Poland’s church, government mark Christianity anniversary

GNIEZNO, Poland (AP) — Poland’s bishops on Thursday opened religious and political celebrations that mark 1,050 years of Christianity in Poland with a debate on its significance for the nation.

The church and the conservative government jointly organized the three-day ceremonies that opened Thursday in the western town of Gniezno, considered to be the cradle of Poland’s Catholicism.

Government members want the ceremonies to stress that Poland’s Catholic identity ties the nation to Western culture and values, especially now when the European Union is criticizing its policies.

Early in the day, the bishops debated Catholicism in the nation where some 90 percent of residents declare themselves as Catholics, and where the late pope, St. John Paul II, came from. They also discussed Pope Francis’ meeting with world youth in southern Poland in July, and Europe’s refugee crisis, a communique said.

At later outdoor prayers in rain, Poland’s primate, Archbishop Wojciech Polak, said that the event led to the growth of the “spirit of ecumenical freedom and tolerance. There were no wars between denominations. There was their creative coexistence.”

The Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin will read a message from Francis, in the presence of President Andrzej Duda at a Mass later Thursday at Gniezno’s 10th-century cathedral, which holds an ornate silver coffin with the relics of St. Adalbert, a Czech 10th-century monk who preached Christianity in Poland.

Duda will address a special session of lawmakers and senators on Friday.

Poland’s Prince Mieszko I was baptized in Gniezno around the year 966, chroniclers say.

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