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Like Pope Francis, Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski is charismatic and easily mingles with the faithful, including those living on the margins of the Church. Yet he is also a deeply orthodox culture warrior unafraid of vocally expressing unpopular truths. In December, he was appointed as Archbishop of Krakow and on January 28th, this past Saturday, his installation Mass took place in Wawel Cathedral.
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Home to 1.5 million baptized Catholics, the Archdiocese of Krakow is arguably one of the most important sees not only in Europe but in the universal Church as well. It is certainly vibrant. Each year on a Sunday in October, the Catholic bishops of Poland conduct a “counting of the faithful.” In each of the country’s more than 10,500 parishes, altar boys count the number of faithful present at Mass. According to the most recent such study, 39.8% of Polish Catholics nationwide attended Mass, while 17% received Holy Communion (the latter statistic is lower because the notion that one cannot receive the Eucharist in a state of mortal sin before seeking the Sacrament of Penance is still prevalent in Poland). The Archdiocese of Krakow’s statistics were significantly above the national average, at 52.2% and 19.2%, respectively. In the Diocese of Tarnow, a suffragan diocese of Krakow, the results were an impressive 70.5% and 24.8%, which likely makes it one of the most devout dioceses in the world (and probably the most pious in Europe).
However, the greatest significance of the Archdiocese of Krakow to the universal Church is that between 1962 and 1978 it was headed by Cardinal Karol Wojtyła, who on October 16, 1978 was elected Pope John Paul II and whose more than quarter-century-long pontificate would transform the Church in so many ways. Many of his important contributions to the universal Church had their root in Krakow. For example, World Youth Day was inspired by Karol Wojtyła’s youth ministry at St. Florian’s parish. It was in Krakow that Karol Wojtyła first became acquainted with the writings of St. Teresa of Avila, which inspired him so deeply that he considered becoming a Carmelite. During the German occupation of Poland, Wojtyła was an actor in the Rhapsodic Theater, which sought to oppose the occupier by promoting Polish culture. It was then that the future pope honed his numerous talents as an actor, which proved useful when he would bring the Gospel to more people than anyone since St. Paul. Meanwhile, it was in Krakow and especially his hometown of Wadowice where Karol Wojtyła had Jewish friends; later, as pope, John Paul II would revolutionize the Church’s relationship with Judaism through a series of truly historic words and gestures.