Friday, August 13, 2010

Cross divides Poles on role of religion in public life

A cross erected in front of the presidential palace in the Warsaw for the late president Lech Kaczynski has sparked sharp debate in deeply Catholic Poland over the role of religion in the public life.

A recent attempt to move it has provoked high-pitched protests by both the supporters, who want it to stay put, and opponents, who believe the religious symbol should not stand in front of an equally symbolic secular state institution.

In a first in devoutly Catholic Poland, several thousand people rallied in Warsaw this week protesting against the religious symbol standing in a public space.

The mostly young demonstrators gathered around midnight Monday for the rally, organised on the Facebook social networking site where the "Akcja Krzyz" (Cross Action) group has drawn over 43,000 members.

"Its a new phenomenon. These young people are protesting against the church as an institution, not against religion per se," Polish sociologist Edmund Wnuk-Lipinski told AFP.

A day later, a thousand people rallied in Warsaw demanding the cross stay put in front of the presidential palace in honour of the victims of the April 10 crash of a Polish presidential jet in Russia that killed all 96 people on the board including Kaczynski, Poland's top military brass and the central bank governor among other Polish dignitaries.

According to an opinion poll issued this week by the independent SMG/KRC pollsters, 71 percent of Poles want the cross moved to a nearby church as agreed two weeks ago by the presidential palace, the archbishop of Warsaw and scouts groups.

Ironically, Poland's Catholic Church itself has called for the cross to be moved to a nearby church.

"To all those who pray at the cross, we must say that despite their good intentions they are being exploited for political purposes. We urge everyone to make the transfer of the cross possible," press secretary for the Polish Episcopate, Bishop Stanislaw Budzik, told reporters in Warsaw Thursday.

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