What is Wojtyla Night?

A photo of Karol Wojtyla and members of the Rhapsodic Theater

What is Wojtyla Night? #

Wojtyla Night is an event inspired by the life of Pope St. John Paul II (born Karol Wojtyla). It is an evening when we gather together as a community to share those things which evoke the transcendentals of truth, goodness, and beauty, all things which may be called “catholic” (in the small-c sense). After sharing a meal, we participate in something which is part open-mic night, part poetry slam, part art show. It’s a fairly open concept. We’ve had all sorts of things shared: performances of pieces from authors such as Shakespeare and Poe, Irish ballads, polish dances on violin, live performance art, country fiddlin', various readings from literature, multilingual poetry, original storytelling and many, many songs and hymns.

We especially celebrate the sharing of original works of art, music, and poetry. We have many talented poets, musicans, artists, artisans and creators in our Catholic community who participate in and reflect the creative work of God, the Father. We hope this event is place where they are especially encouraged and celebrated. Inspiration and Origin

Karol Wojtyla and the Rhapsodic Theater #

Before he became John Paul the Second, the Pope, the Great, the Saint, he was Karol Wojtyla, poet, playwright and philosopher. Born in Poland in 1920, Karol Wojtyla grew up during the rise of Fascism across Western Europe, and Communism in the East. In 1939, Germany invaded Poland, occupying Polish cities for the remainder of the war, including Krakow, where young Karol was a philosophy student and aspiring playwright. The Germans saw the Polish people as subhuman and sought to suppress Polish identity and culture, which they treated as subhuman.

In an effort to sustain and preserve Catholic Polish culture in face of widespread dehumanization and destruction, Karol and his friends founded the underground “Rhapsodic Theater”. Because the celebration of polish literature and culture being illegal in occupied Poland, they met in each other’s living rooms in secret, staggering their arrival times so as not to alert Nazi patrols. They crowded into packed apartments to read the great poems of the Polish language. They wrote and performed original theater pieces. They strived to resist the Nazi suppression through the celebration of truth, goodness, and beauty.

While many of his friends believed Karol was destined for a career as an actor and playwright, Karol felt God was moving his heart towards the priesthood. He went to the Archbishop of Krakow in secret and asked to be formed as a priest. The Archbishop enrolled him in the underground seminary in Krakow and Karol was ordained a priest in 1946.

Karol Wojtyla props himself up while lying on the ground and speaking with students while on a hike

After the end of the war, Poland was occupied by the Soviet Union who installed a puppet communist regime who would rule Poland until the late 1980s. The communist regime, like the Nazi occupation before it, sought to suppress the Church in Poland. The communist regime outlawed the Church hierarchy and began to arrest priests across the country. As a young priest, Fr. Karol Wojtyla continued to resist oppression through the celebration of culture, truth and beauty. While teaching ethics at a university in Krakow, he would often take his students to go hiking, skiing, and kayaking. They would go to the countryside to pray, have mass, and discuss philosophy. Because it was illegal at the time for a priest to travel with students, the students would call Fr. Karol, “Wujek” (uncle), to avoid detection by communist police. Karol called this community, “Rodzinka”, the “Little Family”.

The First Wojtyla Night #

Inspired by the life of Karol Wojtyla and his “Rhapsodic Theater”, a handful of friends from the Cathedral Young Adult community at Saint Mary Cathedral met together in one of their homes, the Saturday following the feast of John Paul II on October 22nd, 2019. After sharing a meal together, we crowded onto couches and the floor in a packed living room apartment in Austin. We read our favorite poems, performed our favorite pieces of theater, sang songs and hymns. We shared original art, poetry, and music. We celebrated our own “catholic” culture by sharing all the things we found to be true, good, and beautiful. We resolved to continue this tradition.

Mariana B performs at the first Wojtyla Night