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Polish church, state closer than ever on baptism anniversary

Poland this week marks 1,050 years since its `baptism`, considered its founding event, at a time when the state is closer than ever to the powerful Catholic Church which helped the conservatives return to power and is now reaping the benefits.

Warsaw: Poland this week marks 1,050 years since its `baptism`, considered its founding event, at a time when the state is closer than ever to the powerful Catholic Church which helped the conservatives return to power and is now reaping the benefits.

Close church-state ties date back to when the ruler Prince Mieszko I adopted Christianity on April 14, 966, a moment that has always been considered the founding event of the Polish state.

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

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

The conservatives are also funnelling their belief into political action in the devout country of 38 million people, where 90 percent of residents identify themselves as Roman Catholic -- even at the risk of courting problems.

PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski recently followed the example of the episcopate and backed a citizen`s bill tabled by anti-abortion activists to tighten the already restrictive law on the procedure.

He opted to endorse the proposal even though there is a high likelihood that the hot button issue will divide the public, including those in his own party, and serve to unite the government`s critics even more. "On these kinds of issues, as a Catholic I follow the teaching of the bishops," Kaczynski has said.

That comment received a scathing reply from Danuta Walesa, the wife of ex-president and Nobel Peace laureate Lech Walesa.

"I urge you to come to your senses. You don`t have children, you don`t have a wife," she said in an interview with private Radio Zet on Tuesday.

"What do you know about the life of bees, given that you don`t live in a beehive?"

Local media speculated that Kaczynski had sought to convince the archbishop to accept the current anti-abortion law -- which was considered a church-state compromise when passed in 1993 -- to avoid backlash over the issue.

But the church remained faithful to its doctrine and threw its weight behind the proposed abortion ban, and the PiS could only follow suit.

The citizen`s bill has not yet been taken up by parliament, but there is no shortage of other signs of the cosy relationship between church and state in Poland, namely that many official events end with a Catholic mass.

The government recently cut state funding for in vitro fertilisation (IVF), which the previous liberal administration had introduced despite staunch 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 -- a move meant to stymie foreigners -- but churches and religious associations would enjoy an exception. But Mikolejko told AFP he does not believe the relationship is symbiotic: "The PiS treats Catholicism like an instrument" and "practices its own religion, the religion of Smolensk, with pagan elements."

He was referring to the movement generated by the 2010 death of then president Lech Kaczynski -- Jaroslaw Kaczynski`s twin brother -- in a presidential jet crash in Smolensk, Russia that also killed 95 others.

Thousands show up to annual gatherings on the anniversary of the event that some Poles, and many PiS members, believe was a political assassination even though investigators blamed pilot error, poor weather and mistakes by air traffic control.

Poland will hold ceremonies marking its baptism anniversary in Wielkopolska, the west-central region that is the historical cradle of the Slavic nation.

The episcopate will meet for a plenary session on Thursday in Gniezno -- Poland`s first capital -- while on Saturday believers will gather at a stadium in Poznan for a performance of the rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar.

Even though ever fewer Poles are heading for the pews on Sunday, piety remains strong in the homeland of Saint John Paul II, who was the pontiff from 1978 until his death in 2005.

The nature-loving pope`s old kayak went on display at the Museum of Sport and Tourism in Warsaw on Monday. The so-called "Fat Bumblebee" boat is considered a relic.

From Zee News

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