According to official statistics, nine in ten Poles are Catholic. But what does that mean in practice? I put that question to a group of other young Catholics in Kraków, the city where we live, and a long and heated discussion emerged. We all agreed that our faith has been greatly influenced by living in a place where almost everyone is Catholic: Christianity in general, and Catholicism in particular, seems somehow natural for us. Especially here, in one of Poland’s biggest cities, it is a perfect environment to grow in your faith. Churches are always full on Sundays here, and it is not uncommon to see the congregation spilling out onto the street.
There is also a great variety of different churches in Poland – over 120 just in Kraków – each unique. St Wojciech’s Church on the main square, for example, was built in the 11th century and traditionally attended by silk road merchants from around Europe; it has seats for a maximum of 20 people. Next to it is St Mary’s Church, a huge Gothic basilica, popular with tourists because it houses the famous altar of Wit Stwosz.
Growing up in Kraków, we were encouraged by our parents to explore the different Masses on offer, not simply to follow where they went. I was drawn to the Basilica of the Holy Trinity, a Gothic church attached to the Dominican monastery, which I still attend today with my husband. It was attractive to me because the sermons always went into great depth to explain the Gospel, and gave practical life lessons.
Another factor that makes it easier for Catholics to practise their faith is the wide range of activities and faith-based groups. The Dominicans, for example, run the popular Academic Chaplaincy, known as “Beczka”, which means “barrel”. This came into its own during communism as a meeting place for intellectuals, artists and students opposed to the regime. Wine was always on offer. Today it is popular as ever, organising pilgrimages, talks and conferences.
That Catholicism comes naturally to us may seem like a blessing, but it can sometimes be a trap. When something is given, it is easy to be lazy and to forget to be intentional in your faith. Luckily my group of friends are not afraid to ask the difficult and uncomfortable questions. As we are often bombarded with negative news about the Church, we too struggle with reconciling our inner beliefs with the confusing facts arising around us. But it is in times like these that we know we need to dig deep into ourselves, and reach for those beliefs and the Christian values we have been given which help us to live in this not always easy world.
One thing is certain: the Catholic faith among young people in Poland is an important matter, definitely not taken lightly or without thought. And thank God for that.