Living inside the Bible

KRACOW, Poland—The village of Pasierbiec is in the south of Poland, about 30 miles from the old royal capital of Kracow. Its church, the Basilica of Our Lady of Consolation, is full of votum gifts testifying to favors received through the intercession of the basilica’s namesake. (The church itself reminds me of a comment Pope John Paul II’s secretary, now-Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, once made when we were looking at a photo album of new churches in Nowa Huta, the mill-town built by Polish communists outside Cracow: “Troppo [Too much] Corbusier…”)

Outside the church, the priests and people of Pasierbiec have done something quite remarkable, however: they’ve recently constructed a stunning, contemporary Via Crucis, in which figures from modern Polish Catholic history are “inserted” into the traditional Stations of the Cross. The bronzes themselves are well-done, but what is particularly striking about the Pasierbiec Via Crucis is the idea that animates these sculptures—the idea that we can, and should, imagine ourselves living inside the biblical story. Or, if you prefer, the Pasierbiec Via Crucis is a powerful invitation to look at the world around us, including recent history, through lenses ground by biblical faith.

Some examples of this optic at work at Pasierbiec:

In the depiction of the fifth station, it is Blessed John Paul II, not Simon of Cyrene, who helps Jesus carry the cross.

At the sixth station, Blessed Jerzy Popieluszko, the martyr-priest of Solidarity, relieves Jesus of some of the weight of the Cross while Veronica wipes the Holy Face; the message Father Jerzy preached during martial law in Poland—”Overcome evil with good”—is inscribed on the Cross.

At the seventh station, the second fall, the Lord is supported by Father Franciszek Blachnicki, founder of the Oasis youth movement in which tens of thousands of young Poles were catechized during holiday camping trips.

At the eighth station, where Jesus traditionally meets the women of Jerusalem, he now meets Stanislawa Leszczynska and Stefania Lacka, prisoners who rescued children born in the Auschwitz concentration camp.

At the ninth station, the third fall, the priest comforting the Lord is Blessed Roman Sitka, rector of the local seminary in Tarnow and a concentration camp prisoner (like several thousand Polish priests).

At the 10th station, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, primate of Poland during the first 33 years of communist rule, holds the clothes being stripped from Jesus—an image that evokes memories of the cardinal being stripped of his freedom and his dignity during three years of house arrest.

Viewed close-up, the soldiers nailing Jesus to the Cross are obviously Roman; from a distance, their helmets are eerily reminiscent of the familiar SS helmets of World War II.

And at the 14th station, two contemporary Polish martyrs witness the entombment of the Crucified One: Father Jan Czuba, martyred in the Congo, and Father Zbigniew Strzalkowski, martyred in Peru.

The dedication of this shrine, which reflects a thoroughly contemporary biblical faith, was led by the archbishop of Cologne, Cardinal Joachim Meisner, who once told me that German martyrs, not German theologians, would be the foundation on which Christianity in 21st-century Germany would be rebuilt after the horrors of the 20th century. Meisner’s presence at the dedication was a powerful sign of the German-Polish reconciliation sought by Wyszynski and Karol Wojtyla, the future John Paul II, at the end of the Second Vatican Council; it also bore embodied the German prelate’s conviction that Tertullian’s second-century insight remains true, 18 centuries later: sanguis martyrum semen christianorum [the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church].

The post-modern world is a wilderness of mirrors in which nothing is stable: even maleness and femaleness, two “givens” throughout recorded human history, are now regarded as “cultural constructs” to be altered at will. Reason alone seems unable to offer a powerful antidote to a post-mod culture of unreality. To see the world around us from “inside” the biblical story of the human condition can be a reality-check. It’s one our culture and society badly need these days.

COMING UP: Colorado bishops issue letter on the Hyde Amendment and other pro-life Congressional policies

Sign up for a digital subscription to Denver Catholic!

We, the Catholic bishops of Colorado, urge Congressional Representatives to support the Hyde Amendment and the Walden Amendment. We also ask the Faithful to sign The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) petition to lawmakers encouraging them to preserve the Hyde Amendment, which can be accessed at: NoTaxpayerAbortion.com, and to contact their Congressmen and women to support the Hyde and Walden amendments.

The House Appropriations Labor and Health and Human Services subcommittee recently passed a spending bill that strips protections for pre-born children, healthcare providers,and American taxpayers by excluding pro-life provisions, including the Hyde and Weldon amendments.

The Hyde Amendment, which prohibits taxpayer dollars from being used to fund abortion in most cases, except for rape and incest, has received bipartisan support since its inception in 1976 – including by pro-abortion administrations. Hyde is critical in saving lives. The Charlotte Lozier Institute estimates that approximately 60,000 pre-born babies are saved every year because of the Hyde Amendment.[1] This is the first time in 40 years that the Hyde Amendment was not included in the annual appropriations bill[2] and failure to include pro-life amendments will only further increase divisions in our country.

The Weldon Amendment prevents any federal programs, agencies, and state and local governments from discriminating against health care practitioners and institutions that do not provide abortion services. It ensures that pro-life individuals and organizations can enter the health care profession without fearing that the government will force them to perform a procedure that violates their well-founded convictions. It has also received bipartisan support and was added to the appropriations bill every year since it was first enacted in 2005. [3]

Congress’ recent actions endanger the lives of pre-born children and infringe on the rights of millions of Americans who do not wish to participate in the moral evil of abortion. A recent Knights of Columbus/Marist poll found that 58 percent of Americans oppose taxpayer funding of abortions[4] and a 2019 Gallup poll shows that 60 percent of Americans think abortion should either be illegal or only legal in a few circumstances.[5]

The government should neither use taxpayer funds for the killing of pre-born children nor compel medical practitioners and institutions to violate their well-founded convictions. Congress must uphold these long-standing, common-sense bipartisan policies that promote a culture of life in our nation.

Human reason and science affirm that human life begins at conception. The Church objects to abortion on the moral principle that each and every human life has inherent dignity, and thus must be treated with respect due to every human person. There has never been and never will be a legitimate need to abort a baby in the womb.

It is critical that Congress continue its long-history of supporting policies such as the Hyde and Walden amendments, and that all Colorado Catholics and people of good will make their voice heard in supporting these life-affirming policies.

Sign the petition to Congress here: www.NoTaxpayerAbortion.com

Contact your Congressional Representatives here: https://cocatholicconference.org/news/

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Most Reverend Samuel J. Aquila
Archbishop of Denver

Most Reverend Stephen J. Berg
Bishop of Pueblo

Most Reverend James R. Golka
Bishop of Colorado Springs

Most Reverend Jorge Rodriguez
Auxiliary Bishop of Denver