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2000-03-17 00:18
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At an historic service, Polish church leaders ask pardon for
past mistakes
ENI-00-0091

By Jonathan Luxmoore
Warsaw, 14 March (ENI)--Leaders of Poland's Roman Catholic,
Orthodox and Protestant churches have expressed their regret for
past mistakes at an ecumenical service attended by five European
presidents.

Addressing thousands of worshippers on 12 March in Gniezno, in
western Poland, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, leader of the Catholic
Church in Poland, said that Catholics would only enjoy "freedom
and happiness" through "authentic penance and genuine service".
Catholics had, he added, "too often humiliated their neighbours
and haughtily placed themselves in a better light than reality".


At the same service, the head of Poland's Lutheran minority,
Bishop Jan Szarek, said Protestants should apologise for
"distorting consciences by too often calling evil good". And
Metropolitan Sawa, leader of Poland's 570 000-member Orthodox
church, said that Orthodox Christians had also succumbed to
"egoism and illegitimacy", as well as "indifference to
those who suffer".

The church leaders were speaking in St Wojciech's Catholic
Cathedral, in central Gniezno, during their church's first
jointly-organised service. The presidents of Poland, Germany,
Lithuania, Slovakia and Hungary attended the historic gathering,
which took place on the same day as a service of penance in Rome,
during which Pope John Paul II expressed regret for the mistakes
committed by the "children" of the church.

The Gniezno service was organised to mark 1000th anniversary of
the Gniezno Congress in the year 1000 at which the German Emperor
Otto III recognised the Polish state of King Boleslaw the Bold,
and approved the creation of the first Polish archdiocese.

Preaching in Gniezno, the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal
Angelo Sodano, said that Roman Catholics wished to promote
"justice, love and solidarity" through a "common effort with
other churches and church communities". The presidents'
attendance at the service signalled a readiness by state leaders
to build a "united Europe, spiritually strengthened and deeply
entwined with Christian tradition", the cardinal added.

However, Christians could "renew society and the world" only
when they "recognised their own sins and invoked God's mercy",
Cardinal Sodano said.

The Gniezno commemoration was the latest in a series of acts of
reconciliation by Polish church leaders, who agreed in January to
mutual recognition of church baptism.

In a joint statement, the church leaders said they had come
together in fulfilment of the Pope's call to celebrate the
millennium "if not reconciled, then at least close to unity", and
wished to
"return to the undivided Christianity which Poland accepted 1000
years ago".

Speaking in a televised debate to mark the Gniezno celebrations,
Slovakia's president, Rudolf Schuster, said churches had been the
first to pledge support when he declared 2000 a "year of national
reconciliation" across his country.

"We can achieve this thanks to Christianity," President Schuster
continued, "just as we did 1000 years ago when the Poles were
accepted as a Christian nation with a place in Europe's future."

However, President Johannes Rau of Germany, a leading Protestant
layman, warned that Europeans no longer shared a single
"Christian vision".

"In most countries, believers are in the minority, and the
majority doesn't uphold a Christian model of the person - so we
need European values which are not linked to religious
beliefs," President Rau said. "We cannot expect some new church
superstructure to be extended over our continent. Instead, the
most urgent task in coming years will be a dialogue between
cultures and religions."

Speaking after the ecumenical service in Gniezno, Henryk
Paprocki, spokesman for Poland's Orthodox church, said he
believed the commemoration would "signal significant changes" in
the "functioning and activity of churches in Poland".

"Three Christian traditions - Roman Catholic, Orthodox and
Protestant - have met and spoken with one voice," Paprocki told
Poland's Catholic Information Agency (KAI). "This unprecedented
event tells us the year 2000 will really be a turning point in
relations between Christians".

However, the commemoration was criticised by a leading Roman
Catholic theologian, Michal Czajkowski, who said it had diverted
attention from the Pope's act of penance in Rome. "There was
supposed to be a 'penitential celebration in dioceses and
parishes'," Professor Czajkowski told a daily newspaper here,
Gazeta Wyborcza. "Instead, our eyes were turned on Gniezno, and
this important and beautiful commemoration - fortunately with
some penitential accents - released us from other festivities.
It's easier to rejoice at 1000 years of statehood than apologise
for 2000 years of sinfulness."