The new head of Poland's Lutheran church has said his exposure to religious tensions in the north of the country, where he has spent much of his life, will help him work for better ecumenical relationships.

"Northern Poland has for centuries been home to a confessional and national division—the border between Protestant Mazury and Catholic Warmia [two regions in the north-east which together form one of Poland's 16 provinces] has often been uncrossable," Bishop Janusz Jagucki, head of the Evangelical Church of the Augsburg Confession in Poland, told ENI. The church's headquarters are in Warsaw, the Polish capital.

But he added that since the end of communism much had been done to "overcome religious stereotypes. Today it is simply not acceptable to divide and classify people according to their religious or national identity."

The 53-year-old clergyman was describing his priorities as the new presiding bishop of his church, which, with 92,000 members, is Poland's biggest Christian denomination after the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

The bishop told ENI that Poland had been a "multi-ethnic country" in previous centuries, but the communists had "re-ignited religious antagonisms" after the Second World War as part of a "divide-and-rule" policy.

"The example of northern Poland creates a warning, as well as an obligation for church and state to work together," the bishop said. "Today our church gives pastoral care to everyone who wishes it, irrespective of their nationality. We are open, hospitable and ecumenically active."

A native of Poland's economically depressed Mazury region, where his father was also a Lutheran pastor, he headed a parish at Gizycko from 1976, while also administering three others in Elk and Suwalki. ...

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