We are still witnessing the attacs on St. John Paul II. Why? Is this the revenge of the commune from beyond the grave or is the problem deeper?
Fr. prof. Paweł Bortkiewicz: I think it is difficult to point to a clear reason for this state of affairs. If I had to point to one fundamental reason, I think that the situation is as follows: we live in an era of enormous chaos, a huge disintegration of the Western world. I often recall here an image from Umberto Eco, which shows a convent and library burning in The Name of the Rose. This is not so much a picture of the Middle Ages, but a picture of our modern times, where the monastery burned down and the library burned down – faith and reason burn. It is in this space that John Paul II left us very clear guidelines to save our world. “Unfortunately”, they differ significantly from the projects of modern “salvation” of man in the form of ecology, climateism, transhumanism or the church of the woke. That is why I think that here is the main source of attacks on John Paul II. The point is to discredit his person, to discredit his teaching, to show that the pope, who would be presented here as an irresponsible figure, as a man who committed some abuses, is simply unbelievable. And why is this happening? It may also be because it is impossible to argue with the papal teaching, but it is easy to pelt him with mud and accusations that actually have no evidentiary rank.
John Paul II was undoubtedly a gift of Poles to the world, and at the same time the voice of those who, through no fault of their own in the communist regime, had the courage to cherish the greatest values. Indeed, perhaps these attacks are about destroying these values by attacking the authority that guards them, which was that saint of the Catholic Church?
I think definitely yes. Let us recall what the Pope taught us in the era of communism. First, I would highlight three elements. When he first came to Poland, to the Poland of the People’s Republic of Poland, he found a socialist state that breathed socialist culture and in which a citizen was supposed to be a socialist man. Meanwhile, he showed us that Poland is a Christian nation, that it lives a Christian culture with a thousand-year-old tradition, and finally that man cannot be understood without Christ, so he radically opposed this project. In fact, we are seeing a similar situation today. There are people, who are trying to discredit the nation, Christian culture, and finally the end of man, and thus homo sapiens, is announced, which is expressed, for example, in the projects of Youval Harari. Again, this papal teaching proves to be very timely today. So I think this is where the main line of discrediting the papal teaching runs.
Let’s remember what it looked like – Poland and Poles who were the subject of unrefined jokes, who were treated as a culturally distant country. John Paul II himself mentioned in his first words that he had been summoned from “a distant country”. “Distant”, but at the same time close in terms of culture. He just showed that this economic and political distance is not as important as cultural proximity. He showed that we are included in the great family of Christian culture, that we are part of it. Today they are trying to take it away from us.
Poland has indeed become a very significant country thanks to John Paul II. Those of us who remember the first years of the pontificate remember that when we introduced ourselves abroad that we were from Poland, Poland was immediately associated: John Paul II, Giovanni Paolo II. The name of the pope was almost immediately the second part of the name “Poland” or “Pole”. We could feel proud because we gave the world one of the greatest popes, one of the greatest saints, and nothing has changed in this regard. On the other hand, today they are trying to take away this, they are trying to persuade us to adopt a pedagogy of shame, which is completely unjustified. They are trying to make us believe that we should now repent for the faults not committed by the pope. And what is amazing is that some Polish politicians, including journalists, as I read, go to the idea not only of withdrawing the beatification and canonization, but also of overthrowing the monuments. I read a statement by one of the very “original” politicians of the Polish political scene – such a call to destroy monuments. This is already crossing the border of the absurd and this is toxic self-destruction of one’s own identity in terms of thinking.
You mentioned the contribution of St. John Paul II in the image of Poland, but it was also a great contribution of the Polish Pope and his associates to philosophical thought. This Polish philosophical thought emerged, was noticed and began to change reality. Maybe some people don’t like it either?
Certainly, one does not like this philosophical thinking, which was thoroughly personalistic, emphasized the dignity of the human person, which radically opposed the currents of the dominant utilitarianism. After all, this is a line that is extremely tense today in bioethical issues, in terms of understanding marriage and family. It is precisely this opposition between the utilitarianism that exists today and, on the other hand, personalism. John Paul II in “Letter to Families” wrote that this is an opposition not so much on the level of theory as on the level of ethos, because the ethos of utilitarianism is an individualistic ethos, and personalism means an altruistic ethos. This is the opposition between selfishness and love. And indeed this philosophy of personalism has become a domain of Polish philosophy inspired by Karol Wojtyła, the philosophy of his associates. It was and still remains in many circles a huge intellectual contribution of Poland. It should be noted here again that an attempt to eradicate this state of affairs means devastation of the culture of thinking, but also of the culture of life and the culture of conduct.
Interview by Anna Wiejak