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A Visit to Catholic John Paul II University in Lublin, Poland
BY ROBERT RAUHUT
Poland’s Lublin Castle is a chapel dedicated to the Holy Trinity. Founded by
King Jagiello in the 14th century, its style is Gothic. Yet Byzantine murals
adorn the interior. It’s a good example of a city that straddles East and West
in the heart of Europe.
Lublin lies at the banks of the
Vistula River, about 93 miles to the southeast of Warsaw, the Polish capital,
and about 112 miles to the northeast of the Ukrainian city of Lviv.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that
its most famous son went on to be known as a pope who urged the Church —
divided for a millennium between East and West — to “breathe with both lungs.”
And it should come as no surprise
that Lublin is striving to preserve the legacy of Pope John Paul II, who taught
here as professor Karol Wojtyla.
Lublin, a typical university town
with a well-preserved center, has at least two prominent educational institutions:
the state-run Maria-Curie-Sklodowska University and the Catholic John Paul II
University (also known as KUL, the Polish acronym for Catholic University of
Lublin). The first was erected as a counterpart to the second in communist
times. This rivalry has now evaporated.
“The Lublin time of Karol Wojtyla,
the later Pope John Paul II, is often strangely passed over in silence,” Polish
philosopher Albert Mieczyslaw Krapiec told the Register. A Dominican priest, he
is former president of the KUL, co-founder of the well-known Lublin School of
Philosophy and the man responsible for Wojtyla’s engagement as professor of
What signs can be found today at the
place where Wojtyla taught for more than 24 years?
John Paul’s name was added to the
school on Oct. 16, 2005, the anniversary of his election as Pope, and several
months after his death in April of that year. And there are images of him
around campus, among which the statue in the courtyard is particularly
interesting. It shows Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, former primate of Poland,
bowing in the direction of Pope John Paul II. It’s a symbolic expression of the
fact that, during the communist era, the pope would be the only person to whom
the Polish Catholic Church would subordinate itself.
But there are also intangible signs,
and they may be even more telling than the visible ones. For example, a certain
“spirit of John Paul II” lives on in the professors and administrators who were
formed by his teaching and example, whether directly or indirectly. Some
retired yet active faculty members were peers of the Holy Father; they had a
hand in creating the academic atmosphere in which the professor from Krakow
could flourish intellectually and spiritually.
The heart of Wojtyla’s legacy at the
KUL is formed by the interdisciplinary John Paul II Institute, which publishes
editions of Wojtyla’s works and commentaries on the Pope’s encyclicals. Cezary
Ritter, sociologist and philosopher at the Institute, says the issues of
“family and dignity of human life” in the teaching of John Paul II are of
particular importance for the future of Poland and the world. The “family of
today is somehow in flight,” says the married father of several children. “The
studies about the family conducted at this university shall help [us]
understand how important the family is as core of our society for its future.”
He points to a Lebanese icon in the
conference room that depicts the Holy Family’s flight into Egypt, a gift of
John Paul II to the institute.
“The question of the dignity of
human life and its protection is a widely known topic in our societies,” says
Ritter, “although the proposed solutions are often not in complete accordance
with the teaching of John Paul II.”
Asked about current projects, Ritter
offers an intriguing tidbit.
“The most important is the edition
of a couple of texts that were discussed in Castel Gandolfo in the presence of
the Pope in the late ’90s,” he says. “They have not been published so far.”
Students Lukas Burglin and Karol Podlasin,
studying political science at Bydgoszcz in northern Poland, took part in
“Philosophical Week” at the KUL, one of the best-known events of its kind in
Poland. They were impressed by the university’s atmosphere, its friendly and
The two say they are reminded of a
remark Pope John Paul made in his 1998 encyclical Fides et Ratio
(The Relationship Between Faith and Reason), in which he emphasized
the role of a trusting dialogue and sincere friendship as general conditions
and assistance for intellectual work.
“John Paul II is definitely a great
figure in Poland, but the realization of his teaching in everyday life is seen
as difficult by many young Polish people,” says one student. “However, the
foundation of a family, for instance, is also a very important objective of our
personal life,” adds the other.
John Paul Was Here
Naturally, theology and philosophy
play an important role at this university marked by an unmistakably Christian
Does that mean the school only
serves as an educational institute for future Catholic priests and nuns? Every
visitor notices the many professors who belong to the clergy.
“No, no,” stresses the president of
the KUL, Salesian Father Stanislaw Wilk, a specialist in Church history. “Most
of our students are laypeople, not all are Catholics, and some are not
believers at all. The university has grown greatly. In the past there were
4,000 students; nowadays there are about 20,000. Most students can be found in
the law department.”
Talking about the legacy of John
Paul II, the president shows the senate room housing the chair used by Pope
John Paul II during his visit to the KUL in 1987.
“This is a symbolic sign of his
presence during our meetings here,” says Father Wilk. “Yes, we definitely want
to keep his legacy alive.”
To that end the university is
preparing, for example, a 20-year memorial exhibition of the papal visit to
From here on in, no visit to Lublin
will be complete without a visit to the Catholic John Paul II University.
Robert Rauhut is based
in Munich, Germany.