Poland surprises me every time. When I visited Poland in 1985, I saw a country with empty grocery stores and restaurants with very short menus. I was forced to exchange a great deal of money, and the taxi driver asked for nearly all of it for one fare, but then accepted my payment of one dollar instead. I met people who would not talk to me or even look at me. It was a closed country. And it was cold.
In 1991, Poland was opening up. The people were ready to talk to me and to show their country to visitors. But it still looked like a socialist country. Shabby buildings testified to a lack of investments, and there were few shops, restaurants and cafés with hospitable staff. One still felt like a stranger in this country.
How different things are now! Poland has not only awakened – it has been transformed into a modern, service-oriented place. The people work hard, but you can see the joy and the energy in their lives of freedom. You can watch how young people take freedom for granted and live it out without hesitation or doubt, enjoying every minute of it, filling them with natural pride and beauty. This freedom has not harmed the love of the Polish people for God – quite the opposite. Churches are so crowded that people have to stand outside.
Poland is a country of the soul. Its people seek connections with the world, with God, with the Virgin Mary, with Jesus, with one another, and with their visitors as well. This connection nourishes their feeling of well-being, enabling them to feel whole. People in Poland are individualists. Everybody needs freedom and wants to express their individuality, probably much more so due to the centuries of suppressed nationality and independence. You can see this in their faces and their body talk, but also in the way they build their houses, and how they dress and behave.
Over the last ten years, Poland has evolved into a capitalist country. It has demonstrated that it can produce enormous wealth, prosperity, services, and beauty. The houses have new roofs – in fact, there are very many new buildings altogether, and with them many new shops, restaurants, cafés and churches. The problem now is how to create and maintain an efficient service and quality oriented, modern and yet cheap infrastructure for health, education, social services, and welfare. Like everywhere else in the world, this is the challenge of the future.