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The Pope’s nine visits to Poland

07 sierpnia 2002 | 16:40 | Ⓒ Ⓟ

The current pilgrimage will be the ninth trip of John Paul II to the Fatherland. Each visit to Poland has had its own unique atmosphere…

||*1979: “Gaude Mater Polonia”*
John Paul II’s first visit to Poland (June 2-10, 1979) had a motto: “Gaude Mater Polonia.” It can be best summarised by the words of the Pope’s prayer in what was at that time called Victory Square in Warsaw: “Send forth your Spirit and renew the face of the earth, of this land.” Truly, the pilgrimage, which began on the eve of the feast of Pentecost, proved a significant breathing of the Holy Spirit, which shook out of lethargy Polish society, dormant for many decades under communist rule. This was in a way a crowning achievement of the ministry of the Church during the years of enslavement, a characteristically Polish “liberation theology.”
In Gniezno, in turn, were uttered prophetic words which showed the unique sense of Karol Wojtyła’s pontificate: “Does not Christ wish, does not the Holy Spirit deem it right that this Polish Pope, the Slav Pope, right now reveal the spiritual unity of the Christian Europe, composed of two major traditions of the West and of the East.”
We have been reaping the fruit of this pilgrimage to this day. John Paul II was not only a prophet but also an instigator of social transformations which were to transpire soon. But for this visit to Poland there would have been no “Solidarity”, there would have been no 1989, and finally there would be no European integration today.

||*1983: “Poland, My Fatherland”*
The second pilgrimage (June 16-23, 1983), taking place during the night of martial law, made Poles aware of a more profound, Christian dimension of hope. In his speeches to the then Polish authorities John Paul II made clear his negative attitude to the introduction of martial law. In Warsaw, making a reference to the anniversary of the Polish victory at Vienna in 1683, the Holy Father spoke about the conditions of a new victory: “We all realise that this will not be so much a military victory, like three centuries ago, but a moral one.”
“Love is greater than death,” spoke the Pope during the Holy Mass in Niepokalanów, the place where Fr. Maksymilian Kolbe lived for many years. In a situation when only a few months before there were tanks on Polish streets, John Paul II was calling: “Do not be conquered by evil but conquer evil with good” (Rom 12, 21). “Dear Brothers and Sisters! The programme of the Gospel is difficult but feasible; it is indispensable,” said the Pope. A year later, fulfilling the programme of the Gospel, Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko died a martyr’s death.

||*1987: “He loved them to the end”*
TThe third pilgrimage (June 8-14, 1987) bore traits of a clear plea for the integrity of the nation. It was a part of the Second National Eucharistic Congress, whose motto was “He loved them to the end” (Jn 13, 1). The Pope’s message is summed up by St. Paul’s words: “Carry one another’s burdens.”
On the very first day, in the Royal Castle in Warsaw, the Holy Father bravely faced the representatives of the totalitarian regime: “Each of these people has his or her own personal dignity,” spoke the Pope interceding for his compatriots. “Each of them has rights that accompany this dignity. In the name of this dignity, all rightly aim at being not only the objects of the superior activity of the authorities and institutions of the state, but also at being subjects. To be a subject means to take part in deciding about the Res publica of all Poles.”
The Pope turned to the youth with an appeal for creating their own “Westerplatte”, or virtues that they would be ready to defend to the last. In his famous sermon in the Zaspa district of Gdańsk, the Pope showed the significance of the witness of “Solidarity”, not only for Poland, but also for Europe and the whole world. It was a prelude to what was about to happen in this part of Europe. Aside from the meeting with workers and the youth, the meeting with families in Szczecin had special importance. “There is no more secure way of regenerating society than rejuvenating it through the family,” said the Pope.
The crowning event of the pilgrimage was the Pope’s memorable appeal for a new evangelisation on Polish soil, put forward from the Defilad Square in Warsaw.

||*1991: “Give thanks to God, do not lose the Spirit”*
The fourth pilgrimage (June 1-9, 1991) was a visit to an already free Fatherland. The Pope found himself in the middle of a debate over the future shape of the Republic, a major, often brutal argument over the place of Christianity in the reconstructed state. The Polish Pope tried to warn his compatriots against granting the status of an absolute to the notion of freedom. “Outside of truth freedom is no longer freedom,” said the Pope in Olsztyn. “It is a sham, or even an enslavement.” In the catalogue of man’s inalienable rights, which should constitute the foundation of social life, the Pope repeatedly mentioned the right to life from conception till natural death.
The Successor of St. Peter was also gravely concerned about the local Church in Poland, especially about her preparation for responding to completely new pastoral challenges. This concern found its expression in the Pope’s opening of the second National Plenary Synod. The Pope posed a question to the Polish Church about her pastoral care under novel historical circumstances. In his message to the Polish Episcopate he wrote: “In the previous system (…) the Church created a kind of place where the individual and the nation were able to defend their rights (…). Nowadays (…) man must find in the Church room for self-defence, as it were, for defending himself against improperly using his freedom and wasting the great historic chance.”
The VI World Youth Day, taking place at Jasna Góra (August 13-16), had a unique atmosphere. The Pope came there during the second leg of his pilgrimage. Over a million young people came to the meeting, including 100,000 from behind the Eastern border. In his homily, delivered in seven languages, the Pope called upon Europe to breathe with both of its lungs.

||*1995: The time of trial for Polish consciences is not yet over*
The main objective of the fifth papal visit to Poland (a few-hour stay in the Diocese of Bielsko and Żywiec, on June 22, 1995, before an Apostolic Visit to the Czech Republic) was to indicate a dire need for the shaping of consciences as a precondition for living in a pluralistic democratic society. The visit in Skoczów (connected with the visit in the Czech Republic and the canonisation of Jan Sarkander) took place at a moment when the Polish democracy, as seen by most observers, was undergoing a very serious crisis.
“The trial time for our Polish consciences is not yet over,” said the Holy Father. The Pope’s words about intolerance at the time of democracy had especially wide resonance both in Poland and abroad. “Despite appearances, the rights of the conscience have to be defended also today. The slogans of tolerance in public life and in the media may frequently reflect great, sometimes rampant, intolerance. This is especially painful for the faithful. A tendency can be observed to relegate those people to the margin of social life; what is most sacred to them is ridiculed and laughed at,” said the Pope.

||*1997: “Christ yesterday, today and forever”*
Another pilgrimage of John Paul II to the Fatherland (May 31 – June 10, 1997) was, on the Pope’s wish, directly connected with the 46th International Eucharistic Congress taking place in Wrocław. The motto of the Congress was “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Heb 13, 8). The visit was also tied with the European commemorative events of the millennium of St. Adalbert’s death, attended by presidents of seven countries. “There will not be a Europe unless it is a community of the Spirit,” claimed the Holy Father at the tomb of St. Adalbert in Gniezno.
Referring to the message of the key figures of the pilgrimage, namely St. Adalbert and Queen Jadwiga, whom he canonised in Cracow, the Holy Father called upon the Church in his Fatherland to be more decisively opened to Europe. He noted that it was precisely the Church in Poland that can “offer to the uniting Europe her commitment to faith, her customs permeated with a religious spirit, the pastoral endeavours of bishops and priests and many more values thanks to which Europe could function as an organism vibrating not only with a high economic level, but also with a depth of spiritual life.”
John Paul II’s message was a resonant call for unity among Christians at the threshold of the new millennium. “There is no turning back from the path of ecumenism,” said the Pope in the Wrocław People’s Hall during an ecumenical prayer crowing the Eucharistic Congress.
The Sacrament of Eucharist was presented by the Pope in the perspective of social charity. The sharing of the Eucharistic Bread, reminded the Pope, demands of us to share all we have with those who are the most needy. “Beware of all the temptations of exploitation. Otherwise each time we share the Eucharistic Bread will be an accusation for you!”
The Holy Father once again raised the issue of freedom. “In a situation of a void in the realm of values, with chaos and confusion in the moral sphere, freedom withers, man turns from a free individual into a slave. He becomes a slave to instincts, passions or pseudo-values. (…) True freedom always has a price to it,” he said in Wrocław.
During the meeting with representatives of culture on the occasion of the 600th anniversary of the Faculty of Theology at the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, John Paul II remarked that along with the collapse of the Marxist ideology “the great controversy about man” was by no means brought to an end. “Forms of degradation of the human person and the value of human life have become more refined and thus more dangerous. There is a great need for watchfulness in this respect.”

||*1999: “God is Love”*
The core message of the papal pilgrimage (June 5-17, 1999), based on the eight evangelical beatitudes, was a calling to an especially sincere Christian witness at the threshold of a new era, symbolically initiated by the Great Jubilee of Salvation. During the pilgrimage, whose motto was “God is Love” (1 Jn, 4,8), the Pope visited as many as 21 towns and cities and beatified 108 Poles, martyrs from the time of the Second World War.
During the homily delivered on June 11 at the conclusion of the Plenary Synod in the Arch-Cathedral of Warsaw, the Holy Father made an appeal for a more profound “ecclesiastical awareness” among Polish Catholics.
In the Polish Parliament the Pope touched upon the central concerns of contemporary democracy. He stressed the role played by the Church in Poland not only in overturning the totalitarian system, but also in the construction of democracy resting on “sound ethical principles.” The Pope noted that while democracy and the free market possess an enormous potential of good, they should not be glamorised. He criticised the perception of democracy solely as a set of mechanisms aiming at the achievement of a temporary majority. John Paul II also addressed the problem of the unification of Europe. “Poland is fully entitled to take part in the world’s general process of development and progress, and especially in that of Europe. The integration of Poland with the European Union has been supported by the Holy See from the beginning,” said the Pope. This pilgrimage, as none other, abounded in unique, if sometimes dramatic experiences. The 2.5 million crowd gathered in the Cracow Commons (the Błonia Krakowskie) was paralysed when it was announced that the Pope would not attend the liturgy on account of an unexpected illness. During the unforgettable evening in Wadowice John Paul II in a funny and touching way (recalling the now-famous cream cakes he used to eat there) gave an account of his childhood and youth in the perspective of the passage of time. Another unique moment of the pilgrimage was the visit at the Milewski family; simple farmers were telling the Pope about the hardships faced by the Polish countryside at the period of transformation. The Pope’s prayer in Piłsudski Square in Warsaw was still another unforgettable trait of the visit. It was there that the Pope reiterated with strength the same call upon the Holy Spirit which had ushered in the awakening of the Polish people 20 years previously, following long years of slavery: “Send forth Your Spirit and renew the face of the earth, of this land!”

||*2002: “God is rich in mercy”*
This year’s four-day pilgrimage of John Paul II to the Fatherland will have the motto “God is rich in mercy” (Eph 2, 4). The principal objective of the visit is the consecration of the Shrine of the Divine Mercy in Cracow-Łagiewniki, where the relics of St. Faustina Kowalska, the great Apostle of the Divine Mercy, are venerated. Metropolitan Archbishop of Cracow, Cardinal Franciszek Macharski, stresses the fact that this pilgrimage of John Paul II to Poland will assume a universal dimension as its chief message – “God is Rich in Mercy” – concerns each and every man. Even though John Paul II will only visit Cracow and its vicinity, the content of the papal message will make the visit significant for the entire world, says Cardinal Macharski.

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