Pope John Paul II and the Church

By Peter Hebblethwaite | Go to book overview

4
John Paul in Poland: 'Among his own, pope spoke his heart'

( June 15, 1979) Warsaw, Poland -- As John Paul moved from Warsaw into the country, he threw caution to the winds. In the capital, for the most part, he was prudent and diplomatic. But among his own people again, he let his heart speak. He started to respond to the crowds, and they to him.

In Gniezno, for instance, someone unfurled a banner that said: "Holy Father, don't forget about the children of Czechoslovakia." It caught the pope's eye, and he read it out in Czech. His sermon theme in Gniezno, first capital of Poland, was that his mission included all Slav peoples, including the Christians in the Soviet Union and Lithuania.

"We cannot forget these brothers of ours," he declared, and then added a phrase not in his prepared text: "We trust that they can hear us." The pope was referring to television coverage of his visit. The principal Polish channel can be received in parts of Lithuania and in Czechoslovakia and East Germany.

But it was unlikely that the Czechs and Lithuanians heard his appeal, for after Warsaw, the visit was relegated to the second TV channel, which they cannot pick up.

In any case, the television editing of the Warsaw event was cunningly devised to diminish its impact. The cameras focused on the pope and the ministers around the altar; they could have been performing their rites in isolation, for all the viewers knew. Shots of the crowd were rare, and they picked out the old rather than the young.

Anxious commentators relapsed into silence rather than depart from their prepared scripts. While waiting for the pope to appear at the Belvedere Palace, official residence of the Polish president, the cameras held a long shot of the classical facade for about 20 minutes. The commentators helpfully gave biographical details on the pope -- as if we didn't know -- and read, yet again, the pope's letter on the purpose of his visit, in which he stressed that he hoped to serve "the unity of the Poles."

-15-

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