For more than a thousand years, the Catholic Church has been interwoven into Poland’s cultural and political fabric, occupying a prominent role at the center of Polish life. For many Poles, being Catholic is part of the national identity, a defining characteristic that separates them from Lutheran Germany to the west, and the Orthodox countries to the east. Recently, however, there has been a marked shift.
The loyalty to and support for the Catholic Church has dropped as more and more people are developing a secular outlook characteristic of the more secular western European nations. Over the course of Poland’s turbulent history, the Catholic Church remained a cultural guard and the last stronghold in the fight for independence and national survival. During the Communist regime following World War II, the Church became a pulpit for anti-communist intellectuals and an infrastructure for the country’s working-class dissidents. The 1978 election of Polish Cardinal Karol Wojtyla as Pope John Paul II, strengthened the political role of the Church and the Pope’s numerous visits to Poland became rallying points for those supporting as much as for those opposing the Soviet regime.
More than 20 years after the collapse of the Soviet Bloc, opinion polls indicate that Poles, 95 percent of whom declare themselves Catholic, now place more trust in the army and in the once-despised police than they do in their church. And 71 percent think the church has too much influence in public life, with only 3 percent saying it should have more. I grew up in Poland when it was an almost uniformly Catholic country. My hometown, Czestochowa, is a national shrine to Virgin Mary. This is why the question of faith is particularly important to me. Witnessing secular tendencies not only in Western Europe but also in the major Polish cities, I wanted my project to document the absolute faith that is now disappearing.
The faith free from politics, open to the experience of the sacred, honest and spontaneous. I was less interested in documenting the sites of cult and religious practices than in capturing the transcendent aspect of faith with all its sensualism and the deep, unwaning need for spiritual experience.