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Living communio in Cracow

In a world in which everyone is increasingly siloed, the solidarity and genuine pluralism experienced at Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society does indeed provide an experience of the communio of which St. Paul wrote to the Galatians.

Main Market Square in Krakow, Poland. (Jacek Dylag |

I wish all those who find themselves concerned, depressed, befuddled, or angry at the present state of the Church could have spent July 3-21 in that city of saints, Cracow, along with my students and faculty colleagues in the 31st annual assembly of the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society (TMS). Our students, who came from the United States, Poland, the Czech Republic, Ukraine, Georgia, Mexico, India, Croatia, Lithuania, and China were a striking group of young Catholic adults. And their reactions to the 19 days we spent together — in which they brought to the seminar and gave each other at least as much as we on the faculty offered them — suggested that there are in fact a lot of good things going on in Catholicism today:

“This seminar has changed my life in every way.” “These were the happiest three weeks of my life.” “A truly life-inflecting three weeks…” “I came because a friend told me [the seminar] had changed her life…It did not disappoint!” “The seminar has had a tremendous spiritual and intellectual impact on me….”

Why does TMS have that effect on its participants? When the seminar began in 1992 with the strong encouragement of Pope John Paul II, it was primarily intellectual in focus — a deep dive into the social doctrine of the Church, supplemented by explorations of the modern Catholic history from which the social doctrine from Leo XIII to John Paul had emerged. That material remains central to the TMS program, which also includes themes from the social teaching of Pope Benedict XVI and Pope Francis. The program is now far more expansive, however, including a cultural dimension, a sacramental dimension, and an experience of the Church as a communio or “communion” — a central feature in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.

From the beginning TMS has involved a daily Mass. Now, that Mass is supplemented by opportunities for Eucharistic adoration and confession, and our daily Eucharist (celebrated with traditional Latin as well as contemporary chants) is enriched by some of the most dynamic, penetrating preaching our students have ever heard. Word and sacrament vivify the entire TMS experience.

As the program has developed over the years, so has its cultural dimension. Our students have many opportunities to immerse themselves in the distinctive Catholic culture of Poland, learning how the Church (which is itself a culture) shaped a distinctive national culture over more than a millennium. At the same time, we discuss how, in our post-modern 21st century, national or ethnic identity no longer transmits Catholic faith, which must be vigorously proposed in what our seminar patron, St. John Paul II, called the “New Evangelization.”

And then there is the communal or communio piece of the puzzle. For three weeks, students and faculty live as an intentional Christian community in which there is free space for sharing beliefs, questions, and conundrums, as well as the sheer joy of living in harmony across what might, in other contexts, be national or linguistic boundaries. In a world in which everyone is increasingly siloed, the solidarity and genuine pluralism experienced at TMS does indeed provide an experience of the communio of which St. Paul wrote to the Galatians: “…for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one on Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:26-28).

The 30 students at TMS-XXXI all knew that, in their several national and cultural circumstances, they have a tough row to hoe in being the missionary disciples they were baptized to be. However much some churchmen and their journalistic allies may deny it, my students in Cracow this past July understood that they’re engaged in a culture war from which they cannot opt out: a struggle to defend and promote the true dignity of the human person, as known by both divine revelation and reason. But my faculty colleagues and I encourage these young adults — who demonstrated a maturity without cynicism that is truly impressive — to be happy culture warriors. For displaying the joy of the Gospel in their own lives is far more likely to win others for Christ, or back to Christ, than the snarky Tweets in which some of their peers (and some of their elders who ought to know better) regularly indulge.

(George Weigel’s column is distributed by the Denver Catholic, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Denver.)

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About George Weigel 458 Articles
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington's Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies. He is the author of over twenty books, including Witness to Hope: The Biography of Pope John Paul II (1999), The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II—The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy (2010), and The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the Modern World to Reform. His most recent books are The Next Pope: The Office of Peter and a Church in Mission (2020), Not Forgotten: Elegies for, and Reminiscences of, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius, 2021), and To Sanctify the World: The Vital Legacy of Vatican II (Basic Books, 2022).


  1. Oh my goodness, that sounds so great. Most of us living outside university-land have little or no opportunity for this kind of convivial devout orthodox non-polemicised exploration of the burning issues of eternity.
    How about a rerun for the older generation?

  2. Shame on you George! Before I read your account, I was only concerned, depressed, befuddled, and angry at the present state of the Church. Now, I’m envious too!

    Well, adding this Polish Catholic boondoggle to the bucket list. If you can’t beat them, join them. 🤓

    (N.B., moderators, black and white thinkers, literalists – I’m kidding about being unhappy at the state of the Church. Sure it’s a mess (by design..?!;). Regardless, this too shall pass, even if it doesn’t until after I’ve passed…Have been blessed to find more authentic Catholic fellowship than should be expected in this fallen world. I am truly considering adding this Polish thing to my growing list of authentic Catholic opportunities to banish ecclesial loneliness.)

  3. Sounds very interesting. But seriously, how many people can afford to buzz to Europe for 3 weeks? What does that cost? And beside the cost, how can you walk away from your everyday life for that period of time? A more condensed version of this available locally would be great.

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