In 1945 the Soviets seized control of Poland, imposing an atheistic Communist regime upon the nation. Although ninety percent of the people considered themselves Roman Catholics, the new government stripped the church of its legal status. It banned religious symbols from public places. For a few years in the early 1950s public display of crosses was allowed, only to be outlawed again.
With the rise of the Solidarity movement in the 1980s crosses began to reappear in schools--although not all had come down in the first place. The authorities saw the crosses as defiance of the government. Perhaps the church seemed threatening to them--any organization which preaches God cannot help but be the worst enemy of an atheistic state. As we now know, the authorities had reason to tremble. Polish Catholicism as much as any force brought down the Soviet system.
In 1983, the year Pope John Paul II visited his homeland and brought out millions of Poles to church rallies, the government felt a need to crack down. All crosses must come down from public buildings it declared.
One school alone obeyed. Others reasoned that the schools belonged to Poland and Poland is Catholic. Therefore the crosses should and would remain. "There is no Poland without the cross," said one priest, remembering Poland's 1,000 year history of Christianity.
Authorities sent riot police to the Staszic Agricultural College when two thirds of the students staged a sit-in to protest the removal of their seven crosses. Within days thousands of Polish students were involved in the demonstrations. On this day, the 8th of March, 1984 three thousand young students protested, waving crucifixes in the air.
The government tried to force parents of the Agricultural College seniors to sign forms acknowledging that schools are secular in nature. Otherwise the students would not be allowed to graduate they were told. Parents refused and the church applauded their determination. For many Poles, the church is more authoritative than the government.
The parent's stand was successful. Eventually the government retreated although holding to its premise that the schools are secular and shouldn't be allowed to display crosses.
Ultimately, even before the Communist regime was overthrown, the Communist regime permitted Bibles in the classroom. Evangelistic meetings were held openly. As has happened so many times since he walked on earth, Christ overcame the world.
- Chronicle of the Twentieth Century. New York: DK Multimedia, 1996.
- Hutten, Kurt. Iron Curtain Christians. Minneapolis, Missnesota, 1967 for background information.
- Kifner, John. "Student Protest Swells in Poland; Return of Crucifixes is Demanded." New York Times (March 9, 1984).
- Schuster, George Nauman. Religion behind the Iron Curtain. New York: Macmillan, 1954. for background information.
Last updated May, 2007.