Belief in God has been a principle and a mainstay of life in Poland since early times. In fact, the creation of Polish state is associated with adoption of Christianity by its ruler, Mieszko I, in 966. Today the overwhelming majority of the Polish population (around 90%) is Roman Catholic, and a considerable number are practicing Catholics. The church has played an important role in the history of the country and its social and political life. It is widely respected by Poles and perceived as a symbol of Polish heritage and culture.
Religion has helped the Polish nation survive throughout history. The Church has supported Polish independence and united the nation in difficult times, especially during the partition of Poland in the 19th century, during the World War II, and in the communist times. The position of Church increased even more when the Polish native, archbishop of Krakow, Karol Cardinal Wojtyla, became Pope John Paul II in 1978.
Although nowadays Poland is such a uniformly Catholic country, it was not always the case. From the beginning of Polish statehood different religions coexisted in Poland. In the 16th and 17th centuries, while Europe was absorbed with religious turmoil, Poland was famous for religious tolerance and, consequently, many refugees arrived having escaped from persecution. Until World War II Poland was a religiously diverse society, consisting of Roman Catholics (65%), Christian Orthodox and Protestants (32%), and Jews (3%). The situation changed dramatically after the war as a result of German Holocaust of Polish Jews and the expulsion of German Protestants, Ukrainian Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic, as well as delimitation of new borders.
Freedom of religion is now guaranteed by the Polish Constitution. However, religious minorities are still not numerous. They consist mainly of Christian churches: Eastern Orthodox and Protestants (mainly Evangelical-Augsburg), Jehovah’s Witnesses, and a few other smaller religious groups.
The second biggest church in Poland is the Polish Orthodox Church. It has more than 500,000 followers who live mainly in eastern part of Poland. They are connected with the Belarusian minority. The Holy Mountain of Grabarka is their most important sanctuary and religious centre.
The community of Protestants consists of around 120,000 believers, mostly Lutherans (Evangelical-Augsburg Church). They concentrate mainly in Mazury region in north-eastern Poland and in Cieszyn, Silesia, in the south.
There is a small community of Muslims, numbering around 1,100 people. Most of them are descendants of Tatar population who arrived to Poland in the 17th century. Their main centers are found in Bialystok, Bohoniki and Kruszyniany in eastern Poland, and also in Gdansk.
From the large population of 3.5 million Jews living in Poland before the World War II, only around 300,000 Jews survived the German occupation and extermination. Nowadays, only around 10,000 to 30,000 Jews live in Poland. Nevertheless, Jewish cultural, social and religious life has been undergoing a revival.
The most famous sites of Christian pilgrimage in Poland include the Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa housing the miraculous Black Madonna icon, the family home of John Paul II in Wadowice, the Divine Mercy Sanctuary in Lagiewniki in Krakow, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, Swieta Lipka, Niepokalanow, Wambierzyce, Lichen, etc.