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Poland celebrates European roots on nation's 1,050th anniversary

Polish bishops have opened religious and political celebrations that mark 1,050 years of Christianity in Poland. The right-wing government is pushing the country's European heritage as the EU steps up its criticism.

The church and government jointly organized the three days of ceremonies starting Thursday in the western town of Gniezno, the cradle of Poland's Catholicism. Polish ruler Mieszko I was baptized at Gniezno in the 10th century, an event thought to mark the origin of the Polish state.

The Law and Justice (PiS) government wants the ceremonies to highlight Poland's Catholic identity, which they say ties the nation to Western culture and values.

The anniversary comes amid European Union criticism of the Polish government's policies, related to changes in the constitution, politicization of the civil service, public media and other areas of public life.

Separation of church and state?

The alliance between religion and politics has taken on new life under the PiS government, with President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Beata Szydlo frequently mentioning their faith at public appearances.

"Without the help of priests, PiS would not have won the general election" last October, according to Zbigniew Mikolejko, a religion expert at the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Poland is a devout country of 38 million people, where 90 percent of residents identify themselves as Roman Catholic.

Then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, left, later Pope Benedict XVI, is seen with late Pope John Paul II during mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.

Then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, left, later Pope Benedict XVI, is seen with late Pope John Paul II during mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican.

A very unprogressive agenda

PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski recently followed the example of the episcopate and backed a citizen's

bill introduced by anti-abortion activists to tighten the already restrictive law.

The government recently also cut state funding for in vitro fertilization (IVF), which the previous administration had introduced despite opposition from the church.

There is also a draft law in the works that would ban the sale of arable land to anyone who is not already a farmer, clearly meant to stymie foreign buyers, with churches and religious associations exempted.

On Thursday afternoon, Duda takes part in a thanksgiving service at the 10th century Gniezno Cathedral officiated by the Vatican's Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, with Polish Roman Catholic bishops in attendance.

On Friday, a joint session of both chambers of the Polish parliament, the 460-seat lower house and the 100-seat Senate, will be held in Poznan, western Poland, during which the president will give a special address to the nation.

The anniversary events are to be attended by Polish MEPs, members of the diplomatic corps, representatives of various Christian denominations, the chief Rabbi of Poland, Michael Schudrich, as well as foreign church leaders and members of Polish Catholic missions in France, Germany, Belgium and Brazil.

In Europe's name

In a resolution adopted unanimously by Poland's lower house of parliament Wednesday, MPs stressed that Mieszko's decision to adopt Christianity enabled Poland to join "the circle of Western European civilization."

The resolution says that it was under the banners of Christianity that Poland was able to defend Europe's common heritage in 1683, the year of the relief of the Siege of Vienna, in which King Jan III Sobieski of Poland halted the advance of Turkish troops into Europe - and in 1920, during the Battle of Warsaw, in which Polish troops defeated an advancing Bolshevik army.

jbh/kms (AP, AFP)

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