When it comes to religion, there are now “two worlds” in Poland, according to a report published Tuesday offering a snapshot of Polish Catholicism today.
The “Church in Poland 2023” report, unveiled at a Sept. 26 press conference in the Polish capital, Warsaw, highlighted stark differences between Poles under 40 and those over 50, with those in their 40s forming an intermediate group.
A summary of the report, which was prepared by the Polish Catholic news agency KAI in cooperation with the Institute for the Legacy of Polish National Thought (IDMN), said that a “weakening of faith” was particularly evident in the younger generation.
“While in the older generation, we still have high rates of identification with the Church and declarations of belief in God (88%), the middle generation has already seen some weakening of faith, while the young generation is quite different,” it said.
KAI’s president Marcin Przeciszewski commented: “We have a big difference when it comes to religious practices. The older generation is faithful to them. Meanwhile, the younger generation is divided almost in half: Those who believe and those who distance themselves from the Church.”
The report, which is issued annually, noted that the number of people describing themselves as regular practitioners of the faith had fallen by more than a third in the past two decades.
According to Poland’s Institute for Catholic Church Statistics (ISKK), the proportion of Poles attending Sunday Mass has fallen from 47% at the turn of the millennium to 28% today.
The report summary suggested that the decline in religious practice among young people was so severe that “one can even speak of a disruption of the intergenerational transmission of faith, which until now has been one of the hallmarks of Polish identity.”
It said that the phenomenon was also seen in a drop in vocations to the priesthood and religious life. In the year 2000, 6,800 candidates were enrolled in diocesan and religious orders’ seminaries. But by the start of 2023, that number had fallen to 1,900.
Yet the report also showed that, despite the attrition, Polish Catholics continued to make a significant contribution both to Poland and the wider world.
It said that the Catholic Church offers more services to the needy in Poland than any other institution except the state. It does this through an extensive Caritas network that offers assistance to people who are poor, sick, disabled, unemployed, and struggling with addiction.
Every single parish in Poland is involved in some way in helping Ukraine war victims. Caritas has aided roughly 2 million Ukrainian refugees.
There are currently 1,743 Poles serving as missionaries in 99 countries worldwide. They are mainly located in Latin America (especially Brazil, Bolivia, and Argentina) and Africa (particularly Cameroon, Zambia, and Tanzania). There are also around 1,000 Poles providing pastoral care in former Soviet Union countries.
Despite plunging numbers of seminarians, the total number of priests is at its highest level. The 34,700 priests — a figure that includes members of religious orders and clergy posted abroad — serve 10,352 parishes in 45 dioceses.
Meanwhile, the number of new communities in the Church has reportedly increased by half over the past 25 years. The biggest groups include the Living Rosary Association, the Light-Life Movement and the Domestic Church, the Renewal in the Holy Spirit, Catholic Action and the Catholic Youth Association, the Third Orders and the Neocatechumenal Way. Men’s groups are increasingly active.
The report also highlighted a rise in new evangelization initiatives. Alongside established events such as youth meetings at Lednica in west-central Poland, there are growing numbers of participants in Three Kings parades, Christian music festivals, and the “Extreme Way of the Cross,” which involves a 25-mile night walk alone or in small groups.
The “Church in Poland 2023” report said that almost 27,000 Poles — 16,100 female and 10,700 male — are members of institutes of consecrated life.
Although the number of people in consecrated life in Poland has fallen by a quarter over the past 25 years, the number of monastic works has increased eightfold, the report said. The works include charitable, educational, and publishing activities.
Poland will gain a new cardinal at the Sept. 30 consistory in St. Peter’s Basilica: Cardinal-elect Grzegorz Ryś, the Archbishop of Łódź and a strong proponent of the new evangelization.