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· World significance ·

In this most Christian, but also very human spirit, we extend our hands to you, sitting here on the benches of the concluding Council, and we forgive and ask for forgiveness. And if you, the German bishops and Council Fathers, take our outstretched hands fraternally, only then will we, with a clear conscience, be able to celebrate our Millennium in a Christian manner”
The famous sentence of the Address of the Polish bishops to the German bishops.

Correspondence of reconciliation. Exchange of letters between episcopates of Poland and Germany, 1965.

The model of reconciliation proposed in the Correspondence between episcopates of Poland and Germany in 1965 was a milestone in changing the way of thinking about international relations between parties in conflict and in breaking the Cold War mindset. These documents initiated a reconciliation between Poles and Germans and have significantly contributed to other reconciliation processes after World War II. This model has been repeatedly referenced by societies and countries in various regions of the world.

The message sent in 1965 by the Polish Roman Catholic bishops to their German counterparts contained proposed axiology and a programme for Polish–German reconciliation after the dramatic experience of World War II, based on values such as truth, dialogue and forgiveness. The most famous statement of the Address from Polish bishops was: We forgive and ask for forgiveness. The German bishops replied, expressing hope that this gesture could be the basis for a new friendly future for the feuding nations. The Handwritten draft of the Address, formulated by Bolesław Kominek, bishop in Wrocław was adopted by the Polish bishops in an official document (as typescript of the Address signed by the Polish bishops), and accepted by the German bishops in the Reply (as the typescript signed by the German bishops).

Historic significance

The idea contained in the Address was the first initiative after World War II to transfer the concept of “forgiveness” from the sphere of inter-personal ethics to politics. The correspondence referred to concepts fundamental to the contemporary international community: community (the documents show both nations as members of the European community throughout history, outstanding figures and institutions that united the two countries within one cultural circle based on a shared system of values common within the human race); human rights (primarily the right to life and freedom, equality); dialogue (the documents are not polemic; they encourage getting to know each other, exchanging thoughts and understanding the arguments of the other party); truth (ontologically, the documents are based on truth; the authors point out that reconciliation is not about forgetting, but understanding and forgiveness); reconciliation (a concept from the sacral sphere [reconciliation of Human with God] was used here in the sphere of politics, relations between societies striving for the goal of consent).

The immediate effect of the exchange of the letters was the strengthening of groups in Poland and Germany focused on understanding and reconciliation. The exchange of letters influenced both societies’ thinking. This legacy was repeatedly referred to by politicians and religious leaders of both nations when commemorating anniversaries related to World War II.

The documents show the role that can be played in the process of normalizing relations between societies not by government and state institutions, but by societies through other stakeholders, in this case churches and religious leaders (faith-based diplomacy). This was especially so in the 20th century, when during World War II the basic norms shaping interpersonal relations were violated, and after the war in Poland and East Germany where political authorities, imposed from outside, did not represent the society. Correspondence between Catholic bishops from Poland (representing the nation of World War II victims) and Germany (representing the nation of occupants and World War II perpetrators) created a model of understanding and reconciliation between conflicting parties, referring to ethical values rooted in Christian culture.

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