National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  May 16, 2003

Poles dispute ways of marking papal anniversary

Warsaw, Poland

A stage version of Pope John Paul II’s newly published poetry has opened in his native Poland after the collection sold out within days of its March release. Meanwhile, Catholic politicians have condemned a vote by the country’s Senate against plans to declare an annual “John Paul II Day” in October.

Speaking after the Warsaw premiere of “Roman Triptych,” the director, Ryszard Peryt, said he had used a simple set designed around an old school bench for the production, which had been prepared in record time after the book’s publication in Polish and Italian.

“I was overwhelmed when I saw this work of creation and resolved to present it as quickly as possible,” Peryt told KAI, Poland’s Catholic information agency. “The pope has given us a kind of encyclical in verse, so we wanted to portray it as a lesson from the Holy Father.”

Roman Triptych, composed in the summer and autumn of 2002, was released at simultaneous March 6 launches in Kraków, Poland, and Rome, and is the pope’s first published poetry since his 1978 election. Poland’s church-owned St Stanislaw publishers said 80 percent of the initial 300,000 Polish print run had sold out in advance orders, adding that before bookstores opened, lines had formed for the remaining copies of the 40-page collection.

Speaking before the Warsaw performance, Poland’s Nobel Prize-winning poet, Czeslaw Milosz, said he believed that “Roman Triptych” proved “religious poetry can be great poetry.”

“On the surface, these are only words,” the 92-year-old Milosz said. “But underneath them lies the whole of church teaching and Catholic dogmatics in their most concise form.”

Born at Wadowice in May 1920, the pope -- the former Karol Wojtyla -- holds honorary citizenship in more than 30 Polish cities, and has given his name to hundreds of streets, squares and schools across the country. In a survey three years ago, 58 percent of Poles described his election as the century’s most important world event, compared to a quarter who listed World War II and 14 percent the bombing of Hiroshima.

A church-government committee has been set up in Kraków, John Paul’s former see, to prepare celebrations for his 25th anniversary Oct. 16. However, Catholic politicians have condemned a vote by parliamentarians from Poland’s governing Democratic Left Alliance against having the date declared “John Paul II Day.”

“This was a sad day, when the Senate lost its chance to join in honoring the greatest figure in Polish history,” Krzysztof Piesiewicz, a pro-church Senate member, told the KAI agency. “This initiative wasn’t intended as a contest between believers and nonbelievers, but as a gesture toward someone whom all Poles, regardless of religious outlook, regard as a great man.”

Under the draft law, Oct. 16 would have been marked by efforts to popularize papal teachings, as well as social activities to fulfill John Paul’s “calls to inter-human solidarity and fraternity.” However, a Democratic Left Alliance senator, Maria Szyszkowska, said her party disputed parliament’s entitlement to “strengthen someone’s authority through a law,” and believed politicians would be better occupied “tackling the problem of poverty.” She added that ex-communists had also questioned the draft’s description of the pope’s pronouncements as “the seed of changes which led to the rebuilding of a democratic Polish state” in 1989.

“Parliament should not use the term ‘Holy Father’ in an official text, since this has a religious meaning and not all Poles are Catholics,” Szyszkowska said.

“Obviously, the pope contributed to the regime change in Poland through his attitude -- but not through his teachings, which are little known here.”

Jonathan Luxmoore is a freelance writer living in Warsaw, Poland.

National Catholic Reporter, May 16, 2003

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