DEL SOMMO PONTEFICE
GIOVANNI PAOLO II
AI VESCOVI, AI SACERDOTI,
ALLE FAMIGLIE RELIGIOSE,
A TUTTI I FEDELI CRISTIANI
DELL' OPERA EVANGELIZZATRICE
DEI SANTI CIRILLO E METODIO
DOPO UNDICI SECOLI
24. The Baptism of Poland in 966, in the person of the first historical sovereign, Mieszko, who married the Bohemian princess Dubravka, took place principally through the Bohemian Church, and by this route Christianity reached Poland from Rome in the Latin form. But the fact remains that the beginnings of Christianity in Poland are in a way linked with the work of the Brothers who set out from distant Salonika.
Among the Slavs of the Balkan peninsula the efforts of the holy Brothers bore fruit in an even more visible way. Thanks to their apostolate the Christianity which had already for some time been established in Croatia was consolidated.
Principally through their disciples who had been expelled from the area where they had originally worked, the mission of Cyril and Methodius was confirmed and developed wonderfully in Bulgaria. Here, thanks to Saint Clement of Okhrid, dynamic centres of monastic life arose, and here particularly the Cyrillic alphabet developed. From here too Christianity moved to other territories, until it passed through neighbouring Romania and reached the ancient Rus' of Kiev, and then spread from Moscow eastwards. In a few years, in 1988 to be exact, the millenium of the baptism of Saint Vladimir, Grand Duke of Kiev, will be celebrated.
25. Rightly therefore Saints Cyril and Methodius were at an early date recognized by the family of Slav peoples as the fathers of both their Christianity and their culture. In many of the territories mentioned above, although there had been various missionaries, the majority of the Slav population in the ninth century still retained pagan customs and beliefs. Only in the land cultivated by our Saints, or at least prepared by them for cultivation, did Christianity definitively enter the history of the Slavs during the following century.
Their work is an outstanding contribution to the formation of the common Christian roots of Europe, roots which by their strength and vitality are one of the most solid points of reference, which no serious attempt to reconstruct in a new and relevant way the unity of the Continent can ignore.
After eleven centuries of Christianity among the Slavs, we clearly see that the heritage of the Brothers from Salonika is and remains for the Slavs deeper and stronger than any division. Both Christian traditions - the Eastern deriving from Constantinople and the Western deriving from Rome - arose in the bosom of the one Church, even though against the background of different cultures and of a different approach to the same problems. This diversity, when its origin is properly understood and when its value and meaning are properly considered, can only enrich the culture of Europe and its religious tradition, and likewise become an adequate foundation for its hoped-for spiritual renewal.