Poles pray for peace at bor­der; some see anti-Mus­lim­a­genda

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - NATION & WORLD -

GDANSK, Poland— Pol­ish Catholics held rosaries and prayed to­gether Satur­day along the coun­try’s 2,000- mile bor­der, ap­peal­ing to the Vir­gin Mary and God for sal­va­tion for Poland and the world in a na­tional event that many felt had anti- Is­lam over­tones.

The un­usual “Rosary on the Borders” event was or­ga­nized by lay Catholics but was also en­dorsed by Pol­ish church author­i­ties, with 320 churches from 22 dio­ce­ses tak­ing part. The prayers took place from the Baltic Sea coast in the north to the moun­tains along Poland’s south­ern borders with the Czech Repub­lic and Slo­vakia, and all along the bor­der of this coun­try of 38 mil­lion where more than 90 per- cent de­clare them­selves Ro­man Catholics.

Or­ga­niz­ers say the prayers at some 4,000 lo­ca­tions com­mem­o­rated the cen­te­nary of the ap­pari­tions of Fa­tima, when three shep­herd chil­dren in Por­tu­gal said the Vir­gin Mary ap­peared to them. But the event also marked the 16th- cen­tury naval bat­tle of Lepanto, when a Christian al­liance act­ing on the wishes of the pope de­feated Ot­toman Em­pire forces on the Io­nian Sea, “thus sav­ing Europe from Is­lamiza­tion,” as or­ga­niz­ers put it.

While or­ga­niz­ers in­sisted the prayers Satur­day were not di­rected against any group, some par­tic­i­pants cited fears of Is­lam among their rea­sons for pray­ing at the bor­der.

Halina Ko­tarska, 65, trav­eled 145 miles from her home in Kwieciszewo to ex­press grat­i­tude af­ter her son sur­vived a car wreck this year. She said she was also pray­ing for the sur­vival of Chris­tian­ity in Poland and Europe.

“Is­lam wants to de­stroy Europe,” she said.

Rafal Pankowski, who heads the Never Again as­so­ci­a­tion in War­saw, saw the prayers as a prob­lem­atic ex­pres­sion of Is­lam­o­pho­bia com­ing at a time of ris­ing an­tiMus­lim sen­ti­ment in Poland, a phe­nom­e­non oc­cur­ring even though the coun­try’s Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion is tiny.

“The whole con­cept of do­ing it on the borders re­in­forces the eth­nore­li­gious, xeno­pho­bic model of na­tional iden­tity,” he said.

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