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George Weigel on Benedict XVI's Poland Trip

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"He Wants to Thank the Polish People"

WASHINGTON, D.C., MAY 16, 2006 (Zenit) - George Weigel has spent ample time in Poland, researching his famous biography on Pope John Paul II and leading seminars for students.

Recently, Weigel was the second non-Pole to receive the Gloria Artis Gold Medal, Poland's highest honor in recognition of contributions to Polish and world culture.

We turned to Weigel, a senior fellow who holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, to glean the significance of Benedict XVI's forthcoming trip to John Paul II's homeland.

Q: Pope Benedict XVI has not traveled extensively in his first year. Why do you think he has accepted an invitation to Poland?

Weigel: Pope Benedict is traveling as much as he thinks appropriate, given his age and his other commitments.

As for why he accepted an invitation to come to Poland, I expect that he wants to thank the Polish people for the gift of John Paul the Great -- and he may want to challenge Poland to take a leading role in the re-evangelization of Europe.

Q: What is the significance of the Pope traveling to places that were very important in Pope John Paul II's life, such as his birthplace in Wadowice and the shrine at Kalwaria?

Weigel: For Benedict to visit John Paul's hometown, Wadowice, as well as Kalwaria and Czestochowa, is a way to recognize, by way of his own pilgrimage, that the late Pope learned lessons in these places that were important for the entire world Church -- and still are today.

Q: What role do you think Benedict XVI believes Poland plays in European affairs?

Weigel: The Pope surely recognizes that Poland -- in addition to its stable democracy and its growing economy -- is home to an intact Catholic culture, at a time when the faith is dying in Europe and Europe is dying in part because of that.

I suspect that the Pope hopes that Poland's faith will help re-energize Catholic faith throughout "Old Europe," and that Poland will help resist the drift in the European Union toward imposed lifestyle libertinism -- what the Pope referred to the day before his election as the "dictatorship of relativism."

Q: What is the state of the Church in Poland? What are the challenges to the Church from prosperity and Western secularized culture?

Weigel: Many observers predicted a Polish Catholic meltdown -- similar to the meltdowns in Spain, Portugal and Ireland -- after the Revolution of 1989.

That hasn't happened. Polish Catholic practice remains intense, certainly the most intense in Europe.

As for challenges in the Polish Church, most thoughtful Polish Catholics I know believe the country needs a new injection of dynamic episcopal leadership if the Church is going to seize the culture-forming opportunities that lie before it.

Q: Do you expect the very high level of vocations to the priesthood to continue in Poland?

Weigel: Yes, at least for the immediate future.


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