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October 1998

Poland's Radio Maria broadcasts daily to a domestic audience ofseveral million as well as to millions of listeners worldwide via satellite. A recent phenomenon which rivals America's EWTN miracle, its inspirational Redemptorist founder, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, is as irrepressible as Mother Angelica and just as detested by the liberals. The neo-Communist nouveaux riches fear the potent combination of Radio Maria's independence and Catholic orthodoxy - which autonomy allows Fr. Rydzyk to to warn his vast audience against transplanting laissez-faire Western Catholicism into Poland. His traditional spirituality and outspoken Catholic treatment of moral and social issues - like abortion, the New Age threat and religious syncretism - have established him as a true hero of the masses while setting him squarely against the pseudo-elite.

Radio Maryja
Hope For Poland

GRZEGORZ KUCHARCZYK

IT is nearly ten years since the collapse of Communism in Poland. Many Poles consider that one of the few things during that time which has proved successful and about which they can rejoice is Radio Maria (Maryja in Polish).

On the 8th December, 1991, Polish listeners heard announced for the first time: "This is Radio Maria. A Catholic voice in your homes." The idea of creating a nationwide Catholic radio station and its realisation is to be ascribed entirely to Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, CSsR.

Radio Maria is often described as a miracle. Indeed, it came out of nowhere and its rapid growth astonished and is still astonishing many people. It is true that there are several Catholic radio stations in Poland none of which have the nationwide range of transmission enjoyed by Radio Maria, but in my opinion this is not the main factor responsible for the success of Father Rydzyk's station. The cause of its enormous (and still growing) popularity in Poland lies first of all in its unequivocal and uncompromising devotion to God and to the nation.

RELIGIOUS ASPECT

When the idea of creating Radio Maria came to Father Rydzyk, he was asked by one of his future collaborators (a trifle perplexed by the audacity of the initiative) how they were to start the radio. Came the swift response: "Well, we will begin with the Sign of the Cross and then there will be daily prayer, the Holy Mass and the Rosary." Father Rydzyk kept his word. Radio Maria is not only talking about prayer, is not only analysing it (as is the case, I presume, with the majority of Catholic stations in Poland and elsewhere) but is practising it. Each day the radio programme begins with the Our Father, Hail Mary, Credo and Ten Commandments followed by the transmission of Holy Mass.

One of the main features of the religious side of the radio is its fervent devotion to the Mother of God. It is indeed Her radio station. The Angelus is said three times a day (at 6, 12 and 1800), a special prayer to the Immaculate Conception of Mary is also sung each morning and all three Mysteries of the Rosary are said daily (morning, afternoon and night).

It needs to be pointed out that all these prayers (including breviary prayers which are also recited) are said not only by the priests working on the radio but in constant contact with the listeners who join in the praying by phone. I have heard many people overwhelmed with joy and thanking God that they were finally able to get through and say a prayer on air. The Rosary is especially popular. Whole families from every corner of Poland phone in to say the Rosary. There is a very real feeling that one is part of a community united in prayer to God and His Mother. That is true Catholicity!

When asked how he came upon the idea of creating Radio Maria, Father Rydzyk answered that during his priestly work in Germany he chanced upon a postcard with the following caption: "If you want to get to the source of the river, you have to go against the current." The saying not only points to the painstaking circumstances of the radio's beginnings but also to Father Rydzyk's firmness and certainty in overcoming unjust criticism. As he often says: obstacles put before Radio Maria are proof that it is Her radio station, since Satan does his level best to destroy it.

Radio Maria is truly Polish radio. Like the vast majority of the faithful in Poland it almost instinctively clings to the Mother of God. Our Lady, Queen of Poland, is believed to be the safest bulwark against all the spiritual and material dangers that can befall Poland. Father Rydzyk and the Radio share this belief of the little ones who indeed believe; believe in God, are devoted to Our Lady and respectfully listen to what the Church and the Pope teach. Radio Maria is indeed the Catholic voice, the voice of the faithful. There is no place in its programmes for those never-ending discussions about "tolerance" (i.e. the promotion of all possible deviations) so beloved of the progressivists; "dialogue" with everyone about everything except, of course, the conversion of non-Catholics. Simply put, on Radio Maria one does not "dialogue." One speaks to God on one's knees. The surest way to genuine and fruitful dialogue.

Several times Father Rydzyk has remarked that his observation of the Church in the West, the endless experimentation going on there, was one of his main incentives in undertaking the creation of Radio Maria; to prevent the same trend from taking root in Poland. He rightly estimates the gravity of the situation. One hears many voices from Poland's "Catholic" media claiming that, after the Cold War, the Polish Church should change "the rigid and dated" approach both to Her internal affairs (universal solution:"new pastoral means") and to the world around (a new promised land: European Union).

These proponents of Polish aggiornamento are appalled to see and hear that Radio Maria, which promotes the traditional way of serving God and His people, is flourishing and still growing. People sense - and after tuning in to the station for just one day can be sure - that in listening to Radio Maria they can glorify God as their fathers did, with rosary in hand and in union with Blessed Mary, Queen of the Polish Crown. Father Rydzyk knows that the best way to secure the precious elements of Polish Catholic devotion is not so much by defending them through discussions and polemics but by practising them.

There are few things in this world which evoke a more unholy response than the wounded pride and self-esteem of intellectuals, including or especially those who call themselves Catholic. No wonder, then, that the liberal media constantly attack Radio Maria and Father Rydzyk. There is also one other reason for these ferocious attacks. Radio Maria effectively broke the monopoly on information and social communication. As far as the media is concerned, this unique station is virtually the only alternative that arose in Poland after 1989 when the official censorship was lifted. Officially there is now freedom of speech. But a variety of press and radio titles does not and did not create real freedom of speech, as the vast majority of the media market in Poland was occupied by neo-Communists (who earned considerable material wealth from institutionalised robbery during the Communist period) and liberals (supported from the West through numerous funds and foundations). The situation was comfortable. There was official freedom of speech but the prevalent opinion was quite clear; a mixture of socialism and post-modernism (soc-postmodernism). Of course, Catholic media did exist but it was either limited to local areas or dominated by the liberals (the most famous and representative example is the Krakow weekly Tygodnik Powszechny, which under the Communist regime enjoyed the strong support of Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. In 1995, however, it was publicly rebuked by the Holy Father for not defending the Polish Church when attacked by the media after 1989).

Suddenly, with the arrival of Radio Maria, the comfortable status quo was disturbed. Thanks to its enormous popularity it broke the liberal neo-Communist consensus dominating the Polish media.

It is highly significant that the same people who do all they can to promote tolerance and dialogue with everyone else, are anxious to curb Radio Maria's freedom of speech (e.g. Radio Maria is the sole radio station in Poland being constantly monitored by the National Council of Radiophony and Television which is dominated by the neo-Communists and liberals). Radio Maria is also dangerous for some due to the second factor which, at the same time, is the cause of its great popularity.

NATIONAL ASPECT

Radio Maria is entirely supported by donations from listeners. There are no commercials. Nonetheless, Radio Maria is still expanding. It is transmitting its programmes through satellites to Polish listeners in the USA, Canada, Western Europe, Russia and Kazachstan. In this way it is a consolidating factor for the Polish diaspora throughout the world (apart from language, for the great majority of Poles abroad Catholicism is the determining factor of their national identity). Radio Maria is a truly national achievement. In conducting a massive media attack, therefore, the liberals contradict their own declared principles in at least two points. First of all with regard to their own pan-tolerance (censorship of pornography - no; censorship of a Catholic medium -naturally); secondly, regarding their declared free market orientation. It is hard for them to explain their criticism of Radio Maria when reminded of the simple fact that it is. the people who demand such a radio; it is the people who spend their own money on it and in this way - with no other donations support it; it is the people who are actually most interested in the existence of the station. Yet it is only this one, highly successful private initiative which encounters the undisguised scorn of the Polish liberals (both of neo-Communist and ex-Solidarity origin). They reveal themselves as strongly opposed to the spontaneous initiative of the people!

Ever since 1789, the Left has posited freedom as the undisputed value, with one exception: when freedom is misused by "enemies of freedom" (as French Revolutionary Saint-Just put it). In that case: no freedom for enemies of freedom! Presently, Radio Maria is facing just that. The Polish Left, suddenly, to its dismay, realised that freedom in Poland is being misused by an "arch-enemy of freedom" i.e. Father Rydzyk! It seems that pluralism is good when a listener, viewer or reader can read, hear or see different shades of leftism (liberal, neo-Communist and, as we in Poland call it, Catho-leftism) - but nothing more. Of course, other opinions may exist so long as they do not create a real alternative. So when such an alternative is actually created (Radio Maria), tolerance and freedom suddenly disappear into oblivion.

Radio Maria is also perceived as dangerous because it is creating a sense of real community. Its listeners call themselves: Family of Radio Maria. Throughout the country there are Bureaus of Radio Maria which are being voluntarily organised by the listeners themselves. There are also annual pilgrimages of the Radio Maria Family to Jasna Gora, the national shrine of Our Lady (in 1997, more than 300,000 listeners personally took part in this pilgrimage), and to Rome to the Holy Father (in 1997 some 12,000 took part). And then, of course, the most integrating factor of all offered by the station - common prayer on radio.

Thus Radio Maria is integrating people - and that is why it is so dangerous for supporters of an atomised society. Those people, in political terms, are (or rather, were) the silent majority. Now, thanks to Radio Maria, they realise how numerous they are. They have, as it were, counted themselves. This has already produced concrete results. For example, when, in 1996, the neo-Communist Polish government closed down the Gdansk shipyard - cradle of the 1980 Solidarity movement - Father Rydzyk decided to buy the shipyard through a national fund which materialised thanks to numerous donations from listeners. When the danger of Radio Maria buying the shipyard was imminent, however, the government suddenly determined that the Gdansk shipyard was no longer worthy of closing down and selling off!

"Formation, Information, Education and Action." This is one of Father Rydzyk's favourite formulas and summarises succinctly his whole work and the work of Radio Maria.

The most important is formation: prayer, Holy Mass, catechesis. Information and Education follow and it is in those fields that Radio Maria effectively breaks the monopoly of the Left; a monopoly sold to the public as "pluralism" but which is really nothing more than a 'choice' between synonymous neo-Communist and liberal attitudes. A challenge to this stranglehold came with the establishment of the "Institute of National Education at Radio Maria." Through lectures, the Institute is popularising a classical and Catholic (i.e. Thomist) philosophy. It also provides basic instruction in economics, sociology and pedagogics. The latter subject has been very much accentuated by the Institute in recent times, particularly with regard to the repeated endeavours of the Left to introduce into the curriculum of Polish schools so-called sex education.

Recently, the tireless Father Rydzyk has set up a new daily newspaper - Nasz dzenik (Our Daily) - which, like Christian Order, represents undiluted and uncompromising Catholicism and also takes a strong anti-Euroenthusiast stance (Poland begins its negotiations with the EU this year). It is noteworthy that Father Rydzyk deliberately declined to put the word "Catholic" on the front page of the newspaper in order to escape any possible pressures coming from the liberal side of the Polish episcopate (led by the Secretary of the Bishops' Conference, Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, who recently admitted to left-wing daily Gazeta Wyborcza that he is a moderate liberal and who is widely known as being unenthusiastic - to put it mildly - about Father Rydzyk and Radio Maria). His decision becomes much more understandable when one bears in mind that, with few exceptions, the Polish Episcopate is very Euro-enthusiastic (again, in that respect, led by Bishop Pieronek).

Many people are afraid of Radio Maria because it is tackling problems which are neatly consigned to oblivion by liberal aeropags. Most feared is the programme "Unfinished Conversations," which is a "live" phone-in programme through which listeners communicate their views. The point is that, in this way, the vast majority of listeners are able to express their anger about the complicitous neo-Communist past of President Kwasniewski, air their fears over the selling of Polish land to foreigners and voice their convictions that those MP's who in 1996 voted in favour of abortion were traitors. In the eyes (and ears) of the Left all that is proof of Radio Maria's "xenophobia, anti-semitism and populism." Plurality of opinions? No way. In Poland, pluralism exists only between "civilised and mature people" i.e. between neo-Communists and post-Solidarity liberals. As far as the Polish Left is concerned, Radio Maria. is wrong simply because it is wrong.

In this respect, it is worthy of mention that when, in 1996, Father Rydzyk suggested that the MP's who voted for abortion should have their heads shaved - as was the usual and rather mild punishment for traitors (especially women) in Poland during the Nazi occupation - it caused outrage among the pro-choice lobby (90% neo-Communist) who wanted to put him on trial for "offending public officials." A prosecutor even attempted to use the police to force Father Rydzyk to appear before her. This might be called an "enlightened tolerance" (i.e. no tolerance for the enemies of "tolerance").

But Father Rydzyk can bear all this hatred and calumny because he has support where it counts. On 29th March, 1995, while greeting the second annual pilgrimage of Radio Maria listeners to Rome, John Paul II had this to say: "I thank the Lord every dayfor the existence in Poland of such a radio station and for the fact that it is called Radio Maria."

Amen to that. Radio Maryja - hope for Poland!

Radio Maria also has an intemet page: http://www.radiomaryja.pl