The Jubilee of Poland’s Baptism

Over the next few days, Poland will be celebrating the jubilee of the 1050th anniversary of its Baptism.

Over the next few days, Poland will be celebrating its baptism
Over the next few days, Poland will be celebrating its baptism (Photo: Pope2016.com)

POPE2016.COM: The central celebrations will take place between 14-16 April in Gniezno and Poznań, the cities which were the cradle of Polish statehood. Because the acceptance of Christianity in 966 marked the onset of the Church and the state on Polish soil, the jubilee celebrations are held under the auspices of both.

They will include a special meeting of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, an extraordinary meeting of the National Assembly, numerous religious celebrations, and cultural events. The Holy Father will be represented by the Papal Envoy, Cardinal Pietro Parolin.

Baptism marked the onset of Poland’s history and its Christian legacy. A chronicle entry of 966 reads: Mesco dux Poloniae baptizatur, i.e.: “Mieszko the duke of Poland was baptised”. This short statement describes the defining moment of Poland’s history. It was then that Poland permanently joined the family of European states that make up the Christianitas, a community based on the humanism born out of contemplating God and stressing the value of the human person.

Mieszko I’s acceptance of Christianity was directly influenced by his marriage to the Bohemian princess Dobrava, a unique woman who made their marriage conditional on Baptism and who later dedicated the rest of her life to evangelising her subjects. An important role in this respect was played by clergymen arriving here from Bohemia and Jordan, a German priest who had previously lived in Prague and knew the Slavic language, appointed a missionary bishop and sent to Poland.

A mere 34 years later, in the year 1000, was held the Congress of Gniezno, a pilgrimage of Emperor Otto III to the tomb of the martyr Wojciech Adalbert. This event was attended by the papal envoy Gaudentus and, as the host, the Polish duke Boleslaus. The Congress bore fruit with the establishment of the first archdiocese on Polish soil, guaranteeing the autonomy of the young Church and subordinating it directly to Rome. The fidelity to the Holy See, which at the initial stage was a safeguard of Poland’s independence, has been a hallmark of the Church in Poland for over a millennium.

Importantly, Poland’s Baptism, rooted in the faith of the indivisible Church, bore fruit in the following centuries with the spirit of ecumenical freedom and tolerance, a distinguishing mark of Polish Christianity. Unlike elsewhere in Europe, Poland did not experience interreligious wars; people of different religions lived side by side. Thanks to this evangelical impetus and openness, Polish culture has over the centuries been created by Christians of the Latin and Orthodox rites, Greek Catholics and Protestants, with a substantial contribution of Jews and Muslims. In the Commonwealth of Poland and Lithuania it was not the monarch who decided on the faith or views of his or her subjects, but the people themselves; the monarch’s role was to safeguard their rights.

At a time of oppression, when the Polish state was erased from the map of Europe, and later, at a time of communist slavery, it was the Church which was the homeland, the place where Poles could find a space of freedom and the power for their struggle for independence. As a consequence, Christianity has become an indelible component of Polish culture and identity. This is precisely why today Poles seem to be far more resistant to secularisation than many other European nations.

The Millennium of Baptism

The celebrations of the millennium of Poland’s Baptism in 1966, preceded by a nine-year novena of prayer, had a tremendous significance for Poland’s contemporary history. Poland’s Primate Stefan Wyszyński used this occasion to renew Poles’ faith in the face of the new threat of Marxist atheism. The religious celebrations, which in many towns and cities gathered large crowds of the faithful, were events of inevitable confrontation with the communist regime; the Church emerged victorious and Poles felt more free. Primate Wyszyński invited Pope Paul VI for the main celebrations of the Millennium of Poland’s Baptism, taking place in Częstochowa on 3 May 1966. Wishing to come to the Shrine of the Black Madonna, the Pope had a special gift of a Gold Rose prepared for the Shrine; the Papal Mint struck a special commemorative medal depicting the image of Our Lady of Częstochowa. Still, the communist regime would not consent to the Holy Father’s trip to Poland. During the Holy Mass celebrated by Cardinals Wyszyński and Wojtyła and attended by half a million Poles, the absent pope was represented by his portrait and an empty throne, on which was placed a bouquet of white and yellow roses.

This unique atmosphere of religious revival, instrumental for the gradual restoration of the autonomy of the Church in Poland and its growing international authority no doubt bore fruit later with the election of Cardinal Karol Wojtyła as pope. In turn, one of the fruits of the Pontiff’s first pilgrimage to Poland (1979) was the emergence of the “Solidarity” movement which gathered millions of Poles, which later contributed to the toppling of the communist system worldwide.

The Jubilee of Baptism 2016

The main celebrations will commence with a meeting of the Polish Bishops’ Conference in Gniezno on 14 April, with the participation of the Papal Envoy, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, Secretary of State of the Holy See, and representatives of other bishops’ conferences. In the afternoon the bishops will take part in a solemn jubilee celebration on nearby Ostrów Lednicki isle, one of the probable venues of Poland’s Baptism, followed by the Holy Mass in Gniezno Cathedral.

A solemn session of the National Assembly will be held on 15 April on the premises of the Poznań International Fair. This will be an unprecedented meeting of the National Assembly, the first one to be held outside Warsaw. After its conclusion, a Marian procession down the streets of Poznań will head for Poznań Cathedral on Cathedral Island; attended by numerous faithful, the celebrations will conclude with a Eucharist.

The last day of the celebrations, Saturday 16 April, will be pure evangelisation taking place in the Poznań INEA Stadium under the motto: “Where Baptism Is, Hope Is”. The Holy Mass celebrated there will include the baptism of adults and a message concluding the central jubilee celebrations. In the evening the Stadium will be the venue of a special performance of the Jesus Christ Superstar musical by the Music Theatre in Poznań.

On the eve of the jubilee of the 1050th anniversary of Poland’s Baptism, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, Chairman of the Polish Bishops’ Conference observed: “Today we wish to powerfully repeat Mieszko’s ‘I believe’, convinced that the future of the Church and of Poland depends on the power of our faith.

“The jubilee renewal of baptismal promises will, then, re-confirm all that Christ contributed to the history of our nation… It will likewise be an acceptance of the Christian culture of our nation, moral standards, and all that arises from the Gospel here.”