History of Gniezno Conventions

The 1st Congress of Gniezno took place in March 1000, when Emperor Otto III, a friend of St. Adalbert before the bishop’s martyr death, arrived at his tomb in Gniezno. The Congress meant Poland’s entry into the group of European countries.

The Emperor’s placing a coronet on Bolesław Chrobry’s head and presenting him with the spear of St. Maurice is regarded as the beginning of the independence and sovereignty of the Polish state. At the same time, the event had the character of a Church Synod. The Emperor was accompanied by a group of cardinals headed by a Pope’s envoy. It was then that the establishment of the first metropolitan see in the territory of Poland in Gniezno and three subordinate bishops’ sees in Cracow, Wrocław and Kołobrzeg was proclaimed. Thanks to the establishment of the metropolitan see, the Congress was an inauguration of a separate structure of Church administration in the territory of Poland, subordinate only to Rome.

The tradition of convening congresses in Gniezno as major spiritual and political events on a European scale was resumed by the Metropolitan of Gniezno, Archbishop Henryk Muszyński, a delegate of the Polish Episcopate to the Commission of the Bishops’ Conferences of the European Community. On his initiative, the 2nd Gniezno Convention took place on 3 June 1997. It marked the millennium anniversary of St. Adalbert’s death and was part of John Paul II’s pilgrimage to Poland. The Pope participated in the event along with the following seven Presidents of Eastern and Central Europe: of Poland – Aleksander Kwaśniewski, of the Czech Republic – Vaclav Havel, of Germany – Roman Herzog, of Hungary – Arpad Goencz, of Slovakia – Michal Kovacz, of Lithuania – Algirdas Brazauskas, and of Ukraine – Leonid Kuczma.

In the presence of the Presidents and 300,000 pilgrims, the Pope uttered a momentous appeal: “If we want the new unity of Europe to last, it has to be a great European community of spirit!” He called St. Adalbert a “symbol of the spiritual unity of Europe”. He stressed that his witness is a lasting one since its chief characteristic was the ability to harmoniously unite diverse cultures. “No country, even a weak one, should be left outside the communities which are now coming into being in Europe,” called John Paul II.

The 3rd Gniezno Convention took place on 12 March 2000. On the occasion of the Great Jubilee of Christianity, the local cathedral was first the place of an ecumenical service connected with the confession of sins by three Christian traditions, and then the venue of a meeting of Presidents of five European countries: Lithuania – Valdas Adamkus, Germany – Johannes Rau, Slovakia – Rudolf Schuster, Hungary – Arpad Göncz, and Poland – Aleksander Kwaśniewski.

Cardinal Angelo Sodano, a papal legate, declared that if the new common European home is to last, it needs reliable foundations. It is Jesus Christ and His Gospel that are the foundations on which Europe and the world have rested for the last two millennia. “The Church wants to take an active role in the great project of constructing the European community of spirit”, said the Secretary of State of the Holy See. Pointing to the ecumenical character of the meeting, he added that the Catholic Church wants to carry out her great tasks in a “joint effort of other Churches and religious communities”.

Representatives of three Christian traditions in Poland, Cardinal Józef Glemp, Primate of Poland, head of the Polish Orthodox Autocephalous Church, Archbishop Sawa, and a bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Jan Szarek, expressed apology on behalf of their religious communities for deformities of conscience, indifference to suffering and egoism as well as for pride and humiliating others. The solemnity was attended by young people from the entire Europe. They adopted a resolution which called for taking all necessary measures supporting further integration of countries and nations of Europe.

The 4th Gniezno Convention took place on 15-16 March 2003. It was organised by the Forum of Saint Adalbert, a new informal structure of the Polish Catholic laity which gathers diverse movements and associations accepting co-responsibility for the future of Europe. The motto of the event, attended by over 600 participants from over 200 cities and towns and representatives of 80 movements, was “Quo vadis, Europe?” A whole series of meetings with intellectuals, bishops and politicians served as a forum for discussion on whether Poland’s presence in the EU is a threat to, or rather an opportunity for evangelisation.

In a unanimously adopted appeal to “Poles, Europeans, authorities of the uniting Europe, Christians and people of good will”, the participants of the meeting stressed that “At the threshold of the new Europe there has to be a place for the values and witness of Christian life.” The participants issued an appeal that the preamble to the future European Constitution should mention the religious heritage of Europe, that legal acts of the united Europe should guarantee respect for human life from the moment of conception to natural death, and that the EU resolution calling upon the candidate countries to introduce the right to abortion on demand should be revoked.

In a special telegram to John Paul II, the participants assured that the Church in Poland is not afraid of Europe but undertakes the significant mission of prayer and reflection “on the future countenance of the Old Continent, its identity, culture and spirituality.”

The 5th Gniezno Convention, entitled “Europe of Spirit”, was held on 12-14 of March 2004. It tried to present the spiritual origins of Europe. The organizers – laity gathered together in the Forum of Saint Adalbert in a close collaboration with Archbishop Henryk Muszyński – wanted to present those origins as still ready to enrich us all with their spiritual wealth. The most prominent contemporary faith witnesses were present at the Congress. They are the people of so called “spring of the Church” – the prophetic vision of the Church as defined by the Pope John Paul II. Among guests present at the Convention there were leaders and founders of some new apostolic communities established within the Church after Vaticanum II. Those communities prove Christianity to be a continuously vital and strong inspiration for Europe.

The participants of this Convention came from 15 different countries and represented about 150 Christian movements and associations. It was a unique opportunity to share our gifts. We had a chance to get to know how much we could learn from our brothers from the West, who perceive faith as a call to change the world we live in. We could also be enriched by our Christian brothers from the East who add to the common treasury the depth of meditation and liturgy.

That Gniezno Convention was also a deep prayer for the future of Europe. Thanks to the tele technology we managed to participate in a prayer together with the Pope and the young from the ten countries being about to join the European Union. There was a Rosary said with the intent for the unifying continent.

The 6th Gniezno Convention was entitled “Europe of Dialogue” and was held on 16-18 of September 2005. Almost 1500 Christian organization leaders met together to pray and participate in a debate on the issues of how to continue the dialogue with the present-day Europe. The most significant question was to decide how to make the aging Europe see and accept the universal values, which had been present at the very moment of Europe’s foundation and which turned out to be decisive with regard to its identity. Heads of different Christian Churches, representatives of the European Council, well-known intellectualists, people involved in cultural and political life were also present at the Congress.

The Pope Benedict XVI addressed his message to the Convention’s participants and said the Gniezno meetings to be a school of a dialogue for the laity of Europe, especially the Central and Eastern Europe, and “the biggest meeting of Christian movements and associations in that part of Europe” at the same time. He stressed the aim of a real dialogue to be “the common seek for the truth, in the spirit of love and respect for every human being, his culture and spiritual tradition”.

The Pope was represented at the Congress by Cardinal Walter Kasper, the Chairman of the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity. The most prominent Polish Church leaders were present, with the Chairman of the Conference of Polish Bishops, Józef Michalik and its deputy chairman, Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, and the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Józef Glemp. There were also the representatives of the Polish Ecumenical Council with its Orthodox chairman Archbishop Jeremiasz and the prominent people engaged in the European ecumenical dialogue i.e. Bishop Hilarion, who came to represent the Moscow Patriarchate and Bishop Wolfgang Huber. There were also some important representatives of the Jewish and Muslim communities. And the European politicians together with the famous architect of the EU enlargement, the former Chancellor of Germany Helmut Kohl as well as the European Commissioners Jan Figiel and Danuta Huebner.

A unique prayer of Jews, Christians and Muslims for Europe and for one another – a definitely nonprecedent event – took place the 17th of September at the Gniezno market square. It was for the first time in history of Poland that representatives of the three big monotheistic religions would pray for one another.

The 7th Gniezno Convention was entitled “Man – the Way for Europe” and was held from 15th to 17th of June 2007. The meeting focused on the question “Who is a man? To what extent does a human being, together with all his dignity, continue to be the foundation of the civilization of Europe?” and “How is the humanity – seen in the deepest way – endangered?” Christians of various confessions, representatives of different religious movements, other religions representatives and politicians took part in that Congress which gathered together about 600 guests from a number of European countries.

Among the 7 th Gniezno Convention guests there were: Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, Secretary of State of the Holy See, Lech Kaczyński, President of Poland and Hans-Gert Poettering, President of the European parliament.

The agenda was full of different lectures, discussions and workshops concerned with the cultural and religious dialogue, bioethics and the European family issues. There were also some concerts and cultural events. The Ecumenical Way of Light along Gniezno streets was organized – to walk through together with the representatives of 11 different Christian Churches.

“Family – a hope for Europe” was the motto of the 8th Gniezno Convention held from12th to 14th of March 2010. The main axis for this convention was the family as the foundation of European civilization, the basic environment for human life and development, irrespective of confession, world-view, or cultural and religious belonging. The issue of marriage and family was indicated as essential for the future of Europe, not only due to the crisis of family, but also to show that the proper idea of marriage and family is highly influential for the idea of the Church, Europe and politics.

Therefore a special debate on family issues was proposed. To this debate specialists from all over the world, representing Churches, religions, politicians, economists, animators of culture, non-governmental organizations, religious movement, and associations who aim at promotion of family were invited. One of the greatest events of the Convention was appearance of Lech Kaczyński, the President of Republic of Poland. In his opinion Poland has a unique mission to fulfill in the field of family restoration.

The second basic thread of the Congress was a reflection over the question: how to live in a family and build relationships? Famous psychologists, young couples and married couples with a long experience shared their views, how to build love in various stages of life. The crisis of family is so strong that to overcome it, a joint action is necessary. This is why, apart from common debates, the 8th Gniezno Convention proposed “Ecumenical Way of Life” that marched through the streets of the city.

The 9th Gniezno Convention was held on 16-18 March 2012 under the motto “Europe of Citizens. The Role and Place of Christians”. It was officially launched by the new host of the Congresses, Primate of Poland Archbishop Józef Kowalczyk and the President of the Republic of Poland Bronisław Komorowski. The Convention addressed the tasks and challenges facing Christians in the civil society of today.

In the message to the Europeans titled “A Holy Citizen is a Good Citizen”, the Convention’s participants observed: “For us, faith is not an escape from the world but rather an impetus for service and involvement”. The Congress showed that contemporary democracy, too, needs religion: “recognition of a public nature of religion and its irreplaceable role as a source of social capital is essential for the construction of a common good on our continent. Religion must be seen as a conveyor of values that lay the groundwork for a free society”

Greetings to the Convention’s participants were also sent by Benedict XVI. “Christianity, although it directs the human person to eternity, does not relieve him of the duty to take care of the reality of this world and moreover urges the human person to actively participate in social life in the spirit of the love of God and the neighbour,” wrote the Pontiff.

A total of over 1,000 people, including young people from the local schools, were involved in the three-day meeting in Gniezno. The Convention’s participants came from Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldavia, Armenia, Georgia, and Germany. Thanks to special civil society workshops, the Congress was a formation event, a practical lesson of how to be a good Christian and a good citizen.

The Convention’s speakers included Poles and invited guests from Spain, Germany, Austria, and the Czech Republic, among others former President of the European Parliament Prof. Jerzy Buzek, the Ombudswoman Prof. Irena Lipowicz, Cardinal Stanisław Ryłko from the Vatican, Fr. Prof. Tomáš Halík, Chief Rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, delegates of the Churches convened in the Polish Ecumenical Council, and numerous leaders of social Catholic and non-governmental organisations.