In Poland, Pope Stresses History and Hope

By Allen, John L., JR. | National Catholic Reporter, June 18, 1999 | Go to article overview

In Poland, Pope Stresses History and Hope


Allen, John L., JR., National Catholic Reporter


Cost of trip, new 30-story basilica draw criticism

In a trip that seemed to gather up many of the themes of his papacy -- the search for peace at the close of a bloody century, the connection between faith and reason, outreach to Orthodoxy and the lessons of Polish history -- John Paul II returned to his native country June 5-17, visiting 21 cities in 13 days.

In a Poland still feeling the aftershocks of the transition from communism to Western-style capitalism, issues of social justice were also center stage -- and were accompanied by some criticism of church expenditures, both the millions spent on the trip itself and the $50 million laid out for a soaring new cathedral consecrated by John Paul.

Though it may strike many Western observers as ironic, members of the progressive wing of Poland's still deeply conservative Catholic community said they felt a shot in the arm from the papal trip.

Born in Wadowice, Poland, in 1920, the pope said at the outset of his visit that he brought "the greeting of a fellow Pole who comes among you to fulfill the needs of his own heart."

Echoes of John Paul's first trip to Poland in 1979, the Solidarity movement it helped to spark and the subsequent collapse of communism across Eastern Europe could be heard throughout the journey.

In Gdansk, the city whose shipyards gave birth to Solidarity, the pope called those days "a turning point in the history of our nation and in the history of Europe."

The "new Europe," unified from the Atlantic to the Urals, was born here, the pope said.

John Paul invoked Polish martyrs both ancient and new, from Ss. Adalbert and Stanislaus to Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko, killed in 1994 by communist police. "Their blood was poured out on our land and made it fertile for growth for the harvest," the pope said.

The quest for peace was a constant theme. "How much innocent blood is being shed under our very eyes?" the pope lamented at a Mass in Bydgoszcz. "We are witnesses to how strongly people cry out and yearn for peace. The tragic events in Kosovo have shown us this and are still showing us this so painfully."

In Bydgoszcz, more than one-quarter of the city's population of 144,000 was wiped out by the Nazis during World War II. In a gesture of reconciliation, the cardinals of Berlin, Cologne and Vienna attended the June 7 Mass with the pope.

John Paul also took up the relationship between faith and reason in a visit to Torun, the birthplace of astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.

"Although Copernicus himself saw his discovery as giving rise to even greater amazement at the creator of the world and the power of human reason," John Paul said, "many people took it as a means of setting reason against faith. …

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