Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Poland's Long Lent Continues: Wielgus e Píu

In the wake of January's fall of Archbishop Stanislaw Wielgus of Warsaw and the flood of damage caused by the prelate's reported collaboration with the Communist-era secret police, this Ash Wednesday is being observed as a day of prayer and penance "for all the Polish clergy."

At his Sunday Angelus, Pope Benedict cited the "particular day" set aside for reparation, expressing his hope that "prayer for the holiness of priests" might bring about a resurgence of "the spirit of pardon, reconciliation and mutual trust" among the faithful of the overwhelmingly Catholic country. What the pontiff didn't disclose at the time, however, was a letter he penned to Wielgus expressing his "spritual closeness and brotherly understanding."

The text was made public yesterday during a meeting of the Polish bishops and reported on by Vatican Radio.

In the letter, dated 12 February, Benedict observed to Wielgus that "today, as in the past, the episcopal mission is marked by suffering.

"May God not cease to sustain you with his grace," the pontiff wrote, saying that Wielgus' resignation minutes before his Epiphany Day installation in the Polish church's top post was an "act of profound sensibility for the good of the Church of Warsaw and of Poland," and a "sign" of the archbishop's "humility and discharge of duty."

Wielgus "has given proof of great holiness and profound love for Jesus Christ and for the Church," Benedict said, encouraging the embattled prelate to "continue forward with trust and serenity of heart" and to keep on "in service to Christ in a manner that will be possible."

As if the customary Wednesday audience, coupled with the traditional kickoff of Roman Lent on the Aventine Hill, wasn't enough for Papa Ratzi to get through today, yet another episode of brutta figura of the Polish kind has found its way to B16's plate.

The Across-the-Pond press has given significant coverage to a 32-page pamphlet in which a Polish member of the European Parliament called Jews a "tragic community" who seek to live "in apartheid" from others. The Vatican angle is joined as the text's author, Maciej Giertych, is an uncle of Fr Wojciech Giertych OP, the theologian of the Papal Household. Having made his name as a professor at the Angelicum, Fr Giertych was named to the post by Benedict in late 2005.

Affiliated with the conservative League of Polish Families party, Maciej Giertych ranks among the lodestars of Poland's hard-right movement, and his son, Roman, is the country's Education Minister. The family's political branch is believed to be close to Radio Maryja, the Redemptorist-run radio outlet whose polarizing commentary and forays into anti-Semitism have long caused headaches in Rome and among much of the Polish episcopate.

Seemingly not for nothing, the Vatican announced this morning that the Pope made time to call his theologian upstairs yesterday for a private chat.

In happier news from the interreligious front, the grand sheik of the Al-Azhar Mosque -- the closest thing Islam has to a Vatican -- has agreed to meet with Benedict on an upcoming trip to Rome.

A date remains pending, but an inconvenient back-story is already solidified: while the Curia remains in tumult, its exile in Cairo clearly keeps pulling his weight.