Polish Catholics urged to pray and fast after protesters disrupt Masses over abortion ruling

31466718256 0cd06c274e k Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski of Krakow, Poland, center, pictured Oct. 20, 2016. | Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk.

An archbishop urged Polish Catholics to pray and fast Tuesday after protesters disrupted Masses in the wake of a landmark court ruling on abortion. 

Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski of Kraków issued the appeal Oct. 27 after demonstrators interrupted Sunday Masses across Poland. 

"Since our Master, Jesus Christ, has called for true love of our neighbor, I ask you to pray and fast for the understanding of this truth by all and for peace in our homeland," the archbishop wrote to his flock. 

Kraków archdiocese reported that young Catholics stood outside churches amid the protests in an effort to prevent disruption and cleaned up graffiti. 

Nationwide protests began after the constitutional court ruled Oct. 22 that a law permitting abortion for fetal abnormalities was unconstitutional.

In the highly anticipated ruling, the Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw declared that the law introduced in 1993 was incompatible with Poland's constitution.

The ruling, which cannot be appealed, could lead to a significant reduction in the number of abortions in the country. Abortion will continue to remain legal in cases of rape or incest and risk to the mother's life.

In addition to disrupting Masses, protesters left graffiti on church property, vandalized a statue of St. John Paul II, and chanted slogans at clergy. 

Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, president of Poland's bishops' conference, urged demonstrators to express their opposition "in a socially acceptable way." 

"Profanity, violence, abusive inscriptions, and the disturbance of services and profanations that have been committed in recent days -- although they may help some people to defuse their emotions -- are not the right way to act in a democratic state," the archbishop of Poznań said Oct. 25.

"I express my sadness that in many churches today, believers have been prevented from praying and that the right to profess their faith has been forcibly taken away."

Gądecki's own cathedral was among the churches targeted by protesters.

The archbishop will chair a meeting of the permanent council of the Polish bishops' conference Wednesday to discuss the current situation.

Archbishop Wojciech Polak, the Primate of Poland, told the Polish station Radio Plus that he was surprised by the scale and the sharp tone of the protests.

"We cannot react with evil to evil; we must react with good. Our weapon is not to fight, but to pray and meet before God," the archbishop of Gniezno said Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the website of the Polish bishops' conference highlighted Pope Francis' greeting to Polish-speakers at Wednesday's general audience. 

The pope said: "On October 22 we celebrated the liturgical memorial of St. John Paul II, in this centenary year of his birth. He always appealed for a privileged love for the least and the defenseless, and for the protection of every human being from conception until natural death." 

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"Through the intercession of Mary Most Holy and the holy Polish pontiff, I ask God to inspire in the hearts of all respect for the life of our brothers, especially of the most fragile and defenseless, and to give strength to those who welcome and care for it, even when it requires heroic love."

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