FIVE DAYS OF BLESSINGS IN WARSAW
As you know, I just returned from 5 days in Warsaw, Poland where I attended the amazing symposium dedicated to Pope St. John Paul’s Natural Law and International Human Rights Legacy.
I was blessed and truly honored to be the keynote speaker at the opening dinner on May 17! I’d been asked to focus on my years at the Vatican and to talk about John Paul the man, his humanity, his humor, our encounters. My talk was entitled “I Made Cookies for a Saint.” Everyone was naturally intrigued by that idea and, to judge by response, they greatly enjoyed the presentation!
Far more challenging topics were the focus of the keynote speakers on May 18 and 19. Adrian Vermeule, Ralph S. Tyler, Jr. Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard spoke on “Common Good Constitutionalism” on Wednesday. On Thursday, J.H.H. Weiler, Professor at NYU Law School, addressed us “On the Limits of Natural Law and the Virtues of Revealed Law.”
The conference, co-sponsored by Ave Maria Law School and Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University of Warsaw, counted quite a number of eminent guests including two Eminences – Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, Archbishop of Warsaw, and Cardinal Willem Ejik, archbishop of Utrecht, Holland, who spoke on Human Rights in a Secularized Society.
Archbishop Zbignevs Stankevics of Riga, Latvia was also a riveting speaker! Among others things, he noted that in 2005 the Latvia constitution clearly and firmly stated that marriage was between a man and a woman,. That constitution now uses the word “family” to describe ‘unions’, including LBGT. However, he noted that he and other Church leaders worked hard to make abortion, if not outlawed, at least less available, and he said the number of abortions has indeed gone down in recent years.
Travelling on the bus to the various venues – the university and restaurants in the evening – and simply sharing two meals a day with the cardinals and archbishop and a judge of Poland’s Supreme Court, as well as the other contributors at this fascinating conference was a real bonus!
Our final dinner –
As I listened to the talks, I saw a huge, vibrant tapestry being created where, of course, the common thread was always St. John Paul and his teaching on natural law, human rights, the right to life, protecting life and human dignity. Given the SCOTUS leak of a possible overturning of Roe v Wade at the federal level, many of the talks were so timely!
Topics included constitutional law, religious freedom and secularity, natural law in contemporary understanding of international human rights, and much more.
A common thread to most talks was human dignity.
One speaker noted how, over time, what was not allowed in law because of human dignity (ie, abortion, euthanasia) eventually became allowed, and even enshrined in law, in the name of human dignity! That just boggles the mind! Has the idea of human dignity changed that much? It seems so!
Another speaker said: The world needs active protagonists of the cult of life and human dignity as human dignity of all and for all is the founding principle of human life. Yet another stressed the need for a positive change in the human rights climate towards freedom of speech, of practice, of religion.
Some guests noted how constitutions have changed over the years, going from protecting absolute rights to watering them down or introducing new rights. Yet other speakers noted how many international laws and constitutions that had rights and duties clearly laid out, with red lines so to speak, but now those lines have become pink or are close to disappearing.
My mind still reels from the depth of each talk – the brilliance, the thoroughness with which each topic was treated and the challenging nature of the talks!
I mentioned on my Friday blog that my Warsaw trip ended with a half-day spent outside the city with Franciscan sisters who, at their marvelous school and home for blind children, had welcomed several blind Ukrainian children.
I’d hoped to bring that story to you today in both words and photos but it just took me 90 minutes to download the pictures, not because they were that numerous but because my laptop simply closed the program every time I started the download. I’ll start working on that tomorrow, so stay tuned.
It is a wonderful, inspiring, heart-warming story of the deep love of these religious for their young charges as well as the story of the Polish people – the generous and warm welcome given to their Ukrainian brothers and sisters at the very worst time of their lives!