Six out of seven of the countries that we have been posted to have been Catholic to varying degrees. But none of the others can compare to Poland in this regard. This country is really, really Catholic.
The Catholic church has always played a large role in Poland’s history, as it has elsewhere in Europe. However, Poland used to be much more diverse, with a large population of Jews and Protestants. Today, after the Holocaust and flight of any remaining Jews from the country during WWII, as well as the expulsion of the German Lutheran population after the war, there are simply no significant numbers of any other religion left.
The dissenting role of of the church under communism further cemented the loyalty of a couple of generations of Poles to the church. To be Polish is to be Catholic, for at least 90 percent of the population.
They really mean it, too. Though declining, rates of church attendance are still very high. I regularly see nuns and monks in traditional clothing on the streets. The churches have worshippers in them all the time—and spilling out of the front doorways on the many days that have religious significance for one reason or another. Though I am not Catholic (and could never be Catholic, because I have some major problems with church doctrine) I do appreciate that Polish people are so sincere about their religion. They really walk the walk.
And speaking of walking, sometimes I run into a random religious procession! If not actually official, then officially sanctioned, as demonstrated by a considerable police presence, the shutting down of a major thoroughfare, and the diversion of many buses.
Of course, it wasn’t really random. I am sure there is some reason for it, I just couldn’t find one in English. If this is a holy day, Google doesn’t know about it. According to one source, this is the “procession of the holy painting.” Well, OK, then.