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Poland bucking the trend: new churches being built in cities and villages

Over 3,500 temples built since after World War Two, but most of them in the Eighties and then after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The Catholic community working hard, but the Orthodox Church sending messages too. The latest unveiling ceremony at Przemysl, with a dedication to the Divine Mercy

Cracovia, basilica della Divina Misericordia (Polonia)

The Polish Church is bucking Europe’s trend. Actually, while lots of new places of worship are being built on Polish land as much in big cities as in the small villages scattered around the country, many churches that had been deserted then left to ruin are now being refurbished and given back to the devotees. On Sunday 6th December, for instance, in the run-up to the start of the Holy Year, the archbishop of Przemysl, mgr. Jozef Michalik, consecrated a new church dedicated to the Divine Mercy, in his city. But signs in this direction are also coming from the Orthodox community. In Warsaw, the day before, 5th December, along one of the city’s main streets, the Orthodox patriarch of Constantinople, Bartholomew, officiated a solemn ceremony for the laying of the first stone of the church of St Sophia, Divine Wisdom.

Big temples. 3,593 new places of worship have been built in Poland since 1945, as revealed by a recent survey. In Warsaw, among others, the church of the Divine Providence, started in 1989 by cardinal Jozef Glemp. In Cracow, the church of St John Paul II, which is part of the large centre dedicated to the Polish Pope (being built since 2006), not far from the sanctuary of the Divine Mercy at Lagiewniki. The basilica of Lagiewniki, near Cracow, was solemnly consecrated by John Paul II in 2002. Then, we should mention the building of the country’s largest church: the basilica of our Lady of Sorrows, Queen of Poland, better known as the sanctuary of Our Lady of Licheń, in the municipality of Slesin, started in 1995. The building was consecrated as a place of worship in 2004. But many more churches are being built.

Residential district. “The finest church should be the image of the Church of the hearts”, monsignor Jozef Michalik said at the Przemysl ceremony, pointing out that such Church “grows as faith and prayer grow, and people’s contact with God gets deeper, so love grows”. Speaking of doubts about the appropriateness of decisions about the building of new places of worship, the prelate states:

“God is beauty; and the beauty of a church reminds us of the duty to look for the beauty of the human soul to host the Lord there”.

The new church is located in one of the residential districts that were built in Przemysl in the late Eighties. Despite the building permit having been issued in 1988, work did not begin until 10 years later. Over those years, religious celebrations were officiated first in a wooden chapel, then in area set up as a place of worship in the basement of the parish building.

Orthodox community. Don Doroteusz Sawicki of the Polish Orthodox Church explains that the building of a church dedicated to Divine Wisdom “according to tradition is only decided when the Orthodox community in a given place is stable and deeply rooted”. “So one could say – he adds – that the Orthodox Church, which has existed in Poland for centuries, after the troubled years of communism, now in a free country has achieved the stability it needs to have full freedom of worship”. The land to build the church on was bought with the money refunded for the allotment that was taken over by the communist authorities in 1947 as State property.

“It will be a monument to our love and our faith for the future generations”,

Sawa, Orthodox metropolitan bishop of Warsaw and all Poland, stated at the end of the ceremony for the opening of the work.

A feel for beauty. “In Poland, for decades, designers had not been taught how churches are built”, tells Marek Pienkowski, a Dominican friar and the son of a well-known architect who had built about twenty churches all over Poland. “It is important for a builder to have a feel for beauty”, he points out, commenting that a degree in architecture does not mean that “one has a feel for holiness”. According to the prelate, “priests should be taught architecture and art history”, believing that, “without such notions, parish priests often cannot properly take care of the beauty and holiness of places of worship”.

“Seventh-Day architecture”. “Most Polish churches were built in the Eighties”, state the authors of a survey, “Seventh-Day Architecture”, the results of which were revealed in early December, adding that back then “statistically a new church every three days was given to devotees”. In the Eighties, many places of worship were built in the south-eastern part of Poland, in small villages and towns rather then in the bigger cities, where only metropolises such as Warsaw, Gdansk, Poznan or Breslau, and the region of Upper Silesia, have seen an increase in the number of places of worship.

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