him, whereas others have written letters of complaint. “I am making my own quiet protest by no longer going to St. Anne’s,” said one.
Meanwhile, Father Międlar’s stance is not shared by the metropolitan of Wrocław, Archbishop Józef Kupny, who has tweeted his support of Muslim refugees: “We must not shut the doors to our brothers and sisters only because they believe differently than we.”
[Editor’s note: This post originally had 1775 as the date for the final partition of Poland; it has been corrected to 1795.]
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