Jan Zieja
POLAND

There is no man we are allowed to hate, or hound with our hatred

Ecumenism and interreligious dialogue

In classical Greek oikumene refers to the idea of “entire inhabited world”; that is how it made its way to the New Testament. Today, the term ‘ecumenism’ is used mainly in the context of a divided Christian community – the ecumenical movement’s ultimate goal is Christian unity. It is often misunderstood as an interreligious dialogue, whose main premises are: getting to know one another, eradicating prejudices and understanding believers of various religions.

 

There is no man we are allowed to hate, or hound with our hatred,” declared Rev. Jan Zieja during a retreat in 1940.

He understood that “Thou shall not kill – nobody, never” was the most important of all commandments while watching the battlefield during the Polish-Bolshevik War as a young volunteer chaplain.

During the interwar period, he worked as a chaplain at the Centre for the Blind in Laski near Warsaw. He was a forerunner of ecumenical approach – he studied Judaism and got engaged in inter-religious initiatives. During the Second World War, he cooperated with the “Żegota” Council to Aid Jews and the Front for the Rebirth of Poland, a Catholic organization which provided aid to Jews. He was a chaplain of the Home Army Main Headquarters, wounded during the Warsaw Uprising.

Rev. Jan Zieja at his home. Photo: PAP/Tomasz Michalak

“The nation needs to atone,” he said in August 1945 in a sermon delivered in Słupsk, where he was granted his own parish of St. Otto. “We are entitled to demand atonement from the nation, but we must not cross the line, and the line here is the fact that a German is also a human being!”

When he was against something, he always reacted.

He was critical of the Pius XII’s letter to the German Bishops of 1948. He was of an opinion that, besides the words of compassion directed to the refugees, the Pope should have summoned the German nation to atone. In 1953, following Primate Wyszyński’s arrest, he refused to read out the Episcopate’s statement condemning the participation in the ‘underground activity.’ He supported his stance with Primate’s recommendation to follow one’s own conscience.

In 1958 he was removed from the ministerial functions. He wrote: “I have waited eight years, in vain, to be granted my own parish. Hence, I shall now consider all those who remain outside of the Church (Jews, non-believers, sectarians, public sinners, prostitutes etc.) as my own ‘parish’ in Warsaw, and I shall continue to pursue my work amongst them.”

Towards the end of the 1960s Rev. Zieja got involved in the anti-communist opposition and was one of the founding members of the Workers’ Defence Committee.

Rev. Jan Zieja delivering a speech during a meeting of dissidents, Warsaw, 1981. Photo: Ośrodek KARTA/Independent Polish Agency (IPA), collection of Józef Lebenbaum
Ecumenism and interreligious dialogue

In classical Greek oikumene refers to the idea of “entire inhabited world”; that is how it made its way to the New Testament. Today, the term ‘ecumenism’ is used mainly in the context of a divided Christian community – the ecumenical movement’s ultimate goal is Christian unity. It is often misunderstood as an interreligious dialogue, whose main premises are: getting to know one another, eradicating prejudices and understanding believers of various religions.