At the close of World Youth Day in Rio de Janeiro, Pope Francis announced that the next WYD (to be held in 2016) would be in Kraków, the home of Bl. John Paul II (soon to be canonized April 27, 2014). I hope to make the pilgrimage there with my oldest son, and when we go, I hope that I will be able to take him to Nowa Huta (literally, “New Steel Mill”), the model Soviet town, intentionally built without a church.
Nowa Huta is the story of what happens when society or government attempts to deny the existence of God, thinking it can disrupt man’s desire for God, which “…is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God; and God never ceases to draw man to himself. Only in God will he find the truth and happiness he never stops searching for.” (CCC, para. 27).
In George Weigel’s biography on John Paul II, Witness to Hope, he describes Nowa Huta as:
“…the model workers’ town-without-a-church built by the communists on the outskirts of Kraków… Nowa Huta’s apartment blocks were aptly described as human filing cabinets, and the cabinets were deliberately designed to keep the files separated. Churches, places for communities independent of the regime, had no place in Nowa Huta… The great symbol of the struggle for Nowa Huta’s soul was the building of what became known as the ‘Ark Church,’ which arose from the field in the Bienczyce neighborhood where Wojtyla had celebrated Christmas midnight Mass since 1959.” (Id., 189-190).
The Poles persisted in their faithful refusal to leave Nowa Huta without its church. For years, masses were said in the open air, on makeshift altars, in the rain, in the snow, in the heat of summer. People stood through services. People knelt in the grass and dirt. People walked to that field on a hill from miles away. Crosses would reappear whenever the Soviets removed them. God exists, He desires relationship with us, and we with Him, and the full might of the Soviet Union was powerless against this Truth, contributing to its own end.
According to Weigel, in his homily for the dedication Mass, Cardinal Wojtyla “…put a new definition on the model workers’ town. ‘This is not a city of people who belong to no one,’ the cardinal insisted, ‘of people to whom one may do whatever one wants, who may be manipulated according to the laws or rules of production and consumption. This is a city of the children of God… This temple was necessary so that this could be expressed, that it could be emphasized…” (Id., 190).
After being elected Pope, the Soviets attempted to prevent him from including Nowa Huta on the official itinerary. At the homily from his visit to the Shrine of the Holy Cross at Mogila on June 9, 1979, Bl. John Paul II said:
Let us go together, pilgrims, to the Lord’s Cross. With it begins a new era in human history. This is the time of grace, the time of salvation. Through the Cross man has been able to understand the meaning of his own destiny, of his life on earth. He has discovered how much God has loved him. He has discovered, and he continues to discover by the light of faith, how great is his own worth. He has learnt to measure his own dignity by the measure of the Sacrifice that God offered in his Son for man’s salvation: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16).
Even if times change, even if what was once countryside near Krakow has given way to the emergence of a huge industrial complex, even if we are living in an age of dizzy advances in the natural sciences and equally amazing advances in technology, nevertheless the truth about the life of the human spirit, which is expressed by means of the Cross, knows no decline, is always relevant, never grows old.
The history of Nowa Huta is also written by means of the Cross—first by means of the ancient Cross of Mogila, the heritage of centuries, and then by means of the other Cross, the new one, which has been raised close by. Where the Cross is raised, there is raised the sign that that place has now been reached by the Good News of Man’s salvation through Love. Where the cross is raised, there is the sign that evangelization has begun. Once our fathers raised the Cross in various places in the land of Poland as a sign that the Gospel had arrived there, that there had been a beginning of the evangelization that was to continue without break until today. It was with this thought also that the first Cross was raised in Mogila, near Krakow, near Stara Huta.
The new wooden Cross was raised not far from here at the very time we were celebrating the Millennium. With it we were given a sign that on the threshold of the new millennium, in these new times, these new conditions of life, the Gospel is again being proclaimed. A new evangelization has begun, as if it were a new proclamation, even if in reality it is the same as ever. The Cross stands high over the revolving world.
Today, before the Cross of Mogila, the Cross of Nowa Huta, let us give thanks for the new beginning of evangelization that has been brought about here. And let us all pray that it may be as fruitful as the first evangelization—indeed, even more fruitful.
From the Cross of Nowa Huta began the new evangelization, the evangelization of the second Millennium. This church is a witness and confirmation of it. It arose from a living awareness and responsible faith and must continue to serve that faith.
I wish to visit Nowa Huta, because going there is to be a pilgrim to the place where, in the words of Bl. John Paul II the “new evangelization has begun”. This is a place where we as Catholics can look for assurance that God will triumph over any attempt to deny the dignity of man and God’s supreme providence over all.
As we observe our own American government moving incrementally toward the perilous edge of abrogating our religious liberty, Nowa Huta serves as an excellent reminder that the Church has seen the beginning and end of many empires. There is no divine guarantee that any human institution will survive through the ages, except the Church: “…thou art Peter, and it is upon this rock that I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt. 16:18). No power can successfully deny God. No force can prevent man’s desire for Him.
I suspect, though the official schedule is far from being announced, that in making a pilgrimage to Nowa Huta, we might encounter a few other people doing the same, including His Holiness Pope Francis. The cross is raised.
Blessed John Paul II, pray for us!