photo - PAP/Jacek Turczyk
The largest gathering of demonstrators was in the capital, where about 3000 participants in the “XIII Great Warsaw Manifa” marched under the slogan of “We are cutting the umbilical cord.”
The slogan was a reference to the funding of the Church by the state, and when the march reached the Polish parliament, two participants cut a symbolic umbilical cord.
Poland signed the Concordat with the Holy See, which gives the Church certain privilages in terms of taxation and property.
Protesters argued that the global financial crisis provided further logic for the abandoning of state funding for the Church, and that attention should be focused on health, education, violence prevention and other social issues.
Although 80 percent of funding for the Roman Catholic Church in Poland comes from the faithful, the government pays about 89 million zloty (21.4 million euro) per year into the so called Church Fund.
Some marchers carried banners criticising the impending Euro 2012 football tournament, which Poland is co-hosting with Ukraine.
“No games – what we need is nurseries and bread,” declared one slogan.
“We want health, not Hail Marys,” another proclaimed.
Calls for the full legalisation of abortion and in vitro were also voiced.
Underpinning the marches across Poland is the protesters' desire for local governments to sign the European charter for equality of women and men in local life.
This charter was launched in 2006 by the Council of European Municipalities and Regions. Local governments are invited to sign the document as a commitment to equality between the sexes.
A key element in the charter is a commitment to the equal participation of men and women in the decision-making process.
Several politicians took part in the marches, including Janusz Palikot, leader of the liberal, anticlerical Palikot's Movement party, as well as Joanna Senyszyn from the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD).
Meanwhile, leader of the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) in parliament, Mariusz Blaszczak, told Polish Radio this morning that the manifa demonstration was “microscopic” compared to the others and added that instead of defending the rights of women, participants of the demo attacked the Church.
He said that Law and Justice would hold a demonstration on 14 March organized against the government's plans to increase the retirement age of men and women to 67 and rising prices in Poland. (nh/pg)