Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Bringing "the real Christ" to Polish Catholics

This story showed up in the ENI wire yesterday.
Evangelical group critical of Catholics launches drive in Poland
By Jonathan Luxmoore

Warsaw, 9 January (ENI)--A British-based organisation has
launched a mission to bring what it says is "the real Christ" to
Poland in response to shortcomings it sees in the country's
predominant Roman Catholic Church.

"Poland is a country in transition and it is at such times that
the door stands wide open for the Gospel," the European Christian
Mission (ECM) said in a press release on 1 January. "The death of
Pope John Paul II in 2005, coupled with rapid economic and
cultural change since Poland joined the EU, means that many of
the old certainties no longer prevail. Increased materialism and
secularisation present a huge opportunity."

The ECM was founded in 1904 and says it is active in 19 European
countries. It said the project, "Real Hope for Poland," would
distribute information material to 14 million Polish households.
It noted that the Next Generation Alliance of born-again
evangelist Luis Palau was backing the mission and appealed for
Evangelicals to provide funding and "short-term missionary

"For the great majority of Polish people, Jesus Christ has never
been more than a distant religious figure. He belongs on a cross
high above an altar or in a beautiful stained glass window, but
seems absolutely irrelevant to the everyday lives of ordinary
people," said the ECM.

Although Catholics make up about 90 percent of its 38.5 million
inhabitants, Poland is also home to around 150 registered
religious groups, including more than 70 Christian denominations.

Catholic leaders have expressed concern about the influence of
new and alternative religious groups, and have backed leaflet
campaigns against "sects" and "cults".

In January 2006, the Catholic Church threatened excommunication
for its faithful attending services of the breakaway Society of
St Pius X, or Lefebvrists, who run chapels in a dozen towns, as
well as a school in Warsaw. They often call themselves
traditional Catholics and support Mass services in Latin and
oppose attempts at modernising the church.

Separately, in October, Catholics were warned not to talk to
Jehovah's Witnesses, whose claimed 129 000 members make them
Poland's third largest religious community after the Catholic and
Orthodox churches.

"The Catholic Church was the rallying point for resistance to
Russian communism, but its popularity now drops every time it
flexes its political muscles, since it is accused of trying to
create a repressive religious state," asserted the ECM. Them
mission group runs a language school in Wroclaw with Poland's
Baptist church, as well as a "church-planting ministry" near

The Lutheran director of the Polish Ecumenical Council, grouping
the country's seven main minority Christian churches, told
Ecumenical News International he was aware of the ECM, but
stressed that the organisation had no links with the ecumenical
movement. "This isn't the kind of language we use here," said the
council's director, Andrzej Wojtowicz. [477 words]

Ecumenical News International
PO Box 2100
CH - 1211 Geneva 2

Tel: (41-22) 791 6088/6111
Fax: (41-22) 788 7244
Email: (Emphasis added)
I was reminded of a conversation with one of my seminarian brothers -- they were at a (largely Protestant attended) conference on missions, and had an intriguing conversation with a young lady who was heading to Poland to bring Christ to the people there!

There is no doubt that among some (many?) evangelicals, a traditionally Catholic country can be considered to not "really" know Christ. And the Catholic Church in Poland seems to be responding with the same kind of defensiveness that the Russian Orthodox seemed to react to the presence of Western missionaries after the collapse of Communism. In a time when the authority of the Church is diminished, I doubt that ukases from on high do much good. Better to learn how to compete, so to speak. And catechize the faithful as well -- read and study and internalized Scripture! A "personal relationship" with Christ ought to be at the heart of a well-formed Catholic!

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