Poland's Christian Mission in Europe

Last week, Poland's (ex-communist) president called for an explicit reference to Europe's Christian heritage to be inserted into the forthcoming EU constitution. Others have only whispered their longing for such a statement. José Casanova explains why Poland publicly took the lead.

The link between Christianity and European civilization is breaking. Western Europe is less and less the core of Christian civilization, and the most dynamic forms of Christianity today are less and less European. Yet it is at this moment that Catholic Poland is ``rejoining Europe.''

During the years when West European societies were undergoing their process of secularization--indeed, of ``de-Christianization''--Polish Catholicism underwent an extraordinary revival. All attempts by the communist regime to sever the links between the Catholic Church and the Polish nation failed. Forced secularization from above--relatively successful in the Soviet Union--failed abjectly. The hope that economic development would have the same secularizing effect as in the West also proved false.

Not unlike 19 th Century Poland's doomed, romantic uprisings against Tsarist Russia, most European observers viewed the country's religious vitality under communism as anachronistic, if not reactionary. Yet the Poles confounded the Zeitgeist . The surprising--some say miraculous--elevation of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla to the Papacy as John Paul II, his triumphal visit to Poland in 1979, the rise of Solidarity a year later, and the collapse of the Soviet system in 1989 changed the march of history.