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