One of the Catholic churches in Poznań, Poland's fifth largest city, generated a lot of online buzz yesterday, when the media (POL) published articles about a religious flyer printed by a Catholic weekly Mały Gość Niedzielny and distributed to children. On the flyer's cover, there is a quote from the Bible – “A lamp without oil is dark, a human without a prayer, too.” Right above it is a drawing of a black child, who is saying: “What a pity that the prayer does not brighten the skin.”
(Image source: Ateizm na wesoło)
The chief editor Gabriela Szulik, when confronted (POL) with the fact, responded:
It’s a mistake, an unfortunate one. We had no intention to offend anyone, because we are not racist. The thought that this can carry racist meaning does not even enter my mind; I simply have no associations of the kind.
Later on, she responded to allegations of racism with a promise of an online statement, also referring to the company's involvement in charity work in Rwanda and their article about Zambia.
Online reactions vary. Some discussion board users, like maczimo (POL), agree with Gabriela Szulik:
Only a complete idiot can say that we are dealing with racism.
Others – like lucenty (POL) – stay supportive and objective:
I am also convinced it was a mistake. Someone who does not think in terms of prejudice can be careless to ‘pronounce’ this pseudo racist sentence. I am far from the sick view on every single statement like that and seeing bad intentions. We, Poles, are not really so bad!
Still others express rather cynical (POL) thoughts on the issue:
It’s not that I am anti-Catholic, but the whole situation, mainly in the context of the Church, is slightly ridiculous. […] ;-)
One of the Polish London-based bloggers writes (POL):
[…] This Sunday we will pray for [the 15 black children out of the total of 26 in the blogger's child’s school group]. So passionately, so Polish-way. Will it help? […]
The majority of commentators on discussion boards find the flyer highly racist. Mecz-k (POL) said on Gazeta.pl Forum:
Oh, yes, Polish Catholicism is a religion of hate and despise. Pity that there is nothing left of Jesus preaching. Now we have Father Rydzyk [a very controversial leader of the Catholic Radio] preaching… Shame, shame really.
Jww commented on a post about the issue on this blog (POL):
I am not surprised by the content and the level of the flyer. I know more examples of that type or even worst acts of ‘tolerance’ and ‘freedom of speech’ within the church, sadly most of them stay away from political scandal similar to the one about the flyer.
One of the parents involved in the incident happens to be an outspoken blogger. After describing (POL) the day when the child came home with the flyer, she wrote:
I confiscated the flyer discreetly, but there is no way to cheat on my son: Mom, why did you hide the flyer in the pocket? Did you dislike it for some reason? Is there something wrong with it? This text is bizarre, isn’t?
Yes, a little bit. After one hour of serious thinking whether I am overreacting and consultations with Kuba’s parents: do you also agree that someone was thoughtless? Do you see it too? I am calling the parish office:
Dear Father, I understand you meant no harm, but this joke is tasteless, since all kids take such messages seriously, they do not see the intentions behind them; and you can see here clearly: the black baby regrets having dark skin, meaning being black is the worst…
I do understand where you’re coming from, but I believe the priests who ordered those pictures aimed to stress Christian values, the message of the Holy Bible…
Dear Father, you can be a Catholic and not a racist, you cannot promote messages of the kind, especially amongst children, for whom the Church sets example…
The discussion continues. On Wykop.pl, a Polish version of Digg bookmarking site, an article on this topic is on the main state category and has generated over 100 comments and gained 783 ratings so far.