Catholic Social Teaching in Kraków

Photo: Golonka Lunch

That hunk of roast meat on the left is called golonka, and it’s delicious. Like so much of Polish cuisine, it comes from a pig and goes very well with beer. Followed by a nap.

This particular Golonka Lunch—that’s a proper noun in my book—took place on a sunny July afternoon on a terrace overlooking the tree-lined park that runs around Kraków’s old town. The restaurant is a stone’s throw from the Royal Castel of Wawel (pronounced VAH-vel) and the adjoining cathedral, coronation site of Polish kings and the beating heart of Polish national culture. It was there, in the crypt chapel of St. Leonard, surrounded by the earthly remains of Polish heroes and monarchs, that Karol Wojtyła offered his first Mass as a young priest in late 1946.

Every summer, I have the privilege of spending three weeks in Kraków with a group of bright young men and women, and a group of world class scholars, studying the social teaching of the Catholic Church in the home of the 20th century’s greatest exponent of that teaching—Blessed John Paul II.

Wawel at Sunset

The Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society takes Blessed John Paul II’s 1991encyclical, Centesimus Annus, as its point of departure for exploring the whole breadth of Catholic social teaching, from Rerum Novarum to Caritas in Veritate. Bringing together 20-25 young people from central and eastern Europe and 10-12 young people (mostly recent college grads) from North America—the seminar serves those men and women upon whom the future of civil society and democratic governance will depend in a particular way.

We all have a vocation to be leaven, our seminar participants are not special in this regard, but the seminar goes to great lengths to provide our participants with tools especially suited to the challenges facing our societies and cultures today—challenges they will face in concrete ways as they undertake careers in law, journalism, business, politics, academia, and as priests and religious.

The seminar is academically rigorous, and competition is stiff for the 10-12 spots open to residents of this side of the Atlantic. While there is no cost to attend the seminar, other than travel and spending money, the investment in time and travel is not insignificant. Our participants take their time in Kraków seriously.

The Church’s social doctrine is, as Pope Benedict XVI insists in Caritas in Veritate, “an essential element of evangelization.” Evangelization requires more of us than the intellectual abilities we develop in a lecture or seminar hall. This particular tool of evangelization, Catholic social doctrine, if it is to bear real fruit, must be integrated into our way of living. To this end, the seminar affords participants a rich social, cultural, and spiritual experience that magnifies and enlivens the intellectual task of the seminar.

A Pretty Part of Poland

It is one thing to talk abstractly about sacrificial love, and another to stand in the suffocating Auschwitz cell where Maximilian Kolbe was martyred, which our participants visit. Our students learn something of the mystery of God’s mercy at the former convent of St. Faustina Kowalska—the Apostle of Divine Mercy. They ponder the relationship between history, identity and piety at the great Marian shrine of Jasna Góra.  They are reminded about the foundation of true solidarity as they form friendships and worship together at daily Mass. And they soak in the idyllic vistas and warm sunshine of the Polish countryside so beloved of Blessed John Paul II.

And all of this is mulled over in a hundred conversations and deepening friendships over a period of three weeks—and over espresso on the Market Square, over late night zapiekanki in the Jewish Quarter, and yes, even sharing a kilo-and-a-half of roast pork washed down with a liter of cold Tyskie in the shadow of Wawel Castel.  The seminar is at its best when what we study becomes how we live. That conviviality, the joyful solidarity of common discipleship, is what sets the seminar apart.

If you or someone you know would be interested in finding out more about the Tertio Millennio Seminar, you can visit the seminar’s humble website, here.

Stephen P. White is a fellow in Catholic Studies at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, DC and coordinator of the Tertio Millennio Seminar on the Free Society.



  • Harrison

    I am an alumni of this course from 2007. It was the best 3 weeks of my life and is what finally aided me to make the jump for my vocation. I can’t recommend these amazing three weeks enough!



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