The Lord’s Ark church of Nowa Huta, a city outside Krakow, Poland, stands as a testament of faith over non-belief, and the power of a man, and people of faith, to quietly stand up to communism. This Catholic church stands in the middle of a once idealized, atheist community. The powerful symbolism connected with this church, remains connected to the Christian Lenten journey to Easter – a journey towards the light.
Lenin Designed Nowa Huta, or “New City” as the Ideal Communist City
After World War II, Poland fell under communist rule. In a move to demonstrate how wonderful communism was, Lenin designed and built the city of Nowa Huta, or “New City” as the ideal master planned community for a communist worker’s paradise. At the time, everything was new; apartments came with central heating instead of coal. Think white plaster over brick; square buildings, with square windows, lined a main avenue anchored by a huge statue of Lenin, (subsequently replaced by one of Jozef Stalin). as other straight rows of buildings branched off. Uniform shape replaces any artistic ideal. A giant steel mill soon employed nearly 40,000, and the town grew to a population of 100,000. For additional persuasion, various Soviet tanks remained parked around the complex just in case people forgot who was in charge.
Poles were Communists . . . and Catholic
From the beginning, churches were strictly forbidden in Nowa Huta. But who said Mass can only be held indoors? Saint John Paul II, who at the time was the Archbishop of Krakow, would go out and give Masses in the open, without a church. Eventually a cross was erected in an open field. When communists removed the cross in 1960, riots broke out. The pressure grew so big, that the communists eventually allowed a church to be built elsewhere in the town, as long as it didn’t look like a church.
You are the Light of the World. A City Set on a Hill Cannot Be Hidden.*
Think of a boat like Noah’s Ark – and you’ll see everything that communism isn’t. The building is round, light, and the inside looks nothing like a traditional Catholic cathedral. Even the main crucifix curves with artistry and grace. I try to imagine the power of objection to the communist way of life at the time. Inside the altar lies a moon rock, given to the Vatican by Neil Armstrong, then given by Pope John Paul II to the church. Just think of the huge defiant symbolism: a rock from the moon, given by an American astronaut, placed in a Catholic church, in the midst of communist rule under a country who launched the Sputnik but never did land on the moon. Communists might have subjugated Poland, but they had no power over a Catholic pope.
Today, the white buildings of Nowa Huta are tinged a permanent gray with pollution from the nearby steel mill. A main street bears Ronald Reagan’s name, and the Soviet tank serves as a kitschy backdrop for tourist photos. And inside the Lord’s Ark church, the refracted light of afternoon sun paints a rainbow of hope, just as God sent a rainbow to Noah.