A Catholic organization lead by priests was under fire after a set of photos of them burning things after a mass in the Polish town of Gdansk, Sunday. The post originated from a Facebook page that belongs to the “SMS from Heaven,” a Catholic Evangelical foundation set up to spread the Christian doctrine through mobile phone text messages.
In the post with the caption “We obey the Word,” the group was seen burning items that they deemed to violate the Christian faith which includes Harry Potter books, a Hello Kitty umbrella, some Hindu figurine, and an African mask.
The group responsible for the burning justified their actions by stating quotations from the Bible, specifically from the book of Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. The priests and other religious individuals in the burning event cited the passage that exhorts believers to destroy the enemies of God, including the passage “burn their idols in the fire.”
The viral photographs show priests carrying out a box of items as they parade towards the burning pit outside the church. The priests were also photographed as they say prayers at the hole as the said items were being burned.
The founder of the infamous organization is Father Rafal Jaroseiwicz. Fr. Jarosweiwicz said in a press statement that “that fact of burning books and other objects was unfortunate, but it was not irreverent to any social group or religion, nor was it aimed at the books as such or culture. If anyone took my action in this way, I would like to welcome him in this place to apologize.”
As if it justifies the action, the priest also said that his foundation has been distributing hundreds of thousands of books for free. He also noted that it was “unfortunate” that the burning was taken out of context because the participants of the retreat voluntarily brought the objects burned at the event.
“Unfortunate” and “shocking”
The Primate of Poland, Roman Catholic Church’s highest official in the country, condemned the act saying that it was “unfortunate” and “shocking.” He also said that books are not supposed to be burned but to be read and their contents should be discussed.
“The burning books reveals the illusory belief that removing in a spectacular way the bad or harmful spiritual contents, which – in the opinion of the organizers of the event – contain burned books or objects, at the same time will free their readers from infecting with harmful content,” the Church official added.
The Metropolitan of Gniezo also explains that “the road to freeing from what harms people is not destroying these or other books containing harmful spiritual content, but on the basis to lead, through critical thinking and openness to the grace of God, which certainly it was the content of retreats to reject what is harmful.”
The church leaders also warn that conversation will never be achieved by burning books. They said that the priests should show the faithfulness as the basis for a “critical assessment of what they read.”
It appears that the event did not just upset the heads of Church but also the Polish government following the apparent irresponsible burning of objects to get rid of everything that “brings bad power.” On April 3, the priests who took part in the burning event were fined by the municipal guards for violation of environmental laws.
“The person suspected of having committed the offense was asked by us to appear at the guard’s office and provide explanations. They presented themselves, made an explanation, admitted their guilt, and was fined,” explained Wojciech Siolkowski, a spokesperson from the City Guard of Gdansk.
However, many activists said that the punishment should not end at fining the priests involved in the event.
According to Zdzislaw Kuczma from Rybnicki Smog Alert, the burnt object has ink and plastic which causes the smoke to emit carcinogenic substances. They also said that they are not interested in the political context of the event, but only in the environmental implications of burning plastic and ink.
“The impulse was, as we saw in the pictures, children are near the campfire. Their health could have been compromised. In our opinion, a simple mandate is not enough […] It doesn’t matter if you are a priest or a construction worker,” he adds.
The environmental organization has sent the prosecutors office a notification regarding their suspicion of committing a crime against environmental protection through the event. Grazyna Wawryniuk from the District Prosecutor’s Office in Gdansk confirms that their office received the complaint on Tuesday.