Despite some reports expecting Pope Francis to criticize Polish bishops on their approach to immigration and other issues at tonight’s meeting in Krakow, the atmosphere was “very warm” and the Pope listened to their concerns, the president of the Polish bishops’ conference has said.

One of those concerns relates to ambiguous passages in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia and the need for their clarification — a matter that the bishops raised with the Pope, according to sources.

Speaking to reporters at the end of the Pope’s first day in Poland, Archbishop Stanislaw Gadecki said the issue of migrants and refugees was one of four raised in the closed-door question and answer encounter with the Polish episcopate in Krakow cathedral this evening.

The three other main questions concerned the Polish response to secularization and de-Christianization in Western Europe, applying mercy in today’s world, and the role of Catholic movements and associations in parish life.

The Pope, Archbishop Gadecki said, instructed the bishops to “exercise sound reasoning” and Gospel values when it comes to migrants.  “That was more or less the main framework of the meeting with the Holy Father,” he said, adding that the Pope distinguished between migrants searching for work, and refugees fleeing war.

Asked whether the bishops and the Pope discussed Amoris Laetitia, the president of the Polish bishops’ conference said that as far as he and his fellow bishops were concerned, the document took into account their “more conservative proposal” during the synod which was to “retain the truth of the Gospel” when relating to admission to the sacraments of remarried divorcees. “We cannot deliberately overstep Christ’s precept against divorce,” he said.

He said the Pope believes “that general laws are very hard to enforce in each country, and so he speaks about decentralization.” He noted that bishops’ conferences “might on their own initiative not only interpret papal encyclicals, but also looking at their own cultural situation, might approach some specific issues in an appropriate manner.”

The archbishop said he himself recognized the need for “constant discernment” for remarried divorcees, but added that there could be a “theological clash” over the “need for faith and receiving the sacraments.” Communion for remarried divorcees is “not something solved in the confessional in two minutes or two years,” he stated. “This is a path priests and laity need to walk together, knowing that if a marriage has been validly concluded, there are no grounds of giving Holy Communion if the person is divorced and remarried.”

Speaking about the meeting generally, Archbishop Gadecki said his “personal impression” was that the Pope “had a very simple way” of addressing them, “as if speaking to children.” Francis referred to his experiences in Buenos Aires and other meetings he’s held as pope, he said, and answered all four questions “at length”.

He spoke “in great detail” but did not “exercise a high brow, lofty discourse,” he said, repeating that he spoke to them “as if to children” which was “very characteristic” of the meeting.

“What’s important, given the context of the mass media which suggested the Pope has come to Poland to criticize Polish bishops, is that that has not happened,” he said. “What happened was that he spoke in terms of empathy, empathy that he has created. He listened to the bishops.”

Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the closed-door nature of the meeting was not unusual because such an encounter, out of the “spotlight of cameras”, “may exert some unnecessary pressure” on those attending. “Of course, the Pope didn’t speak about very dramatic issues, but this is the media character of such a meeting,” Father Lombardi said. 


Archbishop Stanislaw Gądecki greeting to Pope Francis, Wawel Cathedral, July 26, 2016.

Beloved Holy Father!

We welcome you to Poland with the greatest joy. We welcome you in the spirit of deep faith, as the Peter of our times, whose task it is to care for the unity, the integrality and the indissolubility of Christ's teaching. At the beginning of this pilgrimage, we, the Polish Bishops, want to express our deep gratitude for your concern for humanity, for the Church, and for our homeland.

1. THE YEAR OF MERCY

Your pilgrimage to Poland falls during the time of the Extraordinary Jubilee of Mercy. It comes at a time of grace, when we intensively look towards God’s mercy in order to, then, become witnesses of mercy and be an effective confirmation of His action in the world, going out to meet each person with goodness and tenderness for all, for believers and for those who are afar off.

The Church in Poland feels a special responsibility in this regard. The message of mercy is, in fact, strongly connected with a daughter of our nation, St. Faustina Kowalska, as well as with Pope Saint John Paul II, who through his life and writings drew us close to its value.

2. The 1050th ANNIVERSARY OF POLAND’S BAPTISM

Together with you we want both to thank God—as our ancestors did 1050 years ago—for the gift of the Christian faith.

The Year of Poland’s Baptism is, for us, the date of a breakthrough, because that is precisely when Poland emerged from its prehistory and began to exist historically, so that henceforth Christianity and the Polish identity go hand in hand.

For over one thousand years—in times of peace and in troubled times—, the Christian faith has given us wings, creating a new, baptized people. God who is rich in mercy, made the Polish land wonderfully fertile, and so it has born abundant spiritual fruit in the form of so many Poles who have distinguished themselves as confessors and defenders of the faith, keeping hope and practicing charity.

It suffices to mention, from the long list of Polish Saints and Blessed, those who are revered worldwide, namely Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, who heard a voice say: “I do not want to punish aching mankind, but I desire to heal it, pressing it to My Merciful Heart,” and Saint John Paul II, who in his teaching often alluded to the subject of mercy, saying: “It is a comforting message addressed primarily to the man who is tortured by a particularly painful experience or crushed by the weight of his sins, so that he has lost all hope in life and is close to succumbing to the temptation of despair.”

Celebrating the 1050th Anniversary is, for us today, an obligation, that helps us to discover the mission of every Christian that results from the sacrament of Baptism, which calls us to transform the world around us.

3. THE XXXI WORLD YOUTH DAY

However, the main purpose of this pilgrimage is the World Youth Day. This is not a kind of rock festival or a variant of modern youth culture. The World Youth Day is the result of a “long external and internal spiritual journey.” It is the fruit of the road on which we learn that happiness, which can be expressed in many ways, is reached only if we are able to love. Happiness is, in fact, always a question of love. Happiness is the fruit of the roads where Christ with His mercy is the Guide, who accepts each person and forgives all. On these roads, we slowly come to understand, individually and collectively, the meaning of these words: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy” (Mt 5:7).

4. THE CATHOLIC CHURCH IN POLAND

Poland’s identity as a nation and a State is closely tied to the Christian faith. One cannot immerse oneself in the history, the art, the literature, the social and political events of our homeland without recognizing that all of these areas have been deeply affected and shaped by strong faith that has overcome many adversities and tests.

Yet, we know that nothing in this world can ever be considered achieved once and for all, and that the dedication, faith and courage of past generations are not enough to advance and protect oneself from all dangers. Each generation needs to appropriate for itself the traditions and values that have been communicated to it, while contributing to ensure that this gift may be received and bear fruit again in the new age and in other circumstances. Each person must first, by following Christ day after day, make his/her own the treasures of truth and grace offered and inherited from the past (cf. Homily of the Papal Legate Cardinal Pietro Parolin during the celebration of the 1050th Anniversary of Poland’s Baptism, Poznan Municipal Stadium,16 April 2016).

Each of us Bishops has received the office: “so that he may liken himself to [the apostles] and preach the good and beautiful science” (Greek Acts of St. Philip the Apostle, 37/143). Before that, by virtue of Baptism, each one of us became a missionary disciple (cf. Mt 28:19). Therefore, we now fervently ask God that the most beautiful fruit of the Year of Mercy, as well as of the celebration of the 1050th Anniversary of Poland’s Baptism and of the World Youth Day, may become active as we accomplish this mission, both individually and as a community.

If this does not happen, then the people that in the face of immense tragedies showed great fidelity and courage, overcoming persecution and violence, can in less dramatic times lose the joy of belonging to Christ's flock.

On the other hand, if it does happen, both personally and in community, our relationship with Christ will be deepened and we will pass the joy of the Gospel on to others; then, despite our flaws and shortcomings, we will truly be a “spark” that comes from Poland and strengthens Europe’s Christian roots, while preparing the world for the second coming of Christ. May your visit Holy Father, your teaching and your blessing, help us in this task.

Beloved Holy Father,

We ask you to please encourage the young people, who have arrived in Krakow from all the continents and are gathered around the Peter of our times, to advance with perseverance on the path of mercy.

Through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Czestochowa, Queen of Poland, and our holy Patrons, we ask Christ for the gifts of God necessary for you, for the Polish Bishops and for the young throughout the world.