GNIEZNO, Poland (AP) — The head of Poland's influential Catholic Church appealed for an end to enmity and divisions as he celebrated a Mass on Thursday that marked 1,050 years of Christianity in Poland.
The Mass was part of three days of religious and political ceremonies that the church and the conservative government have organized in the western town of Gniezno, considered to be the cradle of Poland's Catholicism, and in the nearby city of Poznan.
Government members want the ceremonies to stress that Poland's Catholic identity ties the nation to Western culture and values, especially now when the European Union is criticizing its policies and warning that they threaten democracy and the rule of law. The policies have also led to massive street protests.
"Shouldn't we reach more boldly to the grace of holy baptism ... in order to overcome enmity and discord, in order to seek reconciliation and forgiveness that we all crave so much," Archbishop Wojciech Polak said during the Mass at the 10th-century Gniezno Cathedral.
Some 90 percent of Poles declare themselves to be Catholics. The country's Catholicism is dated from Prince Mieszko I, who ruled the area that is now Poland. He was baptized in Gniezno around the year 966, on advice from his Christian wife, Princess Dobrava of Bohemia, chroniclers say.
Polak said that led to the growth of the "spirit of ecumenical freedom and tolerance. There were no wars between denominations. There was their creative coexistence."
During the Mass, the Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, read out a message of blessing from Pope Francis, in the presence of President Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and dozens of other dignitaries gathered at the Gothic cathedral, which holds an ornate silver reliquary with the relics of St. Adalbert, a 10th-century Czech monk who preached Christianity in Poland.
Duda, a Catholic, said that Mieszko's christening gave Poland the foundations of a modern state and a religion that remains with most Poles until today.
"The spiritual and the state element were woven together and remain that way," he said, referring to the church's authority that the current government wants to strengthen.
Early in the day, Poland's bishops debated the role of Catholicism in the nation. They also discussed Francis' meeting with world youth in southern Poland in July, and Europe's refugee crisis, a communique said.
Duda will address a special session of lawmakers and senators in Poznan on Friday.
Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed to this report.