Stanislaw Grygiel has been a friend and close collaborator of Karol Wojtyła since Wojtyła was a university professor and archbishop of Cracow. Grygiel has written a book called Man Seen from the Vistula.1 It is perhaps not a very good title, but it has a profound meaning. Man actually does not seem the same when viewed from the extreme West of Europe as from the territories which extend along the Vistula, in the great plain delimited by the Oder, the Baltic Sea, and the Tatras Mountains, and which is bordered on the east by the Baltic Republics, Belarus, and the Ukraine. Grygiel once said to me that the river Vistula separates the East from the West and also, paradoxically, unites them.
Although we often think otherwise, Poland belongs to Western Europe: it chose, in the moment when its national identity was born, the Roman Catholic Church and the Latin liturgy, and it paid dearly for this choice, about which it has never wavered. On the other hand, it lies on the borders of the East and shares with it a Slavic ethnic and linguistic heritage. Because of this position the people of Poland are able to speak the language of two spiritual worlds and to link them together. Poland’s very geography allows it a particular catholicity—an opening to universality to which it can remain faithful only by deepening, rather than denying, its Roman choice. If we look at it “from the Vistula,” there arises for us an entirely different
1. Stanislaw Grygiel, L’uomo visto dalla Vistola (Bologna: CSEO, 1978).