Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Communists, Cardinals, and Chants

Well, here I am again, after a very exciting and productive weekend. Schoolwork is beginning to pick up, as I begin all of my classes this week, at the Jagiellonian University. I am taking a class in history of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in the Early Modern period, which was a time marked by Poland’s “Golden Age,” as well as economic and political success, until the partitions of 1795. In addition to this class, I will also be taking History of the 20th Century in Central Europe, and a class in Polish language. After my Polish language class yesterday, I met Alex from Ukraine, Zofia from Hamburg, Germany, and Olga from Belarus. It was neat talking to them, and I am looking forward to talking to them. Judging by various comments, Alex and Olga seem to hold the typical stereotype about Americans—that we are all rich. It was pretty funny, since I know that the Orientation Packet that we received at Notre Dame said, “most people perceive Americans as rich…” I guess that I learned from personal experience. (They thought that I have a car and that I must live in a villa, since I told them what part of the city I live in). Now granted, it is a nicer part of the city, but I don’t think that they realize that I am a student, just like them. In fact, college education is free in Europe, so I think that there are probably many European students who have more money than American college students. But, I am looking forward to getting to know them better, as well as the other students in my class.

On Friday night, Adam, my friend from the residence, and I went to the Church of Mary, the Mother of God and Queen of Poland, in Nowa Huta. This Church is otherwise known as the “Ark of the Lord,” and was made famous church for the long battle fought by the local workers, represented by Bishop/Archbishop/Cardinal Wojtyla, who stood up to the communist authorities. Nowa Huta was to be the ideal city, built by the government as the perfect community of the model society that they sought to create (a real-life 1984). The designers of the city saw it as a “new renaissance,” and through their urban plan, they sought to create a Godless city, where the new faith would be faith in the ability of the Polish worker to work for good, for the building of a better and more ordered society. Of course, almost immediately, in 1957, the new steelworkers demanded that a church be built, and erected a steel cross on a field just outside from the new Central Square, a plaza surrounded by socio-realist buildings, trademarks of the Stalinist era. The workers faced great opposition from the government, which forced them to take down the cross. When they refused, a series of armed conflicts began in 1960, between the peaceful protesters, and the milicja, or the communist police, who shot rubber bullets at them, and hosed them down with water cannons.

It was only through the intervention of the archbishop that the cross was finally allowed to remain in place, where Mass continued to be celebrated outside, under the open skies. After many years of struggle and toil, much sacrifice, and prayer, the faith of the Poles was finally victorious, when in 1967 the government gave permission to build a new church. However, due to the lack of building materials, money, and the fact that the church was built entirely by the local workers, it would not be until ten years later that the church would be completed, and consecrated by Cardinal Wojtyla. Of course, none of the workers who grew to love their bishop because of his resilient faith and perseverance in the face of opposition knew that he would be leaving just months later, to succeed Peter as the Roman Pontiff! The steelworker’s bishop would leave to become the world’s Pope. This battle was a gigantic victory, for it showed that true freedom can only come from Christ, and that the genuine and most authentic desires of the human heart cannot be suppressed. No utopian ideology can ever take the place of the longing for true freedom that is found in man, as a result of his very nature of being created in the image and likeness of God. Since man was created to take part in the inner life of God, the voice of Truth always arises in his conscience, and in his heart, and the voice of Truth beckons him to be bold and courageous, even in the face of persecution and intolerance.

It was amazing to be at this church. Though I must say that the church is one of ugliest that I have seen, I refrain from complaining and criticizing it too much, because of the captivating story and history of its coming into existence. I think that two factors may have to do with why it is built the way it is. First of all, the complete lack of materials contributed to a very limited design, designed more for pure functionality and simplicity, rather than for form and beauty. It is made mostly of rock, concrete, steel, and class, in the shape of Noah’s Ark, supplemented inside with a gigantic modern bronze sculpture of the crucified Christ. Though it isn’t too beautiful and doesn’t raise one’s mind to God with ease, the church still has Eucharistic Adoration, as well as the usual Polish dose of daily Masses, or about six to eight each day.
Secondly, the church is simply another example of a Catholic architecture that gave into the modernist spirit of the 1960’s, which, surprisingly, also existed in Poland. However, the majority of the architecture was the massive, heavy, block architecture of the Stalinist era, so perhaps a modernist edifice brought to mind the spirit of the West, and the freedom enjoyed there. Now we may look back upon these buildings, and ask, “What were these people thinking?” However, I think that at the time, perhaps this western design might have brought hope to the people, and helped to remind them that the communist reality was not going to last for long. It was a way for the Poles to seek to also progress forward in the modern world, though the country seemed to be stuck in a downward spiral, as the totalitarian regime, the “utopia,” began to spiral downwards at an ever faster pace. Nobody questioned if the communism would fall; everyone knew it would. The question was a matter of when, and perhaps drawing upon western influences, which we can judge more objectively in hindsight, was at the time a way to look forward to a brighter future.

Either way, it was amazing to be at the church, and to think of all of the suffering, all of the struggle that occurred on the very spot that I was standing. Of course, then the church was in the middle of a field. Now, it is on a suburban street, surrounded by communist-era apartments, which may have been built there as a result of the proximity of the church. After hearing the bells ring the Angelus, and attending Mass, we headed back to our trolley, walking briskly along the cold and gray streets of this communist dream. Some utopia, I thought.
Closer to utopia, or perhaps an “ideal communism,” was the one thousand-year-old Benedictine Abbey at Tyniec that I visited on Saturday. Located about eight miles outside of Krakow, on the other side of the Vistula River, the monastery sits on the top of a granite cliff, overlooking the surrounding countryside, and facing the Camaldolese Monastery on the other side of the river. On my way to the monastery, I found out that the busses only run there about every forty-five minutes to an hour, so I decided to stroll around the area where I was waiting for the bus. I found myself in a district of Krakow named “Debniki,” on the southern bank of the river and just across from Wawel Castle. I had always been fascinated by the tall concrete tower that always seemed to dominate the skyline, so I trekked over across the ice-covered streets (they didn’t seem to plow the road on this side of Krakow). I seemed to be walking into the Krakow of the 1930’s, since the streets were very quiet. I could hear the birds chirping (a sign of the Spring that is coming upon us), and see the old ladies, wrapped up in their “babushka” scarves, walking along the streets with their groceries, while mothers pushed strollers with their little babies. In a few minutes, I found myself in front of St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, run by the Salesian priests. Inside, I ran into a priest, who showed me the painting of Our Lady in front of which young Karol Wojtyla used to pray when he attended Mass at this parish, as a student. I also learned that this was the parish in which he offered his first official Mass. He lived just down the street, in a little house on the bank of the Vistula. I was able to see this house later, which is also the house in which his father died. Until he was ordained, he lived in the house, and walked to the university, to work at the Solvay factory, as well as to Mass at the parish. It was amazing thinking about it. Here I was, in the middle of Krakow, in the year 2006, walking the same streets, and seeing the same things that Karol saw when he was a student, like I am now. I wondered about where he ate, where exactly he would walk. Did he walk across the same bridge as I did, or did he walk a different way? Did the church look the same when he went there? All of these questions filled my mind. I could definitely feel his presence near me, encouraging me in my studies, and encouraging me to stay close to God in the midst of my activities here. Ironically, my next route was also a route that he often traveled: to the monastery.

Soon after I got on the bus, which finally arrived, the sight of open snow-covered fields, and small country farmhouses greeted me. Twenty minutes later, I was standing in the main street of the little town of Tyniec, where everybody greeted each other on the streets, and old ladies walked with their shopping, the treasures of their “long excursion” to the city. I found Benedictine Street, and then proceeded to walk toward the hill, upon which towered a huge two-towered church, and a large abbey. After walking up the hill, and finding myself high above the Vistula River below, I entered through the first gate into a courtyard. Then, I had to walk through to another courtyard, where I saw an ancient well, as well as the Baroque façade of the ancient Romanesque church. I entered the church, and saw the typical monastic simplicity (can Baroque be simple?) However, it was a very mild Baroque, which kept in mind the strict and simple spirituality of the followers of St. Benedict. After strolling around the church (which is named after the Holy Apostles Peter and Paul), I entered the gift shop (of course), and met one of the monks.

As I was about to leave, the monk, Father Jerzy, stopped me, “Wait, I have some spare time. Let me show you something.” As the door swung open, I was looking at 15th century frescoes in the courtyard of the cloistered area. There, he led me around, and showed me artifacts from the most ancient parts of the abbey. Stopping at a small door, he said, “Look, there were even vandals then.” I looked closer, and there were a person’s initials, engraved in the door in 1591, as well as some from the 17th century! I guess human nature and its quest for mindless destruction has always been the same. I always wondered about those people who deny original sin… Also on this door, there were many deep, long engravings. He explained to me that these were the results of medieval knights, who would scrape their swords on the doorframes of sacred places, as a sort of “vow” to return safely to the place. I thought about the people who must have made these marks. Who were they? What battles were they off to fight? Wow. Next, he took me to a room with amazing frescoes, and an icon of Our Lady that is painted on the wall. He explained to me that the icon used to be on the opposite wall, but when they had to move the wall, the icon was transferred using modern techniques and chemicals onto the opposite wall. After showing me all of these treasures, he led me back to the gift shop and said that he had to go. So, I walked over to the church, since I saw that Vespers would be celebrated at 3:00 p.m. It was about 2:40, and upon entering, I discovered a funeral Mass that was ending. There is always something going on these churches!! At 3:00, just after the funeral Mass, the monks entered in their typical Benedictine habits, and began to chant the psalms, in Latin! It was amazing to hear them, and to pray with them, since it was like listening to a Gregorian chant c.d., except it was live, and I was taking part in it! My soul and mind having been elevated, I headed back to catch the noisy and rickety old bus back to the city.

Sunday was filled with rest, as it should be. I can’t say that the day was as eventful as the rest, but I was able to attend Sunday Mass in St. Mary’s Basilica, the gigantic church that Krakow is famous for. Though I had usually been overwhelmed when entering it, attending Mass there allowed me to settle down, and to only observe and look at small parts of the church at a time. There are so many colors, so many stained glass windows, so much iconography, that one is overwhelmed if he tries to take it all in at once. Sitting in the front, near the high altar, in a choir stall, I was able to slowly take in the splendor and glory of this church. I guess I don’t blame all the tourists who want to see the church, and make it a noisy place, with all of the hustle and bustle of walking in and out constantly. At least they have to buy a ticket to go in. Or, wait, is it a good thing to charge to enter a church? But what do you do, when people don’t treat it as a holy place, but as a place to go and admire the artwork? (Wow, I’m already speaking like a local…)

Sunday night, I attended a Mozart concert, featuring three of his piano concertos, performed by professors of the Krakow Academy of Music. The concert was in what looked like an eighteenth century palace of some Polish nobleman. The room was decorated with Italian marble, crystal chandeliers, and red velvet curtains. Such an atmosphere was perfect to be listening to Mozart’s music, which is to me perhaps one of the most sublime and uplifting experiences. His ability to move the human soul is amazing, which makes it difficult for me to buy some of the theories that are out there, like the one in Amadeus, which I watched with some of my friends on Friday night. I tend to think that he was very close to God, if not always faithful to the life that a son of God is called to. I did read, recently, however, (from the Vatican News Service), that Mozart did have a conversion before he died, and that he received the last rites. Either way, it was a wonderful concert, and I am looking forward to take advantage of more cultural opportunities while I am here.

I am off to my classes now, so I better end this reflection. We will see what awaits me this week. As Lent approaches, I hope to take part in many of the uniquely Polish devotions and preparations for the coming of Easter. In the meantime, today is ostatki, meaning “leftovers,” meaning…let’s go eat as much as we can before Lent. So, as usual, it’s pizza and beer night with the guys. Better enjoy it while I can, before the ashes are scattered, and the resolutions are gathered…

Friday, February 24, 2006

Donuts, Dogmatics, and Doctorates

February 24th, 2006

First of all, I apologize for the spelling errors and typos in the previous entries. I have usually written them in a hurry, and then forgotten to spell-check and proofread. Well, at least it’s not a paper for a class.

Here I am in my residence (where it seems that I have been writing all of my reflections recently), after studying a little bit for my class on Dogmatic Theology. As I mentioned in the previous entry, my new friend, Kasia, the director of the Tertio Millennio Institute (http://www.tertio.krakow.pl/strony/english.htm), gave me the name of a Dominican who would be teaching a great class at the Pontifical Academy. At first, I was unsure as to whether I should go to the lecture or not, since I thought that I might have too much work on my plate. But, I am glad that I decided to go, since the class was amazing! Fr. Jaroslaw Kupczak, O.P., who received his doctorate at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Life in Washington, D.C, teaches the class, whose subject is John Paul II’s anthropological theology, and particularly the Theology of the Body. He introduced the class by talking about the concept of a “gift,” in natural philosophy, human society, and theology. Quoting from Dominum et Vivificantem, he introduced the whole subject matter by talking about the concept of life in the Holy Spirit as the source of all freedom, and about the Holy Trinity as the source of all love and true self-giving. Though the class will be very difficult, I am looking forward to reading and studying Karol Wojtyla in his own language! I have never taken courses in Polish, though I am a fluent speaker, so this is a whole new experience.

This week was marked by many new experiences in this area. Besides the class on the Theology of the Body, I also had my first class on Exegesis of the Pentateuch, as well as on Theology of Marriage and Family Life. Both classes were amazing, though the Old Testament class is definitely going to be a bit drier. The class on Theology of the Family has a very expansive list of documents and encyclicals that we should read, but I am not complaining. The professor, a younger priest, began the class by talking about how one cannot study theology without turning to the documents of the Church, to the deposit of faith and the Truth that comes to us from Christ and the apostles. His first introductory lecture was about the state of the family in society today, and about why it is crucial that young theologians be well versed in this area. Since families face many, many challenges in the years ahead, it will be an even more important topic to study, since many people will turn to theologians and Catholic philosophers looking for answers to the many crises.

I think that, as an American, I had a particularly unique perspective on what the professor was saying. One of his most memorable and profound statements was, “It is the task of the Theologian to discover the Truth, to immerse himself in the Truth, and then to spread the Truth, and defend it.” He mentioned many theologians “in the west, and even some in Poland,” who seek to create their own truth, one that is pleasing to them. I’m not sure the other students in the class knew what he was talking about, since the idea of a dissenting theologian is so foreign here. “Theologian” and “faithful and in love with the Church” are two concepts that go hand in hand here. Why would one be a theologian, without accepting what the Church teaches?

He then continues by stating, “Getting to know the Truth requires true heroism, because it is hard to accept, especially in the moral and ethical sphere.” He alluded to the attacks that John Paul II often faced from “liberal” theologians in regards to divorce, contraception, and abortion. Of course, these statements reminded me of the many American “Catholic” theologians and philosophers (some of whom teach from their distinguished chairs at Notre Dame) who do place themselves above the teachings of the Magisterium, because of a skewed understanding, or a radical agenda, that leads them to “create their own truths.” Fr. Swierczek, however, reminded us of the need for young people who are confirmed in the Truth, and who are confident about it. The theologian must not say that “something is true because the Church teaches it,” but rather, that “I believe this to be true because I have searched and wrestled with it, and am convinced of it as the Truth, and because it is the Truth, that is why the Church teaches it.”

Needless to say, I left this class more convinced and not afraid of the challenges that lie ahead for young Catholics who seek to be faithful to the teachings of the Church, particularly who want to follow the radical example set by John Paul the Great. I think that the Polish Church can serve as such a good example for the west. While we are concerned about a lack of vocations to the priesthood, about young people leaving the Church, liturgical abuses, and sexual scandals, the Polish Church is producing one third of all of the vocations in Europe. Of course, the Church here is also concerned about many young people who are giving into the “passing joys and satisfactions” of the ever-increasingly consumerist and materialist culture here in Poland, but there are many, many movements and ministries for young people, as well as support groups for young families, for students, and people in every walk of life. There are enough young people committed and grounded in their faith that there is much hope that Poland will not go the way of Western Europe.

Enough about classes. Yesterday, I was able to walk around and have a “walking tour” of Krakow. On my way to the Tertio Millennio Institute (which has jumped on the opportunity to have some translations done from Polish to English by a native speaker :^), I stopped by the U.S. Consulate in order to register as a U.S. Citizen here. I learned that U.S. Citizenship does, indeed, have its benefits: instead of waiting in the line that was out the door, once I was put through a metal detector, my camera, phone, palm pilot, and ID having been promptly taken away, under the gaze of President Bush and Cheney, whose pictures hung on the wall, I was given a nametag that said, “U.S. Embassy, Warsaw: Special Guest.” I was then escorted to the back room, and told to sit down, make myself comfortable, and take my time filling out the forms. Not too bad.

When I went to the Institute to pick up the work to translate, I was informed about a conference next week that will be taking place at the Catholic University of Lublin (KUL), where Karol Wojtyla taught for many years. This year’s focus will be on the ethics, philosophy, and anthropology of Wojtyla’s early thought. I am very tempted to go, but we will see…

Once again, I eagerly tried to see as many things as possible, while I had some free time in the city. I stopped by the Carmelite convent, with a very quaint and simple nineteenth-century church. It was quite unimpressive, in the artistic sense, but did indeed have the Carmelite simplicity that draws the soul into solitude. Next, I stopped by the Church of the Resurrection, a church built at the turn of the last century, and run by the Resurrectionist priests (whose founder is a Servant of God and whose tomb is in the church’s vestibule). It was a very interesting blend of Jewish synagogue and early Christian architecture, with very vivid colors, wooden trusses, and a gigantic menorah high above the altar. It was neat to see the connection between the Old and New Covenants so vividly played out in the design of the Church.

Next, I made my way over to the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow, which housed everything from medieval scepters of various guilds, to nineteenth century revolvers used in the uprising of 1848. Perhaps one of the neatest things was to see original documents, and copies of, the original charters of the city, as well as guilds. As usual, there were plentiful Renaissance vestments and liturgical furnishings and vessels. There was a very interesting monstrance in the shape of a large bark, the Bark of Peter, weathering the storms of time. The museum also housed a replica of the monument dedicated to Tadeusz Kosciuszko in Washington, D.C.

Afterwards, I wandered north with the eventual goal of getting to St. Florian’s Church (which I later learned is a minor basilica). On the way, I discovered yet another miraculous image to Our Lady, this time “Our Lady of St. John,” whose image has been an object of devotion here in Krakow for over five hundred years. The image was located in a little Baroque church on St. John Street, run by the Sisters of the Presentation, whose founder is also a Servant of God, and also buried in the church. I love the fact that one can walk into practically any church here in Krakow, and be surprised by some blessed, saint, or Servant of God who is buried there. In this case, it was Mother Zofia, the founder of the order, and the founder of the first school for girls in Poland, all the way back in the 1630’s! As usual, while I was in the church, there was an unexpected Mass, followed by the Divine Mercy Chaplet. The church was full to the brim of mostly old ladies, but also of young businessmen, and middle-aged men. Keep in mind, though, that this was at 2:30 p.m. on a weekday! After “stopping by” this church, which ended up being spending an hour and a half there, I finally made it over to St. Florian’s Church.

St. Florian’s is where the young Fr. Karol Wojtyla first spent his two years of ministry as a parochial vicar, just after being ordained. While serving there between 1949-1951, he was in charge of the ministry to college students. When he returned in later years, as Pope John Paul, he fondly remembered his time there, and named many of the people whom he remembered working with. Though not an avid fan of the later Baroque period, with all of its chubby cherubim, golden rays, and pomp and circumstance, I have to admit that this church was very tasteful. In fact, I think that it is one of the most beautiful churches I have seen. Particularly striking was the enormous crucifix, which hung above the sanctuary, as if suspended in the air by the angels who held it.

On my way back, I walked through Kleparz, or the area just north of the old city gates. In years past, it was the sight of unruly peasant masses and merchants involved in trade and bargaining. Now, this area is a district of the city, but there is still an old square named “Old Kleparz,” on which there are a few hundred fruit and vegetable stands, as well as stands that sell everything from lingerie to Red Army medals. It reminded me of Poland in the early 1990’s, just after the fall of communism, when such street vendors could be seen selling anything to the product-starved population. Now, these vendors are less common, since the economic market has been saturated with better, higher quality goods from both new Polish factories, as well as mostly French and Western European markets. It was fun to walk around, though, and to see the raw meat, vegetables, fruit, and anything else that one can sell to make a profit on.

Last night, we celebrated “Fat Thursday,” the Polish equivalent of Mardi Gras, although the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday (Mardi Gras) is a day of celebration as well (why not throw more parties, if you can?). We had paczki, or the Polish equivalent of American donuts, though the Polish ones are fried, and not baked, and usually have a filling made from rose petal preserves. I must say, that, with a cup of tea, was very satisfying after a long day. Speaking of food and drink, it’s time for obiad, or dinner, which is eaten here at 2:00-3:00 p.m., so I will go enjoy my food. Until next time…do zobaczenia!

Monday, February 20, 2006

ora, labora, et despera

February 20th, 2006
Barbakan Residence

I never would have thought that so much can happen during the weekend! Yet, in a city that is both as small as Krakow, and also as filled with so many activities, I guess that it is perfectly plausible that the weekend would seemingly disappear! Saturday began with a much-needed post-jetlag sleeping in, although not too long, since I am still having some trouble sleeping in the mornings. After all, when I get up at 7:15, it is only about 1:15 in Notre Dame, or the time that I would normally be going to be on a school night!

After having Mass and breakfast with my friends here at the residence, I set out to see something. Since there are so many things to see and things to do here, I wan’t sure where to start, but I knew that the Prince Czartoryski Museum would be a good palce to start. The museum is famous for its collection of art, as well as historical Polish artifacts and treasures. As I walked in, one of the first things that greeted me (besides the quite unpleasant lady who promptly reminded me that if I wanted to take pictures, I would have to pay an extra fee of 20 zlotys) was the sword of King Stefan Batory, who was elected as king of Poland in 1576. As I walked further inside, I came upon tents and Persian rugs captured by King Jan III Sobieski at the Battle of Vienna in 1683. I felt very weird. Here, in front of me, was something that had survived so many years, so many centuries, probably hidden in storage somewhere during the world wars—and it had been captured from the Turks, when Europe was on the verge of invasion until a coalition of forces led by the Polish king expelled the Turkish threat from Europe for the last time. The rest of this floor of the museum also housed such treasures as priests’ chasubles and vestments from the 16th century, along with liturgical vessels. Of note were also the many suits of armor of Polish hussar fighters, whose armor is easily distinguished because of its gigantic feather wings, and who were known for their ferocity in battle. As Sienkiewicz described in The Deluge, “God, what power! They ran through the smoke and the sound was like that of a thousand blacksmiths beating with a thousand hammers. We saw it…. Jezus Maria! The elite's lances bent forward like stalks of rye, driven by a great storm, bent on glory! The fire of the guns before them glitters! They rush on to the Swedes! They crash into the Swedish…Overwhelm them! They crash into the second regiment - Overwhelmed! Resistance collapses, dissolves, they move forward as easily as if they were parading on a grand boulevard. They sliced without effort through the whole army already!” (see http://www.kismeta.com/diGrasse/HowHussarFought.htm for more information on the Hussars).

Upstairs, the museum houses the Czartoryski collection of art, known mostly for the single da Vinci piece found in Poland, one of Leonardo’s female portraits, Lady with an Ermine (http://www.krakow-info.com/dama.htm). In addition to this piece, and a fram of a Raphael which was stolen by the Germans during the Second World War and is missing to this day, there were numerous works of Gothic and realist art, by both Polish and western artists. The armory of the museum houses the Ancient Greco-Roman and Egyptian collection, including two real Egyptian mummies. It was amazing to look at the sarcophagi, to see the x-rays of the human skeletons inside, and to think about who the person inside must have been. I had never seen a mummy in my life, and when I actually did, I have to admit, it was quite discomforting. It was hard to cope with the fact, that here, ten inches in front of my face, was a dead human being, that had been like that for about 2,500 years! In the same exhibit, I was also especially amazed by the early Christian tombstones from Rome, depicting various eschatological scenes of Christ from the Gospels.

After meandering around the ancient art exhibit for quite a while, and returning to the mummy several times (quasi-awaiting for it to rise up and start walking, like they all do in the horror movies), I met with Professor Aneta Gawkowska, a professor of sociology from the University of Warsaw, whom I met at Notre Dame in the fall semester. She had come to Notre Dame through the Nanovic Institue fro one semester, and taught a course on New Feminism, with a deep regard and interest in the teachings of John Paul II in the area of the dignity and vocation of women. It was wonderful to meet with her, and to be able to talk about our common experiences at Notre Dame from the previous semester, as well as to update her about the status of the campus debate on academic freedom and the future of performances such as the V-Monologues.

I was struck by one realization while talking to her, and to one of her friends, also a professor, but a physicist (who happened to just have a cute baby, Ania, four months ago, and is an amazing father)! The serious intellectuals here in Poland are quite familiar with things such as the Vagina Monologues, since performances of them are not lacking even in Poland, where the 1960’s feminism of the United States, combined with post-modern philosophy is beginning to take hold in small but very vocal factions of society. However, honest academics here have the audacity and the integrity to realize that this “play” is simply a ideologically-driven tool that corrupts the Polish culture and morality of the young people of this very, at least traditionally, Catholic country. There is no debate among those who call themselves Catholic, because every serious and intelligent Catholic knows that the performance of this “play,” and the mentality that drives it, is simply, in the words of the physicist, “dishonest and ideological intellectualism, and such ‘knowledge’ can never be understood as such, but rather, it is something false and unreal.” Unlike the modern American intellectual establishment, and most likely western European as well, a true and honest Polish academic seems to known right from wrong, because the principles of the unity and confidence in the Truth that John Paul II discusses in Fides et Ratio are firmly grounded in the academic intellect. Not only is the Truth grounded in his intellect, but it is also lived in his heart—hence the participation of many professors and students in the multitude of movements in the Church, such as the Neo-Catechumenate Way, the Focolare Movement, Opus Dei, Light and Life, Nazarean Families, and the many other movements that are often found at the local parishes.

Professor Gawkowska was in Krakow to meet with a group of young women who are seeking to establish a new group to promote and study New Feminism. The meeting was held at the Capuchin Friary in Krakow. She also informed me that recently, the president of Poland, President Kaczynski, established a new John Paul II Institute in Warsaw. Clearly, there is a rising interest in the Holy Father’s thought and writings. Surprisingly, teachings of his such as Theology of the Body are not yet as widespread as they are in the United States. In groups of the “John Paul II Genereration” of Catholics in the United States, most people are at least familiar with his Theology of the Body, whereas here, it is only now being studied and spread.
I attended Sunday Mass yesterday at the Dominican Abbey, because a few ofmy new friends at our residence asked me to come with them. The Mass was a Mass that is sponsored once a month by the Tertio Millennio Institute, an institute dedicated to studying John Paul’s social thought. They organize a three week long seminar every summer, at which famous Catholic figures, such as George Weigel, Fr. Richard Nieuhaus, and Michael Novak, are lecturers. The once a month Mass is the “papal Mass,” and a guest presider is invited, who then gives a homily on some aspect of John Paul II’s thought. Yesterday, Fr. Jan Malinski (not sure about last name) presided. After Mass, a group of us went with my new friend, Luke, who works for the Institute, for coffee to their headquarters. Since I was expecting a large social, I was surprised when I enetered and found myself seated at a nice dining table with six other students, and Fr. Jan. After short introductions and small talk, our discussion turned to topics such as the Polish society and the difficulties of raising a family due to the economic situation, the beatification process of Pope John Paul, as well as me sharing about the Catholic Church in the United States, as well as the state of our culture. Fr. Jan works for the Metropolitan Curia, and is in charge of the John Paul II Archives, so we all listened with fascination as he told us about his work with the personal notes of the Holy Father, as well as many handwritten manuscripts (he has also read and often looked over the personal notes that the Pope’s secretary, Bishop Dziwisz (now the Metropolitan Archbishop of Krakow) was to burn, but never did).

At the meeting, I met with a young student who also studies at the Pontifical Academy of Theology, and is working on her Licentiate in Theology, with an interet in the theological anthropology of John Paul II. When I heard this, I immediately thought to myself, “wow, this is not a coincidence, since that’s exactly what I’m interested in.” It turned out that she is working on her thesis on the Theology of the Body! She gave me the name of a young Dominican friar who teaches at the Academy, after earning a degree at the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family Life in our very own Washington, D.C. I am excited to meet him on Wednesday, as well as to be able to talk to him about the possibilities of starting some sort of study of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, as well as being able to talk to him about the great things that are happening with regards to pro-life and pro-chastity initiatives at Notre Dame.

I end this already lengthy journal entry with the constant amazement of God’s presence in this city. I knew that Krakow was referred to as the “little Rome” (and the Archdiocese of Krakow does have more parishes than Rome), but I am learning constantly about how present and vibrant the faith is, here in this medieval city. Everyday, I run into a new roadside chapel, a little shrine, or am able to discover the tomb of a new saint or blessed. Today, I had the pleasant surprise of walking into a Mass at the Church of Saint Bernardine, the first Bernardine Friary in Poland. The Bernardines are an order of Reformed Franciscans, present only under this name in Poland, and were founded in Krakow by St. John Capistrano. The “flying friar” came to Krakow in 1454 to preach on the market square (in Latin, I assume, since he did not speak Polish), and thus attracted a following large enough to begin a new friary here. One of the first to follow St. John was Simon of Lipnica, a student at the Jagiellonian University. He was beatified on February 24th, 1685, and declared one of the patrons of Krakow, as well as of university students. Since he was known for his powerful preaching, one of his brother friars asked him what one must do in order to reach his level of perfection. Simon answered, “ora, labora, et despera.” Prayer, work and despair? Why one must despair in order to be a good preacher? What Simon meant was that one must lose hope in himself, and trust completely in God, to realize that without Him, nothing is possible.

In today’s Gospel (Mk. 9:14-29), the father of the possessed son comes to Christ in faith, having lost all hope in himself, and despairing of any other means of healing, says:

“But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”
Jesus said to him,
“‘If you can!’ Everything is possible to one who has faith.”
Then the boy’s father cried out, “I do believe, help my unbelief!”

And so it is here in Krakow. I am slowly learning what it means to completely rely on God, to “despair” of myself, to lose hope in anything I can do, and to abandon myself in faith to what He can do through me. Perhaps we can all learn a lesson from Blessed Simon, who remained strong and faithful to God, and merited the graces of beatification. Until next time, ora, labora, et despera.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Of Dominicans and Franciscans

February 17th, 2006
Barbakan Residence

Wow, what an intense time it has been over here already. I can’t believe that I have already been here for four days. They seem to have flown by as if nothing had happened, and yet I already feel as if I could write a book about all of the things that have taken place.
I was picked up at the airport by Fr. Adam Maczka, OFM, a friend of ours and the vice-rector and archivist of the Franciscan monastery in Krakow. Then, I arrived at the place where I am staying, called the Barbakan Residence. Immediately, I was able to meet a few of the guys here, who are all very nice and very interested about life in the US. After dropping off my stuff (and no, I didn't sleep), I met up with my cousin, who happened to be visiting here from Warsaw, since colleges and universities are on break right now. We went to a Georgian (as in the country, not the state) restaurant and met some of her friends. After dinner with them, they went to a coffee shop before their train left to go back, and I began to walk back to the residence. On the way, I wanted to see if I could go to Mass somewhere, so I stopped at St. Adalbert's church, a little tiny structure in the middle of the market square, and the oldest church in Krakow (from the 10th century). As I walked in, I happily found a group of older ladies reciting the Divine Mercy chaplet, so I decided to stay. Halfway through, a sister (wearing habit, of course) walked out from the sacristy and prepared the altar for Mass, so I was able to stay, which was such a consolation, since the reality that I am now in Krakow finally began to hit me. Then, I walked back to the residence, where I finished unpacking.
I have a nice room, with a quaint view out the window. The room has a private bathroom, desk, bed, bookshelf, and closet for clothing and shoes. With regards to my living accommodations, I have no right to complain, since we also have three (and a half) meals a day, with laundry service. There is also an oratory here, so I can pray in front of the tabernacle whenever I want! Last night, we had pizza and wine, since it was a special day, as February 14th is not only St. Valentine's Day, but also the anniversary of the founding of the women's branch of Opus Dei, as well as the Priestly Society of the Holy Cross (I am living in a residence run by Opus Dei).
On Wednesday, I had to go take care a lot of the organizational things that accompany the beginning of the semester, like getting a student ID, a transportation pass, and going to meet with the director of the program that I am part of (the Interdisciplinary Program in the Humanities and Social Sciences at the Jagiellonian University--IPHSS). I am not exactly sure what classes I will be taking yet, but I know that I will have Polish Language, 20th Century Polish History, as well as History and Customs of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. I am also thinking about sitting in on some classes in Philosophy.
While walking around on Wednesday, I wanted to attend daily Mass. Of course, I couldn't find one at 12:00 p.m., since most are either in the morning or in the evening (with each church having an average of seven to eight daily Masses). I finally looked at the Dominican Abbey (the Basilica of the Holy Trinity) (http://www.krakow.dominikanie.pl/), where I found out there was a conventual Mass at noon. The Dominican Abbey also happens to be the location of the Tertio Millennio Institute, a program for international and Polish students interested in the New Evangelization, which was began by George Weigel and Michael Novak, among others. So, I showed up ten minutes before noon, only to find all of the pews PACKED, and people sitting on the floor, on the steps of the confessionals (yes, confessionals that are twenty feet tall and Gothic wood carved do have steps into them ;), as well as people standing. There were probably about 400 people there. Before Mass began, the Dominicans came out in their black capes, and chanted the Angelus. Then, ring, ring, ring, and the Mass began. Looking over to the sacristy, I was shocked when out processed not one, not two, not five, but NINETEEN priests and two deacons to concelebrate DAILY Mass. I 've been to big Masses before, like Ash Wednesday at Notre Dame, but nineteen priests concelebrating daily Mass is a bit shocking, even to me.
Yesterday, one of the guys here, named Adam, and I went to Kopiec Kosciuszki (the “Kosciuszko Mound.”) This monument was built in honor of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, the Polish hero who fought in both Poland and in the American Revolution. From the mound, there is usually a beautiful view of almost one hundred miles, where one can see the Tatra Mountains to the south, the Benedictine and Camaldolese monasteries to the west, and Nowa Huta and the communist destruction of the countryside surrounding Krakow, to the east. Directly below, lies the Vistula River, as well as the common green (Krakowskie Blonie), where John Paul II would celebrate Mass on his visits to Krakow. About four kilometers away, one can see the main market square and the towering St. Mary’s Church, as well as Wawel castle a little to the south. Yesterday the clouds and the fog that settled in impeded the view, and in the afternoon, it started to snow pretty heavily.
In the evening, I attended Mass at St. Stephen’s Church, an unimposing modern-looking church on Casimir the Great Street, about five minutes away from my residence. Much to my surprise, as I walked into the unimpressive church (or so I thought), I was greeted by the sound of people praying the Rosary (which I have found out is usually recited at any hour at any given church, all day in Krakow). My eyes were also filled with a splendid mixture of blues, greens, reds, yellows, and a myriad of other colors, which filled the walls and ceiling of the church. One of the main striking features was the gigantic ambo that was located on the left side of the church, and hung on the wall with a porch-like balcony, next to a picture of St. Jadwiga, Queen of Poland, and Pope John Paul.
The real treasure of the church lay to the left of the sanctuary though, in the miraculous image of Our Lady of Good Counsel. The image is a very large painting, and has undergone a coronation ceremony, as is clear from the gold crown on Mary’s head. After Mass, at 18:30 each day (as I soon learned), there is a solemn covering of the image for the night, much like in Czestochowa. The organ plays a very ornate piece, and while the congregation is kneeling and singing farewell to Our Lady, the priest presses a button and a screen rises to cover the image of Our Lady. On the screen, there is a beautiful painting of a scene of the Annunciation to Mary.
This morning, I began the day by planning to go to Nowa Huta to see the famous church that is shaped like Noah’s Ark, over the building of which Bishop Wojtyla fought the communist authorities. However, I decided that it would be better to take care of some administrative issues, and I set out to the Historical Institute at the Jagiellonian. Afterwards, desirous of taking classes in Theology, yet knowing that the UJ does not offer any, due to the closure of their department by the communists, I went to the PAT (The Pontifical Academy of Theology, founded by Pope John Paul, as a way for Theology students in Krakow to continue their studies, even without a department at the UJ). Upon entering, I met with a priest in the Office of the Dean, and before I knew it, I found myself a student of a Pontifical University, where I will now betaking Theology of the Family and Theology of the Old Testament. I can’t believe that it was so easy. In the United States, one has to fill out paperwork, register on computers, and pay a lot of money. Here, I handwrote an application to the Dean, asking for admission, and was then allowed to take classes for free, because of the fact that I am both a student at the Jagiellonian University, and also from the University of Notre Dame, a well-known American University.
So, as this reflection gets rather lengthy, I must end. I realize that there is so much more that I have not written about yet, such as the people I am living with, and the interest they have in the state of American politics and the “culture wars,” which are not as drastic here in Poland. But, there is a time and place for everything, and now supper beckons, as well as the simple fact that I have been on the computer for too long, so for now, I bid everybody dobranoc!

First Thoughts

February 13th-14th, 2006
Somewhere over Greenland

I begin these reflections of my upcoming months at the Jagiellonian University in Kraków somewhere over the arctic; exactly where, I’m not sure, since Wallace and Gromit: The Attack of the Wererabbit is playing on the movie screen right now, thus disabling the map and flight statistics which are usually shown there. I find it appropriate to be flying the LOT Polish Airlines 767 airplane by the name of Gniezno to Kraków right now. Gniezno was the first bishopric and capital of Poland, so in a way, I begin my journey of seeking to learn about and return to my roots by returning on the plane named after the place from which Polish Christendom sprung.

I begin this journey with a completely open mind and an open heart, prepared to expect the unexpected, to journey through the unknown, and to grow closer and deeper in my faith life, particularly coming to better know the saint of our modern times: Karol Wojtyła, in whose beloved Krakow I will be studying. And how could he not come to mind, when I am in the midst of a diverse group of Poles. Around me sit Polish-Americans, whose excited young ones run up and down the aisles-oh wait, one just crawled-up and down, chased by his older sister. I am able to place myself into their situation, remembering the seemingly endless flight and the growing excitement as I first traveled to Poland as a six-year-old, eager to meet my grandparents and to see the exciting places that my parents had told me about. Behind me, an older man just dozed off, after having conversed with, or rather, talked to the man next to him for the past two and a half hours. God bless those souls who like to share their entire life story with you, as well as tell you about their great grand-uncle who had a second cousin who was related to some Polish nobleman, or who was a hero in some war or another. Then, there are of course those Poles such as the young couple next to me, who seek to find their identity and place in modern Poland, and to make a living in the midst of a growingly materialistic and secular Poland. As Poland enters into the Third Millennium at a booming pace, it must find its place in Europe, as well as seek to create a just and humane society for all of its members.

I could go on and on about the people that I see and about the economic situation in Poland, but perhaps those reflections will be written as I progress in my studies over the course of the semester. At this point, I am particularly struck by a statement in the Orientation Guide for Students Traveling Abroad, which was given to me by the College of Arts and Letters before I left. In it, we students who are traveling the world are advised to “learn to become professional people watchers.” It is funny that the packet mentions this, since this has always been one of my favorite things to do. A statement that I ran across earlier today in a book entitled The Way to Christ, by then-archbishop Wojtyła highlighted a great truth, I think. In this retreat for university-aged students which was given in 1972, the archbishop states about humans, “this man—one can say ‘this word,’ with a small w, this intellect, a part of the whole visible reality—is united precisely through this reality and its richness and depth, with the Word—with this intelligence, thought, and intellect without which the richness, complexity, and precision of the world, which is moreover filled with constantly unexpected factors, becomes incomprehensible.” Truly, these profound words (which I by no means claim to understand fully, at least yet) are the words of a saint.

Pope Benedict in Deus Caritas Est writes about Christianity as being a religion about man, and about his participation in the inner life and ultimately, the love of the Trinity. More and more I realize the depth of these words, and this timeless teaching, which Wojtyła claims has been part of the revelation to man since the beginning of time. The people around me, whether they know it or not, are called to share in the life of the Trinity. Wait, stop and think about that! Everybody, the yapping older man behind me, the excited and wandering children, the young man with pierced ears across the aisle from me—these are all my brothers and sisters by virtue of their Sonship of God, the Father and Creator. I don’t think that I can really even try to delve deeper into the meaning of this at this point in time.

I look forward to this semester as being a semester of “people watching,” in the sense that Pope Benedict and Pope John Paul II talked about, of seeking to see all those whom I encounter, from the international students who want to have a good time by going to bars and restaurants (who I assume I will meet), to the religious priests and sisters who roam the streets of Kraków, and give it the title of the “Polish Rome,” or the “little Rome,” as my brothers and sisters. (And I must say, mostly just to brag, that the Archdiocese of Kraków does have more churches and parishes than the Archdiocese of Rome).

What is the purpose of this series of web-based reflections on my study and travels abroad? From a purely selfish perspective, they will enable me to later be able to recall and re-live my experiences from abroad. But I also hope that through my thoughts and my sentiments, I may come to better know the beauties of Poland, the treasures of the Polish culture, history, and thought, and that I (and other people reading these thoughts) may come to better see and appreciate Poland’s unique contribution to the shaping of history, culture, and particularly of the Catholic Church.

At this point in the history of modern Europe, Poland finds itself with huge responsibilities, as well as in a unique position. As one of the only remaining truly Catholic nations in Europe, Poland faces much opposition from the European Union (especially in the area of morals, such as the new European Parliament resolution to enforce the legalization of same-sex “marriage”). With a new conservative government led by President Lech Kaczyński, the former President of Warsaw (mayor), his conservative coalition led by the Law and Justice party must be strong in defending Poland’s uniquely and truly Christian culture. It will be interesting to see how his decisions will reflect this campaign promise of his.

I am sure that I will be able to engage in discussions of politics and social issues, as I will be living in Ośrodek Akademicki Barbakan, a center run by the Personal Prelature of Opus Dei. I am hoping to meet other young Catholic students, as well as professors, with whom I will be able to discuss the trends of the Polish nation at this crucial time in its history. As a student of philosophy and theology, I am interested in studying and talking to the people in Kraków, particularly young Catholic students, about the philosophical trends of the culture, and how philosophy is affecting the day-to-day life of Poles. Whereas the United States is now facing a moral crisis of culture caused by unprecedented wealth and a misunderstanding of freedom, Poland has not yet reached this “burned out” period, and is only now traveling the road to the intersection at which it will have to, as a nation, make a decision—does its faith and culture matter enough to be preserved, or will the allurement of capitalism, western goods, the opportunities for business, and the sometimes negative attitude towards the “clericalism” of the Church lead it down the wide and easy boulevard, like most of Western Europe. All of these things remain to be seen, and I hope that Poland may indeed take the “straight and narrow,” the “road less traveled by,” for I know that it will “make all the difference.”
This week, I will have to obtain a student ID at the Jagiellonian University, which I humbly admit has been the alma mater of greats such as Nicholas Copernicus and Karol Wojtyła. I will also have to pick my final class schedule, hoping to take five courses, in Polish language, history, and literature. In my next entry, I hope to report on my move into the Opus Dei Center, where I will have a private room, three meals a day, laundry, and an oratory in the residence—not too shabby, and the perfect opportunity and place to think a lot, observe a lot, learn a lot, and ultimately, I hope, to come closer to the Truth, by learning about who I am, and my place in the world, in the midst of all of these images of God around me.

I can’t help to also mention that my thoughts are with all of my friends at Notre Dame, somewhere on the other side of the world by now. Keep fighting the battle, for some professors, even, will try to dissuade you from standing for the Truth. As the time and season for the usual manifestations of feminism and false teaching on campus, through various performances, is upon us, seek to show all of our fellow students the true beauty and dignity of human life, and the “genius of woman.” I am looking forward to learning about how the Edith Stein Project, sponsored by the Center for Ethics and Culture, went.

Until next time, I will be scouting around Kraków to see what I can learn and what new insights I will already have.