New Monastic Communities - struggling for innovation in Poland

Based on the analysis developed in the previous sections, we claim that NMCs are not proliferating in Poland because the strength for renewal, in monasticism particularly, and religious life in general, is out of tune with the immobility of the country’s national socio-religious context which, as some scholars (Borowik 2010: Jewdokimow 2020) have observed, has hardly changed since 1989, in spite of radical political and economic transformation over the past 30 years. The reasons why Polish religiosity has not changed since the fall of the Communist regime are eloquently summarised by Borowik (2010) who aims to demonstrate that Poland is different from other European countries since it is not as secularised as these others. Following Borowik’s five hypotheses explaining the unchanging nature of Polish Catholicism, we understand to what extent NMCs’ new monastic attitude clashes with a socio-religious landscape which does have any impulse to transform itself. Polish Catholic religiosity is paralysed because of five factors:

  • 1. Catholicism is traditionally perceived as a religion uniquely tied up with Polishness, an idea which was reinforced after 1989 by means of political arguments;
  • 2. Catholicism functions in social life as a civic religion, based on the worship of God, the Virgin Mary and the Czestochowa shrine, and inextricably linked with patriotism, historical memory and coincidence between religious and national holidays;
  • 3. Catholicism continues unchanged because Polish society lacks modernisation (i.e. the economy is far from a post-industrial stage and incomes are low), is ageing, and, more important, the state offers little social security;
  • 4. Catholicism flourishes thanks to an effective socialisation model which has produced a social predisposition to attend church - not for reasons of faith but for rituality, typically meaning attendance at religious services (a form of ‘belonging without believing’);
  • 5. Although a process of privatisation of religion is in progress, religiosity retains continuity on the surface because people aim - sometimes pretend - to be completely faithful to the teachings of the Church, especially in matters related to morality.

NMCs, on the contrary, are an important engine of modernisation of religious life. They have egalitarian characteristics (specifically male/female relationships and lay/religious members) and openness towards extra- Catholic traditions and to the world. This results in many liturgical and organisational innovations (such as mixed male-female communities, an increase in the status of women and broader individual autonomy), which tend to be more disruptive than those maintained by the classical tradition of monasticism. Sociologically speaking, NMCs resonate with many traits of advanced modernity such as individualisation, gender sensitivity and self- fulfilment. Modern, reflexive societies are strictly identified with the city, and while monasticism emerged in the deserts, the version re-elaborated by the JMF recognises its hyper-modern locus as the contemporary ‘desert’, and by doing so aims to be as fully present in it as the early monks were in their locations. The JMF not only follows Vatican II principles but also adapts to the changing social environment in which it operates. The fraternities have understood the nature of contemporary work and aim to transform their own working practices accordingly. We hold that the NMCs are not only new but also adaptable and responsive towards the contemporary world, reconnecting with it and viewing it not as a threat but as a challenge.

Based on these premises, we state that NMCs, resulting from a process of hyper-modernisation, typical of the contemporary world and fuelled by the privatisation of religion which affects secularised societies, are not attuned to the Polish socio-religious context. Here, although some changes are in fieri and hyper-individualised groups are increasing, people are - according to scholars - less individualised, secularised and modernised than in many other European countries. Thus, we hypothesise that this difference is the reason why it is so difficult to identify native Polish NMCs. As we have noted, the JMF was imported from France where it was founded. Members always report in interviews the factors which distinguish them (for example, cuisine, gender models and relations, liturgy), from the typical Polish religious person (whether sister or brother) and note that their disciplines are based on the French model. Finally, we postulate that another demonstrable sign of the secularisation of Catholic society in Poland would be the emergence of native NMCs emulating the Western pattern.

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