WARSAW -- The Polish Roman Catholic Church has for the first time ordered that sermons express "sincere regret" for antisemitism in the country.
In a pastoral letter that is to be read at all Sunday Masses on Jan. 20, the church also emphasizes the "multiple and diverse" links between Judaism and Catholicism.
"With no other religion does the church remain in such close relations, with no other nation does it have so close ties," the letter says.
Nearly 95 percent of Poles consider themselves Catholic and the letter, long awaited by international Jewish groups and others concerned by resurgent antisemitism, is expected to have substantial impact.
In rural areas especially, the parish church is the most influential force in daily life.
However, the letter does not directly mention the current wave of antisemitism in Poland, and it also criticizes the image of Polish antisemitism as "an especially dangerous form."
"Speaking about the unprecedented extermination of Jews, one should not forget . . . Poles as a nation were among the first victims of this same criminal, racist ideology of Nazism," the letter states.
"For Poles and Jews, the blood spilled together . . . . The horrendous suffering and harms experienced should not separate us, but join us."
The pastoral letter was drafted by a church commission and approved by the bishops last month.
"We . . . express sincere regret about all instances of antisemitism which have ever taken place on Polish soil," the text states.
The letter highlights the teachings of Polish-born Pope John Paul II, and his commentaries on Judaism are also being published in book form so "the church's point of view is absolutely clear," said Jerzy Turowicz, editor of the Catholic newspaper Tygodnik Powszechny and a member of the church commission.
The conservative Polish church has fought assaults on Poland's independence through the centuries in part by emphasizing Poles' national identity -- not including the Jews who have lived on Polish soil since the 13th century and numbered 3.5 million before World War II.
However, the church has been criticized for not taking a stronger stand condemning antisemitism.
The pastoral teaching is "a very significant event," Turowicz said in an interview. "It is actually the first document by the Polish church on religious relations between Judaism and Christianity and the problem of antisemitism."
He said it is a paradoxical situation that antisemitism is resurfacing even though war, purges and emigration have reduced the Jewish population to a few thousand.
In the recent presidential campaign, antisemitic graffiti abounded, and there were claims that Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki, a devout Catholic, was Jewish and his government Jewish-controlled.
President-Elect Lech Walesa publicly repudiated antisemitism frequently during the campaign, but was criticized for not doing enough to suppress antisemitism among some of his supporters.
The letter calls for "dialogue leading to the elimination of mistrust, bias and stereotypes . . . to better knowledge of one another, and an understanding based on respect for different religious traditions."