Monday, April 04, 2005

Heart and soul

Five FAQs about the Polish habit of separating the heart from the corpse upon burial:

I heard that Polish people, when told that John Paul II will not be buried in Poland, are asking for at least the heart to be extracted and taken to Krakow. True?
Yes, but do not view this as a Polish thing: it was the custom until the late 19th Century to bury the pope's heart separately (according to a BBC report).

Still, you have various great hearts dotting the Polish landscape, don’t you?
Excuse me, Americans decided to keep a heart as well, when president GHBush agreed to return the body of the famous composer and pianist, Ignacy Paderewski to Poland, but without his heart – which remains in Doylestown Pennsylvania. Of course, this is what Paderewski had wanted.

Others: there are others?
You’re thinking of Chopin who wished his heart to be buried in Poland. Chopin composed in France but had a deep love for the country he left behind. Polish officials believed there to be a similarity to the Pope, who was, of course, substantially devoted to Poland.

So why no heart?
Well, here we are facing the issue of health care and burial directives all over again. The Pope never indicated in writing that he wanted any part of his remains to be returned to Poland. So technically one could say that the Vatican is simply following what are believed to be his preferences – to stay solidly there under St. Peter’s along with a number of other popes.

So, about these hearts of the deceased – can you visit them?
I don’t know what Pennsylvanians have done with Paderewki’s heart, but you sure can take a trek to the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw, where Chopin’s heart is entombed, right in the wall, next to the heart of the Nobel Prize winning author, Wladyslaw Reymont. It’s a tourist draw, I hear.

Difficult transitions

My imagination is serviceable enough for me to understand what it is like in Poland now. Even if you can’t read in Polish, take a look at the front page of the daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza, here (typically, it looks not unlike the online version of the NYT or the BBC).

Gary, an American living in Poland has reflections here, describing what happened when he and his Polish wife first heard that the Pope had died. Gary has previously written about his lack of religious affiliation and yet he touchingly describes the profound desire to be in a Catholic space immediately after the news reaches Poland.

Earlier, I compared Poland to a young bird, the Pope – to its hovering parent or protector. I am hearing now more about the doubt that is gripping the nation. Can we manage without him? Poland will be so much worse off now…

I should not be surprised (though it is painful to read these kinds of expressions of self-doubt). I don’t think Poland’s current state of crisis is widely understood here. For those who do not follow Polish politics, the equation is simple: communism fell, a democratically elected government is now in place, rest easy. Not so! The rate of unemployment will not reverse its upward trend and the political corruption is unbelievable: it infiltrates every sector, at every level. The people appear discouraged, not ready to believe in a better future. The loss of John Paul II comes at a difficult time.