The Confrontation on the Vistula

Cardinal Wojtyla at Shrine of Our Lady of Orchard Lake

In 1976 Cardinal Wojtyla visited Orchard Lake Schools in Michigan

I found an account of his visit in For God, Country and Polonia: One Hundred Years of Orchard Lake Schools, by Frank Renkiewicz. This book tells the story of Polonia (Polish culture in the U.S.) from the time when Fr. Moczygemba (founder of Panna Maria Tx) entrusted a papal charter to Fr. Joseph Dabrowski (founder of the Orchard Lake Schools). The Felician Sisters of Madonna University are important to this mission. Renkiewicz concludes with some reflections of Pope John Paul II. This speech is sometimes quoted with no reference to its origin at Orchard Lake with the references to Polonia.

In the speech Wojtyla said the following

We are now facing the final confrontation between the Church and the anti-Church, of the Gospel and the anti-Gospel. . . . We all realize it is not an easy matter, and a great deal of it depends upon the outcome on the Vistula. I think that Polonia is perhaps the most aware of it, and it seems to me that other layers of American society are less enlightened in this respect and simply eliminate the problem from their sphere of interests. Polonia, which shares Poland’s sentiments, feels the significance of the confrontation going on at the banks of the Vistula. It is a trial of not only our nation and Church, but in a sense a test of two thousand years culture and Christian civilization with all of its consequences for human dignity, human rights and the rights of nations. As the number of people who understand the importance of this confrontation increase in Poland and America, we can look with greater trust towards the outcome of this confrontation. The Church has gone through many trials, as has the Polish nation, and has emerged victorious even though at a cost of great sacrifice.

It was during this visit to the United States that he visited the Catholic University of America. Few Americans understood the confrontation of cultures; I certainly did not understand these matters as a graduate student at CUA, nor did I hear professors address the root crisis. But the Poles knew. Wojtyla knew. This is why we needed a Polish Pope. The confrontation on the Vistula — the river running through Krakow is a fault line between communism and Catholicism; it was a strategic line during the twentieth century. The Poles heroically and single handedly battled the barbaric and atheistic totalitarians forces. And ultimately they prevailed. Through faith,  hope, and love.

Concerning the victory of the Church, John Paul II said in Crossing the Threshold of Hope: “Mary’s participation in the victory of Christ became clear to me above all from the experience of my people. Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski told me that his predecessor, Cardinal August Hlond, had spoken these prophetic words as he was dying: “The victory, if it comes, will come through Mary.” During my pastoral ministry in Poland, I saw for myself how those words were coming true.”

[Note: On July 27, 1920 with the Russian Bolshevik army close at hand, the Polish Episcopate met at Jasna Góra and proclaimed Mary, Queen of Poland. When the Red Army reached Warsaw, thousands of Poles travelled to Jasna Góra to their Queen to beg her for victory, which duly came on August 15, the Feast of the Assumption. This victory, called the “miracle of the Vistula” was attributed to Our Lady’s intercession.] 

Weigel explains it this way: “History viewed from the Vistula River basin looks different; it has a tangible spiritual dimension. Looking at history from that distinctive angle-of-vision teaches the observant that overwhelming material force can be resisted successfully through the resources of the human spirit— through culture — and that culture is the most dynamic, enduring factor in human affairs, at least over the long haul. Karol Wojtyla, whom the world would later know as Pope John Paul II, applied this lesson of the priority of culture in history in resistance to the two great totalitarian powers that sought to subjugate Poland between 1939 and 1989.” From his Templeton Lecture.

The spiritual and cultural battle continues and the moderates and liberals continue to “eliminate the problem from their sphere of interests” — most politicians, educators, and Church leaders are oblivious to the culture of death and the primacy of the pro-life issues. Too many fail to support the mission to promulgate and inculcate the whole truth about man and God and thus plant the seeds Catholic culture. The Pope John Paul II Forum exists to raise awareness of this spiritual and cultural confrontation and to cultivate the legacy of Blessed John Paul II — so that we have the spiritual, philosophical, and cultural principles we need to advance and to prevail.

On the day of the beatification the John Paul II Forum sponsored a talk on Pope John Paul II’s devotion to Mary. “The victory, if it comes, will come through Mary.” A summary of the talk may be found here.

The full image of the statue at the shrine was cut off so I provide a complete picture by Patricia Drury below. This Polish Madonna conveys the image of the strength needed to sustain a victory over the evil one:

Our Lady of Orchard Lake, Michigan


  1. Thank you so much for this post: I was trying to locate the source of the "final confrontation" quote and was only partially surprised to learn here that it was part of a speech to Orchard Lake Polonia. To this day reading some misguided, if not arrogant comments about JPII legacy or even person leads me to believe that most people still don't understand just how much He was the right pope for the time. And just how brilliant and how holy he was, at the same time.

  2. Who can deny that we are living in the Time of the final confrontation, when those who profess to be following The Christ, deny the truth about the inherent essence of the human person, who, from the moment of conception, has been created in The Image and Likeness of God, equal in Dignity, while being complementary as a son or daughter, and desire to order man as an object of sexual desire/ orientation, in direct violation of God's Commandment regarding lust and the sin of adultery.

    You can only have an apostasy from The True Church, Christ's One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

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