When Pope Francis arrives in Poland this week to attend World Youth Day, one of the major events on the Catholic calendar, he will face a politically powerful church closely tied to the country’s new right-wing government. The church here carries a deep strain of social conservatism that does not always align with the pope’s more open and welcoming views.
“Poland has more parishes than it has hospitals and schools,” said Tadeusz Bartos, a theologian at the Academy of Humanities in Pultusk. “It is everywhere. In small communities, the priest and the mayor are the two most important figures.”
Ninety-two percent of Poles identify themselves as Roman Catholic. But equally striking is the degree to which many of them attend church on a weekly basis: about 40 percent, church officials estimate, far higher than in other nominally Catholic countries.
“Our religion is now alive in Poland in a way that it is not in Western Europe,” said Jaroslaw Sellin, the deputy minister of culture and national heritage from the governing party Law and Justice. “We organize our lives from birth to death with a series of religious ceremonies.”