Tag Archives: polska

Critical Mass

Basilica of St. MaryTo hear Catholic Mass in one’s own language was, for centuries, impossible for the majority of Catholics. Vatican II changed all that, allowing Mass to be celebrated in the vernacular. As a result, Catholics worldwide hear the same Mass yet different sounds.

Poles in America experience a certain foreigners in the English Mass, regardless of the individuals’ fluency. This goes a long way in explaining the significance of the Polish Mass celebrated in Greenville today. A Polish priest, on loan from Polska, is stationed in Columbia, a mere hour-and-a-half from Greenville. After much persuasion, he came to a little church outside Greenville proper, and probably almost every Pole in a thirty-mile radius was there. The kids stood and knelt at the all the proper times, but being raised in the States, they didn’t know the hymns or the responses/prayers. They seemed lost. I would imagine that’s what they’re like visiting Poland as well: strangers in a land that sounds strangely familiar.

For me, it brought a smile. The first time I ever attended a Catholic Mass was in Poland, and Polish is, for me, the language of liturgy. From hearing alone, I know the prayers and formulations in Polish better than English.

Aside from the language, there are subtle and not-so-subtle differences. Poles still do the mea culpa in the Confiteor. “Moja moja, wina, moja wina, moja bardzo wielka wina,” all chant in the church, jabbing their thumb into their chest with each “moja wina.”

At the end of the Mass, he asked for a show of hands for a commitment to a monthly Polish Mass. Every hand in the church went up, including mine (after some prodding from K — I was simply absent-mindedly daydreaming about the oddity of hearing a Polish Mass after so many years).  Critical mass achieved, the priest then announced that there would, henceforth, be a monthly Polish Mass. Applause broke out, and it was then that the significance of the moment was clear. A bit of their heritage, their youth in Poland, their past given place right here in Greenville, home of Bob Jones University, one of the most virulently anti-Catholic institutions in America.

While I was living in Poland, the closest I ever got to getting a taste of my own culture was to drop into McDonald’s or watch the latest American blockbuster.

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Lions, Poles, and Japs! Oh My!

Several of my Polish friends spoke of having to re-learn some elements of history after the fall of Communism in the late 1980s. History (as well as art, music, the social sciences, and even the physical sciences) was dominated by ideology. Because Communism represented the pinnacle of human achievement, something “the masses” for centuries had been working for, it could not be wrong. It had become a religion, in that sense. And so the mistakes and crimes of the Soviet government were recast as wise planning that had been necessary; the achievements of capitalist countries (read: America and Western Europe) were due solely to capitalists’ deviousness, usually stealing the ideas from the honorable Socialists.

With the fall of the Soviet empire, it seemed that such nonsense would never happen again. Yes, well, it has. As Putin seeks to rebuild Russian strength, he’s turning to nationalism, stoking a pride in the achievements of Soviet Russia. This means recasting a few, unpleasant episodes in Soviet history. No worries, though: “We’ve done it before,” Russian media services must be thinking. “We can do it again.” And so youngsters in Russia will be learning “history” that’s a little different from, well, reality.

A few highlights:

  • The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was not an agreement with Nazi Germany to split Poland between the two of them. It was a defensive move, for Poland and Japan were planning a two-pronged attack on the Soviet Union. (Source)
  • World War II began when Germany attacked Russia in June 1941. The rape of Poland that began almost two years earlier was a defensive move, remember? (Source)
  • Stalin’s purges and mass murders were entirely rational and logical — for the good of the country. (Source)

The bottom line: Stalin is a hero who was defending the country from malicious outside influence and outright Polish/German aggression.

The temptation is to mutter something about this never happening in America, but of course it does. The whole premise behind Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States (Amazon) is just that. It’s a play on the maxim, “history is written by the winners,” which means the losers are misrepresented and underrepresented.

A few highlights:

  • America was founded as a Christian nation.
  • The rise of American power has always been a benign influence on the world.
  • American foreign policy has always been a beacon of reason and justice; America respects democracy worldwide.

Not all of these myths are taught or were taught in school, but they are spread evenly enough in our collective conscious (and conscience, possibly) that they might as well have been. And, to be fair to America, the notion that America was founded as a Christian nation is not all that morally repulsive (it only becomes so when one sees that believe in action); the notion that Stalin’s purges were ethically justifiable is completely morally repulsive.

But there is a level playing field now: thank God for the Internet, that beacon of tried and true information. It will surely save Russians and Americans alike from the national myths.

Source: the beatroot

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Hail Obama, Hail Mary

The Rev. Jay Scott Newman, parish priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church here in Greenville, writes on his blog about being Catholic in a decidedly evangelical region:

St. Mary’s Catholic Church is located less than five miles from the campus of Bob Jones University in the Buckle of the Bible Belt, a part of the world in which many Protestants still regard Catholicism as a pagan cult pretending to be a Christian Church or, at best, a fatally compromised version of the true Gospel. In such an environment, those who are casual, cultural, and cafeteria Catholics quickly become either ex-Catholics or Evangelical Catholics, and that is paradoxically one of the reasons why our congregation and many other Southern parishes are flourishing: the unique challenge for Catholics seeking to live their Christian faith in the South leaves no room for spiritual mediocrity, doctrinal confusion, uncertain commitments, or a lukewarm interior life. (Unexpected Catholicism)

What he said to a Greenville News reporter was sure both to unite and to alienate Evangelicals and Catholics. Hitting upon that common conservative Christian motif of “abortion is the greatest evil on the planet today” and Democrats are evil because they support it, Newman suggested Catholics who voted for Obama might not be fit to receive communion:

The priest at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in downtown Greenville has told parishioners that those who voted for Barack Obama placed themselves under divine judgment because of his stance on abortion and shouldn’t receive Holy Communion until they’ve done penance. (GreenvilleOnline.com)

The Greenville Times is even putting it on the front page, so to speak:


This is reminiscent of the calls in 2004 not to give communion to pro-choice Catholic candidates (read: John Kerry). CBS News explained it thusly:

It is unclear if pressure from the Boston archbishop will prevent Sen. John Kerry from taking communion this Easter Sunday in his home city because of the Democratic nominee’s support for abortion.

Amid questions of how Catholic leadership will respond to the pro-choice senator, Kerry’s archbishop — Boston’s own Sean O’Malley — has refused to clarify a statement last summer that pro-choice Catholics are in a state of grave sin and cannot take communion properly. (CBS)

Newman’s letter itself is here.

What next? People who are friends of voters who voted for candidates who are pro-choice have to get aboslution? Parishoners who touch dogs of friends who have friends who have friends who heard about someone who voted for Obama must confess?

This kind of blatantly political crap should be just cause for revoking a church’s tax exempt status.

Yet a few commenters put it in perfect perspective:

  • I am confused. Rev. Newman forgives John McCain for his sin of adultery; he forgives Sarah Palin for her sin of fornication and for raising a child to be a fornicator. On the other hand, he opposes a family man.
  • Maybe the priest should refrain from taking communion until the Roman Catholic Church does enough penance for it’s willful coverup of well over 10,000 child sexual abuse cases for decades.
  • This is the reason why the Catholic Church has no credibility what-so-ever.
  • Sorry Father. I am a practicing Catholic who attends mass each week at your Church. This election was multi-dimensional. I abhor abortion, but there were so many more issues involving human lives at stake last Tuesday. By the way, the headline of this week’s Catholic Miscellany, which you sent me reads “Pope Congratulates Obama on Election Win.” In the article, Pope Benedict says an awful lot of nice things about President-Elect Obama. Did you clear your opinion with Rome?
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Rainy Homophobia

I’m sitting in our virtually empty apartment, which won’t be appended with “our” from Monday, I guess. I left the computer here so I’d have something to do during the long break. I’ve got an hour and a half now, it’s raining like crazy, with temperatures below 15 Celsius, and I’m not sure what to write about.

I could write about the attention homosexuality is getting in Poland these days, thanks to a canceled gay pride parade in Warsaw. Parade organizers didn’t fulfill all the obligations for a march, said Warsaw mayor Lech Kaczyński’s office. For example, they didn’t submit a plan for how to re-route traffic in the march area, and they didn’t pay to compensate for the money busses would lose by avoiding the parade route. Now if this had been a march for Polish veterans, I’m sure Kczyński’s office would have been over backwards to help parade organizers. But concerning gay pride, there’ll be no bending in this country — sexual innuendo very much intended.

Last night, on a Cross-Fire type show, they were discussing the march. Some of the homophobes there were just amazing — they take this whole thing very personally. If you don’t want to see a gay pride parade, don’t watch. But of course the priest on the panel was talking about how “statistically” the “gay lifestyle” is harmful. Seventy percent of people with AIDs are gay; most pedophiles are gay pedophiles (or some ridiculous generalization like that); and so on. The priest actually said, “The homosexual lifestyle is a road to death.”

The parade organizer criticized the church, saying “Catholic” and “Fascist” in the same sentence. He now faces a lawsuit for saying that. In public, no less.

Of the people on the discussion panel, guess which ones were virtually foaming at the mouth at times? The homophobes, of course.

During the course of the show, there was a survey: Is there a problem with homophobia in Poland? Fifty-one percent said yes. Tomasz Lis, the host, commented on the station’s web site, though, the results were opposite: fifty-one percent said no.

Yes, I could write about homophobic Poland, but I don’t want to.

I could write about the weather. But what for? How much can I write about rain? It’s ridiculously cold, too. The temperature the last few days has topped out in the low 50’s. About ten days, it was literally forty degrees warmer. So the weather is not a good topic either.

Moving — there’s something. Packing so many boxes for shipping has made Kinga and me experts with tape. But who wants to read about taping?


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A Letter

My name is [GS] and I have an account with Plus GSM. In order to prove my identity, I offer the following information:

  • My telephone number is [deleted].
  • My account number is [deleted].
  • The account address is [deleted].
  • My parents’ first names are [deleted].
  • Lastly, I’m including a photocopy of my passport, which you have on file as well.

I am writing about two things. First, I would like the billing address changed for the remainder of my contract to: [deleted]

I called customer service and was informed that I can do this through the mail. I trust this is sufficient.

Second, I am declaring that I have no intention of renewing the contract. Do not renew it automatically. I realize that you want this done thirty days before the expiration of the contract, but I will be in America at that time and will be in no position to contact you. Not only that, but it is unreasonable to expect me to keep track of a cell phone contract that I will not even be using personally. Therefore, I am making the request now. Please bear in mind that if you do renew the contract against my wishes, as expressed here, the bills will go unpaid.

I must confess, though, that I’m very disappointed with your customer service and the ridiculous inability to perform such simple tasks by phone or internet. In addition, the 30-day-before time requirement for canceling the account is outrageous, and is nothing but an immoral attempt to trick unwitting customers into another contract, leaving them with the choice of continuing in an unwanted contract or paying an unjustifiably high cancellation penalty. As a company in an EU nation, you really should bring your customer service up to an appropriate level.

I appreciate your attention in this matter. Please send the appropriate confirmation to the above address.

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It seems all I do is complain about Poland lately. But the truth is, I’m not the only one.

Many people here feel that the country is in bad shape, due primarily to corruption, and only getting worse.

There are so many wonderful things about this country — it’s a shame that the most visible thing for me and many is the negative.

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Health Care in Poland

is a joke.

To begin with, there’s no private insurance to speak of because its’ too expensive. Insurance in general is expensive here. Almost no one here has his car insured against theft. Considering the fact that an inexpensive new car would cost me twenty months’ of my salary, that’s ridiculous.

There is free public health care for everyone, but that’s only in theory. In practice, a lack of physicians and a lack of motivation (i.e., low salary) on the part of practicing physicians mean long waits for appointments (a matter of months sometimes) and ineffective services.

When you visit a doctor in a public clinic in Poland, you probably won’t be asked many questions. The doctor will get his pittance no matter how well he serves you, so he’d just as soon send you on your way so he can get through the multitude of patients he has for the day. A cursory glance, a question or two, and then whip out the prescription pad.

Not only that, but supplies are non-existent. You have to go buy your own anti-toxin, for example, if you step on a nail. If you’re coming in for an extended stay in the hospital (i.e., to give birth), you have bring your own toilet paper. And so on.

So public health care is dismal. If you want to get better, you go to a private clinic — and pay.

Personal case in point: I had throat problems a couple of years ago. Several visits to laryngologist working at the public hospital produced few results. One visit to a private laryngologist all but solved the problem. The difference: she didn’t just jot down a prescription after a cursory glance at my throat. She performed a detailed examination, with lots of questions, then provided not just a prescription, but a regimen for throat care.

The problem is pay — or lack thereof. Doctors are flooding out of Poland, mainly to Scandinavia.

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The Shot

Kinga stepped on a rusty nail Saturday. Never mind how — that’s a story in and of itself.

This is not the story of the rusty nail, but of getting the tetanus shot.

We went to the local health clinic, only to find that they didn’t have any anti-toxin for tetanus shots. “You’ll have to go to Nowy Targ,” which is about thirty minutes away.

We got to the hospital in Nowy Targ, got Kinga registered, and waited. Within a few moments, someone took Kinga back to some room. In the meantime, I wandered about the waiting room, reading this and that. There was an article in the local paper, enlarged to the point of exaggeration, which reported that the Nowy Targ hospital had been ranked in the top 100 in Poland — number 69 to be exact. I scanned the article — boring — and then sat back down.

Kinga emerged a few minutes later rubbing her arm and holding a slip of paper.

“That was fast,” I thought. “Kudos to the NT hospital for fast service.”

“We have to go to the pharmacy,” she said.

“What for?” I asked.

“They don’t have anti-toxin either. I have to buy it myself.”


Tatical Nuclear Theater Ticket Stike

In Moscow, Putin pissed off Poland. How? By failing to mention Poland’s tragic victimhood in the Second World War. Poles were infuriated. But the president of the republic said nothing — he was a perfect politician.

In cafes and bars, plans for a strategic nuclear strike were drawn up and then abandoned with the realization that Poland doesn’t have nukes. The thought of using the forty-eight F-16 fighters in a mass attack was also abandoned because, well, they haven’t been delivered yet, and the fighter is rather ill-suited for bombing runs.

In the end, Poles did what they could — the one voice of protest and ill-will Poles could manage: they gave back their theater tickets. In Warsaw, a Russian dance troupe was scheduled to perform. Virtually all the tickets were returned.

Counter-strike, thought Putin. Now, instead of coming to Poland for a ceremony celebrating the end of the Second World War, he’s sending the a henchman.

Russia’s actions are widely seen here as a gigantic, Slavic middle finger extended in Poland’s general direction. I’ve wondered what the Russian interpretation of all this is, but since I don’t know Russian, I’m left imagining. The old master-and-servant mentality? Colony and colonizer? I don’t know.

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Everyone is so sad now, as if they’ve literally lost their father. But what kind of respect are you showing that father if you don’t follow his example, if you don’t live up to his one single requirement (rather, expectation/hope) of everyone — respect each other? Poles go on and on about how John Paul will be “John Paul the Great,” only the third such pope to get that posthumous title, but so many of them don’t do what this great man said.

There’s so much corruption in Poland that it’s not even funny any more. The evening news could easily be turned into a game show: “Guess The Today’s Scandal!” Priests are rich, the poor are getting poorer, and the unemployment level is not improving. They build beautiful new churches, but there aren’t quality roads in the country, not to mention a complete lack of highways.

I sometimes wonder if Poland is so sad simply because they’ve lost a hero, not because they’ve lost a spiritual leader. Sure, some of them are truly saddened by the spiritual aspect of it, but judging from the number of people who actually follow JP2’s example, it’s a minority.

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