Another Cross to bear
Events in Poland appear to be putting the public display of the cross in jeopardy in a country where 90 percent of the population professes to be Catholic. Here in America for comparison you might be aware that the World War I memorial cross in the Mojave Desert was torn down by vandals in the middle of the night after the Supreme Court ruled it may remain on public lands. Lately it seems Christianity is under attack while other religions get a pass.
Since 966 when Mieszko I accepted Christianity for himself and his people the cross has been the most significant symbol for Poles. Throughout Poland’s history unwavering faith of Poles has been the basis of glorious triumphs. Defeat of the Teutonic Knights, the Miracle on the Vistula and the Solidarity movement are but a few examples. The same devotion has also been the predominant reason Poland was able to survive with their culture remaining intact through horrendously oppressive times such as the 123 years of partition and later socialist domination.
To everyday Poles who opposed the Communist regime the profound significance of the cross is well understood and acknowledged. Solidarność protesters laid out a cross of flowers on Warsaw’s Castle Square during the struggle for free elections. So powerful was the message that the government didn’t have the guts to march in and remove it. Security forces swept it away under cover of night.
Then there’s the famous cross erected by ordinary citizens located at Nowa Huta that was to become the new churchless model city for socialist propaganda in 1956. The Bishop of Kraków, who later became Pope JP II, conducted open air Masses at the site and faced off armed military units who cowered in fear rather than follow Marxist orders to keep the town Godless.
Eventually, a church was promised by government, but wasn’t permitted to be built. The cross became the focus of riots in 1960 when it was threatened with removal. For millions of Poles across our Motherland the cross is as instantly recognizable as a symbol of political protest as it is of Catholic devotion.
A few months ago Polish scouts erected a 30-foot wooden cross in front of the presidential palace honoring victims of the plane crash that killed Polish president Lech Kaczyński. Sadly it provoked thousands of protesters to take to the streets demanding its removal even though its placement was meant to be temporary until a permanent memorial can be erected.
This past August attempts to move the cross at the Presidential Palace led to violent clashes between police
and Catholic pro-cross demonstrators and mass counter-protests by youthful secularists who insist the emblem must go.
Poland's powerful Roman Catholic Church is also split over the issue. In Warsaw, the Church favors moving
Faithless aspects of collectivism after World War II could not shake the power the Church had keeping Polish heritage and traditions in tact. It was the Pole’s stanch adherence to their religion that finally crushed the iron curtain and was responsible for influencing and changing the political landscape of Eastern Europe when the other socialist countries fell one after another like dominos.
While secular philosophers contend it is the pen, Poles have proven for themselves it is the cross that is mightier than the sword. While the Presidential Palace may be a symbol of secular power, the cross represents a greater power: the very foundation of Polish culture. Legacy is a terrible thing to lose even as we see it being fundamentally transformed. October is Polish Heritage Month. Keep alive this heritage.
Read JPII's words on the subject [Click Here]