Mateusz SZPYTMA: Agricultural Catholic Fellowship in the Archdiocese of Krakow 1982-1990

Agricultural Catholic Fellowship in the Archdiocese of Krakow 1982-1990

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Mateusz SZPYTMA

Historian. Deputy President of the Institute of National Remembrance. Co-founder and a former director of the Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II in Markowa. Member of the Programme Board of the Jewish Historical Institute.

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Rural Solidarity in the Archdiocese of Krakow sought support from the Catholic Church at the very beginning of its activities in October 1980. Given the lack of access to the media, information encouraging the setting up of Rural Solidarity societies was passed on through the Metropolitan Curia in Krakow and its parish network. In many parishes, priests assisted and supported the organisation of Rural Solidarity and, at the request of farmers, celebrated Mass before important meetings, such as provincial conventions.

.Under martial law, trade union activities – including those of farmers – were suspended, and some activists were interned or arrested. Only small groups of former Rural Solidarity activists attempted even a limited resumption of operation. Józef Baran from Zielonki near Krakow, one of the group’s leaders, organised meetings already in the early spring of 1982. He also coined the organisation’s name, the National Committee of Farmers’ Resistance (OKOR). Its practical activities were initiated after the program documents were approved during an underground meeting on 15 August 1982, which was held at a parish in Krakow-Bieżanów, where Adolf Chojnacki served as the parish priest. On 5 September 1982, farmers participated in the Harvest Festival in Jasna Gora. Before that, on 12 May 1982, their representatives took part in a Mass at St John’s Archcathedral in Warsaw. This informal celebration marked the first anniversary of legalising Rural Solidarity.

The strong involvement of people from the area of the Archdiocese of Krakow in the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship (Duszpasterstwo Rolników) is indicated by the fact that retreats (also of a national character) were prepared relatively quickly in the area. These occurred from 22 to 25 February 1983 in the Carmelite Monastery in Czerna, near Krzeszowice (earlier, on 18 December 1982, a meeting of OKOR had taken place in St Joseph’s Church in Krakow-Podgorze, attended by some of the later participants in the above-mentioned retreats). The main organisers of the retreat were Katarzyna Bielańska from Lusina near Krakow and Wieńczyslaw Nowacki from Caryńskie. The meeting, attended by 76 people from 20 voivodeships, had both religious and trade union dimensions. During the meeting in Czerna, among other things, a letter was sent to the Primate of Poland Józef Glemp, asking for his blessing for the initiative to organise the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship at parishes. It was also decided to launch an action to build up food stocks in case of a general strike, and a petition was drafted to the Sejm of the Polish People’s Republic informing about the illegal actions of the authorities against activists of the Confederation of Independent Poland ‘Solidarity’ and the former Committee for Social Self-Defence KOR. The Security Service (SB) classified the meeting as an underground assembly of activists belonging to the illegal OKOR, which was largely true. The state authorities used this to blackmail the Episcopate.

The strong involvement of people from the area of the Archdiocese of Krakow in the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship (Duszpasterstwo Rolników) is indicated by the fact that retreats (also of a national character) were prepared relatively quickly in the area. These occurred from 22 to 25 February 1983 in the Carmelite Monastery in Czerna, near Krzeszowice.

According to the accounts of people involved in the activities of the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship in the Archdiocese of Krakow at the time, the organisation’s structures were established in this area as early as 1983 (the SB recorded the first discussions on the subject in February 1984). It should be remembered, however, that all the time – independently of the emerging structures of the formal Agricultural Catholic Fellowship – an informal group functioned in the Krakow Voivodeship, taking part in various clandestine meetings held (usually in vicarages) in different localisations of the then voivodeships of southern Poland. It was this group that met with the Holy Father in Niepokalanów on 18 June 1983. The SB officers recorded the presence of six banners with solidarity slogans. Some of them had been brought from Krakow.

It seems that after 1983 some former Rural Solidarity activists considered the work of the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship of the Archdiocese of Krakow – an organisation authorised by the Krakow Curia – to be inadequate, as it made insufficient reference to trade union activities and avoided actions that could be considered ‘political’ by the authorities, while focusing heavily on the religious and cultural sphere. Because of that, some of the former Rural Solidarity activists withdrew from the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship, but some remained active in both the Fellowship and the OKOR structures. They also used church premises for their meetings; in Krakow, for example, they met in the buildings of the Carmelite Monastery on Karmelicka Street. In addition, they took part in the anniversary meetings in Warsaw (anniversaries of the union’s registration) and in Rzeszów (anniversaries of the signing of the Rzeszów-Ustrzyce agreements), as well as in the annual Harvest Festival in Jasna Góra. There was also an illegal press, with ‘Solidarność Rolników’ being the most prominent and enduring.

Various other autonomous ministerial initiatives were running in parallel, such as in Podhale, where a folk high school was operating in Ludźmierz on the initiative of Władysław Hajnos. The Podhale region was also involved in distributing donations – agricultural machinery from Austria – and on 4 August 1985, a rally of the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship was held in the chapel below Turbacz.

The metropolitan curia appointed Pr. Feliks Formas to organise the formal Agricultural Catholic Fellowship in the Archdiocese of Krakow. One of his closest collaborators was Jerzy Rożdżyński, a participant in the farmers’ protest in Rzeszów in January and February 1981 and later a member of the voivodeship authorities of the Rural Solidarity. Apart from Rożdżyński, Kazimierz Rabsztyn also played an active role in the activities of the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship from at least 1984. In 1981 he was the head of the Solidarity Company Committee in the Krakow Agricultural Progress Centre in Karniowice and chairman of the Agriculture Section of the Board of the Solidarity in Małopolska Region. He was also involved in the ‘Odrodzenie’ Christian Culture Movement, which he viewed as a model for the formula that the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship adopted in the Archdiocese of Krakow.

The meetings of the Fellowship, usually attended by several dozen people, were held in the catacombs of the Cistercian Abbey in Krakow-Mogiła. The preserved notes of these sessions, taken by Kazimierz Rabsztyn from May 1984 to December 1986, show that the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship in Krakow had already established a structured format for their meetings by the spring of 1984. The meeting began with Holy Mass celebrated by Pr. Feliks Formas, who also gave an occasional homily. The Mass was followed by lectures, before or in between which a meal was served (for a fee). A discussion was then held on the topics covered in the lectures, and the meeting concluded with a number of updates, including on political events and repression by the authorities. Sometimes a short artistic performance was presented. From May 1984 to December 1986, a minimum of seven gatherings were conducted in Mogiła. But the organisers’ ambitions were greater, and in October 1986, they decided to hold sessions every two months. However, it was difficult to meet frequently, especially during the months of intensive fieldwork.

The metropolitan curia appointed Pr. Feliks Formas to organise the formal Agricultural Catholic Fellowship in the Archdiocese of Krakow. One of his closest collaborators was Jerzy Rożdżyński, a participant in the farmers’ protest in Rzeszów in January and February 1981 and later a member of the voivodeship authorities of the Rural Solidarity.

Apart from regular Masses and meetings with guests, there were Christmas gatherings in January (attended by about 100 people) and trips to the Harvest Festival in Jasna Góra in September. Representatives of the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship in Mogiła also took part in national meetings of the Fellowship organised by Bishop Jan Gurda and Father Bogusław Bijak.

The gatherings in Mogiła were primarily attended by the leaders of their respective rural societies, who presumably organised small groups of the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship in their deaneries and parishes. Among the attendees was Jan Antoł, who co-organised the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship in Podhale. It is difficult to determine when and where the individual groups were formed, but by 1990 they already had their own warden in each deanery.

The Third Pilgrimage of the Holy Father John Paul II to his homeland in 1987 had a major impact on the activation of the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship in the Archdiocese of Krakow. The announcement of a Mass in Tarnów dedicated to the Polish countryside played a crucial role in this impulse. At that time, the Fellowship and the so-called ‘popular right’ circles grew closer…

The Third Pilgrimage of the Holy Father John Paul II to his homeland in 1987 had a major impact on the activation of the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship in the Archdiocese of Krakow. The announcement of a Mass in Tarnów dedicated to the Polish countryside played a crucial role in this impulse. At that time, the Fellowship and the so-called ‘popular right’ circles grew closer, and groups led by Jerzy Rożdżyński and Kazimierz Rabsztyn and organised by Władysław Żabiński, among others, went on a pilgrimage together. The pilgrimage was co-organised by Jacek Mierzwa, son of Stanisław Mierzwa, who had died two years earlier and had been a leader of the Polish People’s Party for decades. In his 10 June 1987 homily, John Paul II quoted Witos, among others, and discussed the Rrzeszów-Ustrzyki Agreements, emphasising the importance of putting its provisions into practice. He also mentioned the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship:

Let it move and develop in exactly this direction, forming its participants in agricultural pastoral communities and growing ever more profound forms of interior life that show the toil of agrarian life as the realisation of God’s will and man’s daily duty as a vocation.

The years 1987-1988 saw the emergence of open, though still illegal, political organisations in the countryside. While the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship continued to operate in its previous form, some participants became increasingly involved in various other initiatives. Jerzy Rożdżyński was involved in relaunching the Rural Solidarity. He headed its provincial structure, operating under the name of the Interim Voivodeship Council of Rular Solidarity. Among the four candidates for the Contract Sejm proposed by Solidarity on 19 April 1989, at least two were associated with the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship: Kazimierz Rabsztyn and Zbigniew Karwowski. In the end, however, they could not be included on Solidarity’s electoral lists for the parliamentary elections of 4 June 1989.

On 20 April 1989, the court registered the Rural Solidarity again. Despite the possibility of being active in both structures simultaneously, it became evident that the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship would now be even more limited to religious formation. After 1989, many people left the Fellowship and joined not only Rural Solidarity but also emerging political parties, and some became involved in local government. Unfortunately, after 1989 disputes arose between the former leaders of Solidarity in the countryside, which affected the activities of the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship. This was aptly noted in 1993 by Cardinal Franciszek Macharski in his report on the visitation to the Wawrzeńczyce parish:

It [the Fellowship] is, as we know, close to the Rural Solidarity, for which it was a refuge during and after martial law. But the organisational crisis of this organisation – and its leadership – is not without effect on the work of the Fellowship, especially here, where it was so vibrant.

.This crisis, however, did not lead to the complete dissolution of the Agricultural Catholic Fellowship. It continues to operate on a limited scale in the Archdiocese of Krakow.

Mateusz Szpytma

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