A Church Amidst Communist Kitsch

trabant car front watermarkImagine a car so special you waited five years for it to be delivered – from East Germany.  That car would be a Trabant, made of fiberglass instead of steel (doesn’t rust) and all of 23 horsepower.  By the 1980’s it was the same model but increased to 26 horsepower – and is two-stroke engine running on a combination of gas and oil. 

Trabant engine watermarkThink go-kart, lawnmower or small motorcycle, take your pick.  Rick and I rode in one with a young tour guide in psychedelic t-shirt out to Nowa Huta 10 kilometers outside of Krakow center. 

Nowa Huta stands for ‘New City’ and was Lenin’s idea of urban planning for the model communist community built as social realism.  At the time everything was new, with central heating instead of coal.  Think white plaster over brick, straight, boxy but surprisingly nicely laid out.  It was to be a communist worker’s paradise and show all that was good about communism.  They then built a steel mill nearby employing nearly 40,000 people, and the city reached a population of 100,000.  Of course in the middle of the square was a tall statue of Lenin (removed in 1989) and various Soviet tanks parked around the complex just to remind people who was in charge.  Nowa Huta tank watermark
Nowa Huta main street watermarkChurches were not allowed.  However Pope John Paul II would go out and give masses in the open, without a church.  Eventually a cross was erected.  When communists removed the cross in 1960 riots broke out.  The pressure was so big that the communists eventually allowed a church – as long as it didn’t look like a church.  I’m sure there’s more symbolism an expert notices – but think of a boat like Noah’s Ark – and you’ll see everything that communism isn’t – round, and light, and the inside is striking it looks nothing like a usual Catholic cathedral – but that’s the power of it. I only imagine the power of objection to the communist way of life at the time.  The guide tells me inside the altar there is a gift of a moon rock, given to the Vatican by Neil Armstrong, then given by Pope John Paul II to the church.  An American moon rock in a church in the heart of the ‘ideal’ communist city.   
Nowa Huta church inside watermarkWhen I was planning this trip the idea of visiting a ‘communist city’ wasn’t high on my wish list, and in fact didn’t plan to go.  But we had time – and now I know why Catholic pilgrims visit this place.  It is a church like no other – and represents a different kind of power – that of faith over non-belief – and the power of one man to quietly stand up to communism in defiance of those who say there is no God.  Come to Poland and you will understand why the most revered man in this country is Pope John Paul II.Nowa Huta church watermark