Leaders of Poland's Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant churches have expressed their regret for past mistakes at an ecumenical service attended by five European presidents.Addressing thousands of worshipers March 12 in Gniezno, in western Poland, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, leader of the Catholic Church in Poland, said that Catholics would only enjoy "freedom and happiness" through "authentic penance and genuine service." Catholics had, he added, "too often humiliated their neighbors and haughtily placed themselves in a better light than reality."At the same service, the head of Poland's Lutheran minority, Bishop Jan Szarek, said Protestants should apologize for "distorting consciences by too often calling evil good." And Metropolitan Sawa, leader of Poland's 570,000-member Orthodox church, said that Orthodox Christians had also succumbed to "egoism and illegitimacy," as well as "indifference to those who suffer."The church leaders were speaking in St Wojciech's Catholic Cathedral, in central Gniezno, during their church's first jointly-organized service. The presidents of Poland, Germany, Lithuania, Slovakia and Hungary attended the historic gathering, which took place on the same day as a service of penance in Rome, during which Pope John Paul II expressed regret for the mistakes committed by the "children" of the church.The Gniezno service was organized to mark one-thousandth anniversary of the Gniezno Congress in the year 1000 at which the German Emperor Otto III recognized the Polish state of King Boleslaw the Bold, and approved the creation of the first Polish archdiocese.Preaching in Gniezno, the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, said that Roman Catholics wished to promote "justice, love and solidarity" through a "common effort with other churches and church communities." The presidents' attendance at the service signaled a readiness by state leaders to build a "united Europe, spiritually strengthened and deeply entwined with Christian tradition," the cardinal added.However, Christians could "renew society and the world" only when they "recognized their own sins and invoked God's mercy," Cardinal Sodano said.The Gniezno commemoration was the latest in a series of acts of reconciliation by Polish church leaders, who agreed in January to mutual recognition of church baptism. In a joint statement, the church leaders said they had come together in fulfillment of the Pope's call to celebrate the millennium "if not reconciled, then at least close to unity," and wished to "return to the undivided Christianity which Poland accepted 1,000 years ago."Speaking in a televised debate to mark the Gniezno celebrations, Slovakia's president, Rudolf Schuster, said churches had been the first to pledge support when he declared 2000 a "year of national reconciliation" across his country."We can achieve this thanks to Christianity," President Schuster continued, "just as we did 1,000 years ago when the Poles were accepted as a Christian nation with a place in Europe's future."However, President Johannes Rau of Germany, a leading Protestant layman, warned that Europeans no longer shared a single "Christian vision.""In most countries, believers are in the minority, and the majority doesn't uphold a Christian model of the person—so we need European values which are not linked to religious beliefs," President Rau said. "We cannot expect some new church superstructure to be extended over our continent. Instead, the most urgent task in coming years will be a dialogue between cultures and religions."Speaking after the ecumenical service in Gniezno, Henryk Paprocki, spokesman for Poland's Orthodox church, said he believed the commemoration would "signal significant changes" in the "functioning and activity of churches in Poland.""Three Christian traditions—Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant—have met and spoken with one voice," Paprocki told Poland's Catholic Information Agency (KAI). "This unprecedented event tells us the year 2000 will really be a turning point in relations between Christians."However, the commemoration was criticized by a leading Roman Catholic theologian, Michal Czajkowski, who said it had diverted attention from the Pope's act of penance in Rome. "There was supposed to be a 'penitential celebration in dioceses and parishes'," Professor Czajkowski told a daily newspaper here, Gazeta Wyborcza. "Instead, our eyes were turned on Gniezno, and this important and beautiful commemoration—fortunately with some penitential accents—released us from other festivities. It's easier to rejoice at 1,000 years of statehood than apologize for 2,000 years of sinfulness."Copyright © 2000 Ecumenical News International. Used with permission.
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