St. Andrew Bobola (a 400-year-old corpse, lest it be forgotten) was not only undermining Communist anti-clericalism, he was now bringing together Catholic and Orthodox Christians, forgiving his oppressors in Christ and uniting the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches in the face of the evils of Communism.
Western European capitols have often felt the brunt of alienated immigrant mobs laying waste to civil society. While Poland is fortunately free of large, alienated migrant enclaves, it is not free of mobs, which can unfortunately be domestic as well as foreign. In fact, one of the most vulgar manifestations of mobs are the European phenomenon of “football fans”. The Polish strain lives up to the worst traditions of this homegrown, state-sponsored domestic barbarism, as both my wife and I witnessed this last Sunday.
May 30th was Corpus Christi, a religious holiday which is also a work holiday in this majority-Catholic country. This four day celebration of the Eucharist as initiated by the Belgian Saint Julianna coincided with a welcome boon of good weather and a Children’s Day festival at our local Parish. On Sunday, per the intentions of Pope Benedict XVI, as executed by Francis, every Church in the world was to celebrate with a special prayer. For this occasion, my wife and I made our way to Warsaw’s Old Town, which is possessed of some of the finer churches. During the prayers, just as the priest was reflecting on the importance of silence, and during the period immediately following, when the faithful were given the opportunity to practice prayerful silence, there came from beyond the walls of the Church that which C.S. Lewis characterized as the opposite of the Music of Heaven: the noise of Hell.
It was not so much the content of the chants, “Legia! Legia!” (the name of the victorious football club, fittingly called “legion”), as the tone of scream (for it could not be called a “voice” proper) that rendered the Satanic analogy proper. The football fans’ voices were full of the pride of the ignorant man who, realizing he is strong by force of number, lets out the belching primordial cry of the prototypical bully. Upon leaving Church, we noted that the Heavenly Father had done what He could to keep the tumult at bay–in other words, it was raining. Still, there was what looked like hundreds of hoodlums under the statue of Zygmunt, which is the entrance into Poland’s Old Town. From afar, we saw flares and heard the rat-tat-tat of a special kind of firecracker that is a hoodlum favorite: it is thrown like a grenade and makes a great explosive sound. As we walked towards the bus station, we saw a young hoodlum–probably 14 to 17 years old, attended by an adult hoodlum. The boy was scrawling graffiti on a public wall with his beer-wielding adult “guardian” looking on with an expression on his face that communicated “we own the city, we can do whatever we want”. Or, to put in in Dostoyevskian terms: “everything is permitted”.
Later, I read that police arrested 96 hoodlums, though I must say that there were no police officers around when we walked past the throng. Happily, we were apparently too far away to witness what the press later reported was a mass urination on the statue of Zygmunt. In American terms, this would be the equivalent of a crowd urinating on the Jefferson memorial—on the 4th of July. I add this last bit because that Sunday was no ordinary Sunday. It was the first day since 1938 that the remains of the Patron Saint of Poland, St. Andrew Bobola, were carried in procession through Warsaw.
St. Andrew Bobola was a 16th-century Jesuit, known for enjoying the drink, failing his seminary exams and staying with the sick and dying during a deadly bought of Plague. He was ultimately martyred for his faith. When his body was discovered four decades later, it had not undergone the normal process of bio-disintegration that is the fate of the majority of corpses. This fact, along with others, led to the formation of a religious cult around his person.
Centuries later, following the formation of the Soviet Union, the Communists captured St. Andrew’s coffin, which by that point no longer rested in territorial Poland. In a determined effort to “prove” the Catholic Church was lying about the miracle of St. Andrew’s preserved corpse, the Soviets removed the body from the coffin and made a public attempt at effecting its disintegration by tossing it about. Irritatingly for the Bolsheviks, St. Andrew’s body refused to disintegrate. In the end, the Soviet Union decided that the body would be exhibited nude in Moscow’s Museum of Hygiene as an exemplary model of what washing up will do for you.
St. Andrew’s corpse, however, once again frustrated Soviet intentions. It quickly became known among the people that St. Andrew was a martyr and the museum was overwhelmed by Soviet citizens coming to pray to him. Making matters worse for the Communists, the vast majority of Russians praying to St. Andrew were Russian Orthodox–the exact religion of those who had murdered St. Andrew for spreading the Catholic faith. Thus, St. Andrew (a naked, 400-year-old corpse, lest it be forgotten) was not only undermining Communist anti-clericalism, he was now bringing together Catholic and Orthodox Christians, forgiving his oppressors in Christ and uniting the Catholic and Russian Orthodox Churches in the face of the evils of Communism. This was apparently too much for the Soviets, who finally sold St. Andrew’s body to the Vatican under the condition that he not be returned to Poland. Thankfully, no U.N. treatises existed that would complicate human trafficking nor the sale of organs, and St. Andrew was returned to the Vatican. After canonizing St. Andrew, the Vatican applied the Christian Golden Rule of “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” towards the notoriously cheating Soviets and, reneging on their agreement with the Bolsheviks, shipped the body back to Poland, where it had already been credited with halting the Soviet invasion back in 1920.
By the time St. Andrew Bobola returned to Poland, where his body was given a ritual procession in the streets of Warsaw, it was 1938: the last year of Polish independence prior to the NAZI invasion and the fall of the II Republic. St. Bobola apparently returned to Poland just when the country would need him most. In 1944, as the NAZIs burned Warsaw to the ground while the Soviets looked on, executing hundreds of thousands of civilians en mass, St. Andrew survived the onslaught thanks to young boys who carried the corpse, in hiding and conspiration, from place to place, until the fighting let up.
Which brings us full circle, back to the hundreds of young boys–the “Football fans”—many of them of the same age as the youngsters who risked NAZI death squads to carry a 400 year old corpse to safety. The modern heirs of the boys who saved St. Andrew in 1944 were given a rare privilege: they lived in a free Poland and were in Warsaw on the Sunday morning when, for the first time since 1938, St. Andrew would be carried in procession across the city. One doubts whether this modern generation of young people even knew it, or—more importantly—whether it even meant anything to them if they did know. Certainly the teenage boy I witnessed vandalizing public property and his colleagues who merrily desecrated a statue of a Polish king showed themselves to be far, far removed from their peers who lived in 1944. Those young men were educated in a world that still understood the importance to national life of teaching history. Since a nation is an organic community composed of the living, the dead and the unborn, it can only survive when each generation knows the story of its forefathers, even if only in mythology.
True, Communism is largely to blame. The Communists systematically murdered the educated classes of post-war Poland and propagandized the survivors for five decades. But modern Poland is not without fault. It has spent the last six years building football stadiums and radically reducing the amount of history taught in schools to meet the morbidly low education standards of the European Union, which insists boys learn how to use a condom rather than learning about World War II. The result was on display in Warsaw the Sunday following Corpus Christi. It was a scene of football hooliganism that could have happened in any other European country. And that is both the point and the tragedy: for Poland is not “any other European country”. Each European country is unique, and certain things—for better or for worse—can only happen in Poland. Things like the Warsaw Uprising—something impossible for any of the other capitols occupied by Hitler during World War II. Things like Solidarity and the peaceful overthrow of Soviet Communism—something impossible for any other Soviet occupied capitol. Sadly, twenty five years of Western style pop culture, the enforcement of a dumbed-down egalitarian school curriculum by Western leaders in the EU and public policy which prefers expenditures on bread and circuses like football stadiums to investments in education (not to mention highways, which Poland still does not have) have all culminated in an historical illiteracy amongst a large portion of the younger generation in a nation. Poland has survived for 1,000 years not by force of arms or greatness of empire, but by the simple transmission of history from one generation to the next.
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The featured image is St. Andrew Bobola and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.