Walesa will meet the Holy Father this afternoon, in the building of the Oliwa Curia where, twelve years ago, the head of the Catholic Church and the leader of an underground labor union had a long conversation. The historic movement resulting from that meeting was unstoppable.
The former Polish president admits that this visit provides a good opportunity to evaluate what has happened over the last few years. "The road we have traveled can be judged in different ways, but I, myself, try to be faithful to the ideals which inspired Solidarnosc [Solidarity] and which were very well expressed in the Pope's encyclical on work: man is above capital and he cannot be reduced to a mere instrument of an ideology or a State. It is a message that guided us in the struggle against communism, and it remains very timely today."
The Solidarnosc epic began two decades ago, but in the minds of Poles it started a century ago. Walesa believes that the "real Solidarnosc phenomenon lasted only fifteen months, from its foundation in August, 1980 until the state of war imposed by Jaruzelski in December, 1981. Of course it was reborn and came to power in 1989, but it no longer had the heroism, generosity and solidarity it had in the beginning. Later, with the advent of the free market, many mistakes were made, ultraliberalism took over, but this was not the economic ideal that had inspired us. We could destroy the old system, but couldn't build a new one."
In Poland, the government, Parliament and public opinion have been in favor of the NATO bombings in Yugoslavia. Poland is a singular case in Europe. Walesa explains why: "We Poles have lived through the methods of the old communists, and we saw them happening again in Kosovo, exacerbated by the crimes of ethnic cleansing. Poland has lived in her own flesh the drama of refugees, deportations, changing borders. It is necessary to be courageous and to put an end to this barbarism."
Walesa does not think that the bombings can solve the problem, however. "Please," he said, "I have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. I hate war. But it has been proved that with people like Milosevic kind words and threats are of no use. Moreover, Poland has just joined NATO, and it cannot afford the luxury of remaining aloof at a time when difficult decisions must be taken." ZE99060409
During this new pilgrimage, which crowns the twenty years of his pontificate, John Paul II will celebrate 11 Masses for the people, two beatifications and one canonization; he will give 30 addresses and will emphasize ecumenical and social topics.
The religious dimension of the visit is centered on the theme, "God Is Love," in harmony with the third year of preparation for the Great Jubilee of the Year 2000. It will be the theme of the entire papal trip and is in response to the need for unity and reconciliation in a country lacerated by social tensions, in the difficult period of transition from decades of communist dictatorship to a democratic system and market economy.
In fact, just a few days ago, miners and farmers joined labor union protests, which are being manifested in this difficult process of transformation. The bishops appealed for social peace.
In the religious realm, John Paul II will find a Church regarded as an example of dynamism, committed to the task of reconstruction, including in the material dimension, following the long dictatorship.
Among the most important events of this trip is the beatification of 108 martyrs of the second World War, some of whom gave their life to save Jews from Nazi persecution, the remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust and the communist regime, and the meeting with deputies and senators during the Pope's first visit to a national Parliament, in respect for the institutions of the democratic State.
The whirlwind tour continues today with stops in Pelplin and Elblag, where the Pope will make an act of devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Monday, he visits three cities, ending in Torun, where he will beatify Fr. Stephen Vincent Frelichowski.
This trip also sees the diversity within the Church in Poland. Tuesday's Mass at Elk will include faithful from neighboring Lithuania. Thursday, the Holy Father will celebrate the Mass in Siedlce in the morning with the Greek Catholic community, and in the afternoon will participate in an ecumenical service in Drohiczyn.
Friday is dedicated to activities in Warsaw, including a visit with the President and a moment of prayer at a monument for victims of the Holocaust. Next Sunday morning is the beatification of 108 martyrs of World War II and two confessors of the faith.
In Krakow, on Monday, June 14, the Pope will celebrate the Mass in celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the diocese. On Wednesday the 16th, in Stary Sacz, the Pontiff will formally declare the sainthood of Cunegunda. Finally, on Thursday the 17th, he will privately visit the tomb of his family in Krakow. ZE99060408
On his eighth pilgrimage to Poland, the Holy Father could not have chosen a more significant door to open onto his country. Gdansk is a name with intense connotations in 20th century European history, like Sarajevo. It was in Gdansk that the first spark was ignited that engulfed the European Continent in the Second World War. It was also in this city, that the flame of liberty was lighted, ending in the disintegration of atheist marxism. And it was here that twelve years ago, the Polish Pontiff openly challenged general Jaruzelski, fixing solidarity as the alternative to the class struggle.
It is in this context that the Pope's words, addressed from a 26-foot platform in the horse racing track five miles from the city, overlooking the Gdansk Bay, are best understood.
"Indeed, there is no happiness, there is no future for the individual and the nation without love, without that love that forgives yet does not forget, which is sensitive to the misfortunes of others, which does not seek its own advantage but seeks the good of the other person; that love, which is ever ready to help, which is selfless and disposed to give generously," the Pope added.
This is, in a word, the "civilization of love" that John Paul II wished to bring to the new Poland.
Shortly after his arrival, the Holy Father made it clear that he came to his country to explain how the love of the Father, which is the theme of his visit, must become a social project. This proposal was akin to the one he made in 1991 when, shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall, he reviewed the Ten Commandments with his compatriots, who were already being attracted to the temptations of Western consumerism.
"Today the world and Poland need great-hearted men, who serve with humility and love, who bless and do not curse, who conquer the land with blessing. It is not possible to build the future without reference to the source of love, which is God."
The Poles have responded to John Paul II's first appeals with affection. The people streamed out into the streets separating the airport from the Gdansk archdiocese to greet the Pope. The windows of the houses in the city were adorned with the papal flag, pictures of the Pontiff and Marian icons. For Poland this will likely be the most intense week of 1999. ZE99060604
This was his first visit to the diocese of Pelplin as Pontiff, an area that knows what it is to struggle to maintain one's Catholic identity. During the Prussian domination of the 19th century, this region faced the challenges of the "Kulturkampf."
300,000 people from the whole diocese came to the hills of Biskupia Gora, where a 108-foot cross was erected. It will remain as an unforgettable memory of the place where the Holy Father offered Mass.
During the homily, the Pontiff made a brief review of one thousand years of Christianity in these lands, the conclusion of which he celebrated yesterday in Gdansk. He referred specifically to the murder of the priests at the hands of the Nazis, which took place here seventy years ago.
"If today we remember these martyred priests, it is because it was from their lips that our generation heard the word of God and, thanks to their sacrifice, experienced its power."
As the Pope usually does on such occasions, he drew lessons from history for the future. "We need to recall this historic sowing of the seed by word and witness, especially now as we approach the end of the second millennium. This centuries-long tradition must continue in the third millennium. Yes, given the new challenges confronting the individual and entire societies today, we must constantly renew our awareness of what the word of God is, of how important it is in the life of the Christian, in the life of the Church and of all humanity."
In order to reach this objective, the Pontiff gave his fellow countrymen some personal advice. "Cross into the new millennium with the Book of the Gospels! Let there be one in every Polish home! Read and meditate upon it! Let Christ speak!"
Near the altar was an old statue of Mary, the Virgin of Pomerania, crowned 35 years ago, in 1964, by the then Cardinal Karol Wojtyla. At the end of the Mass, everyone turned to the image of Our Lady. It was the moment when the Pope spoke freely and intimately, to honor the Mother who gave us the Man who revealed, "in a manner most tragic from the human point of view, the truth that God is love." Before his farewell, John Paul II recalled the wonderful holidays he spent in this area when, as a young priest, he canoed on its rivers.
During the first 24 hours of his visit to Poland, John Paul II had been with more than 1,100 million compatriots. The television is covering live every hour the public events presided by the Holy father. The front pages of the newspapers talk about nothing. But the new evangelization, the most important gift the Pope brings his people, is nothing other than the oldest message of Christianity: "God is love." ZE99060605
The Holy Father will make his longest and most grueling trip home yet since his election to the papacy in 1978. Millions of people are expected to turn out at the papal events, and the bishops have warned against trivializing the religious meaning of the trip by politicizing it. Among the quarrels that are expected to try to take advantage of the high profile of the papal visit are protests by farmer, miners, doctors, and nurses.
"I hope that during the Pope's visit a bit of an angel will enter each of us and we will reach out our hands to one another," visit organizer Bishop Jan Chrapek told state radio. He added that the government must also do all it can to resolve the disputes with justice. "The bishops appeal to the government to start solving these dramatic problems and not to avoid burning social issues," he said.
Polish primate Cardinal Jozef Glemp of Warsaw also rebuffed the Polish Peasants' Party's attempt urge the Holy Father on behalf of farmers. "The Holy Father will not resolve our woes. He can only remind us of the principles on which we ourselves must base the settlement of our difficulties," he told PAP news agency.
The pastoral pilgrimage that begins today will be the longest that the Pontiff has ever made to a single country. Starting today, Saturday June 5, the Pope will stay in Poland for 13 days, returning to the Vatican next Thursday, June 17.
The Pontiff will visit 20 different places of his country during the trip, completing in this way his visit to all Polish dioceses. He will preside over 11 Eucharistic celebrations, including two ceremonies of beatification and one of canonization. One of these is the beatification of 108 martyrs from World War II.
Poland has a population of 38,6 million of inhabitants. 95,4 % are Catholic, that is, approximately 36,8 million. It is divided into 43 Church circumscriptions. It has more than 26000 priests and about 27000 religious.