Poland is acountry and freedom of religion is constitutionally ensured regardless of one’s faith so long as its practices do not harm others. The majority of Poles identify as Catholic Christians (87.2% as of 2012 est.). A further 1.3% and 0.4% identify as and Protestant Christians respectively. Roughly, 0.4% of the population are thought to belong to minority religions, the most significant being the small Jewish population. In the last census, only 2.4% of the population identified as “non-believers” (2011). Many Poles (both religious and non-religious) are , opposing to the influence of religious institutions in politics.
Catholicism in Poland
Affiliation to the Catholic Church has been central to Poland’s history and national identity. Catholicism prevailed during the turbulence of the 20th century, as Poland’s main rivals wereChristians (Russians) and Protestant Christians (Germans). Amidst invasion and persecution, most Poles remained loyal to the Catholic Church and sought solace and sanctuary in it. Despite communist efforts to promote in the post-war period, the church became a crucial institution as it was able to present an independent voice.
Many Catholic Poles’ opinions on ethical issues reflect those of the Church. In 2004, 83% of Polish respondents to a social attitudes survey said they largely approved of the Pope’s world views, ideas and conduct. A further 62% said that he was the biggest source influencing their personal opinions on important matters. However, today some have observed that the population is increasingly divided over ideological and religious questions, most notably the role of religion in public as well as private life.
Catholic Poles often mark their lives with the timestamps of seminal Catholic events: baptism, first communion, confirmation, weddings and funerals. People are quite conscious of their moral obligations and nobility, and the Catholic practice of confession is a well-recognised way of bestowing forgiveness on those who hold remorse. In a country with a deeply turbulent history, this has been a source of consolation for many. Roughly 90% of Polish children learn to confess in preparation for their first communion (2011 est.). Thus, the practice has become quite a familiar establishment even for those who are more religiously neutral in later life. It remains a source of comfort one can return to, giving people a ‘moral order’.
Another common custom among Polish families is ‘dzielenie oplatkiem’, which is the breaking and sharing of a thin white wafer. This usually happens at Christmas time. The wafer is thought to represent the body of Christ and is modelled off the same shape of altar bread used in church at communion.