Thousands of Poles attend Pope mass
26 May 2006, WARSAW - An estimated quarter of a million faithful braved spring rain Friday morning to attend the inaugural mass of German- born Pope Benedict XVI in Poland beneath a massive silver crucifix in Warsaw's central Pilsudski Square. "Here, on the eve of Pentecost, Pope John Paul II uttered the significant words of the prayer 'Let your spirit descend, and renew the face of the earth,'" the pontiff said, recalling how his Polish-born predecessor then added "the face of this land." The historic wor
26 May 2006
WARSAW - An estimated quarter of a million faithful braved spring rain Friday morning to attend the inaugural mass of German- born Pope Benedict XVI in Poland beneath a massive silver crucifix in Warsaw's central Pilsudski Square.
"Here, on the eve of Pentecost, Pope John Paul II uttered the significant words of the prayer 'Let your spirit descend, and renew the face of the earth,'" the pontiff said, recalling how his Polish-born predecessor then added "the face of this land."
The historic words spoken by John Paul on June 2, 1979 came during his first visit as pope to then communist Poland.
Historians, scholars and ordinary Poles agree the simple phrase heralded the beginning of the end of communism in the country and by extension the demise of the entire Soviet bloc.
On the heels of the papal visit, the Solidarity movement swelled to 10 million members and became the Soviet bloc's only free trade union. After nearly a decade of peaceful struggle, it negotiated a bloodless end to communism in the Round Table agreements of June 1989.
"How can we not thank God today for all that was accomplished in your native land and in the whole world during the pontificate of John Paul II? Before our eyes, changes occurred in entire political, economic and social systems," Pope Benedict said in his homily. "People in various countries regained their freedom and their sense of dignity."
The German-born pontiff, who was elected on April 19, 2005 after the death of John Paul II, also urged the development of what his predecessor called a global "civilization of love."
On Thursday, Pope Benedict began a four-day visit to Poland, during which he will retrace the life of John Paul with visits to the late pope's hometown of Wadowice and to Krakow, where he was a bishop.
Benedict will also pay homage to the victims of the Holocaust during a visit to the Nazi German death camp at Auschwitz where he will meet with camp survivors.
The pontiff was expected to draw up to one million people to the inaugural mass in Warsaw, but only an estimated quarter of a million showed up for Friday's proceedings.
John Paul II regularly drew congregations of more than a million at masses in Poland during his last three visit to his homeland in 1997, 1999 and 2002.
Religious affairs commentators have noted a more subdued atmosphere surrounding Pope Benedict's visit compared to the electric homecomings of his predecessor.
But with Friday's congregation sending up calls of "Long live the Pope!," Poles appear to have warmed to the German pontiff who has made a point of learning and speaking Polish, albeit with a thick German accent.
Commentators have also noted that for Poles the fact that a German pope presided over a mass on Pilsudski Square, a site steeped in symbolism and history, has profound resonance.
The square is named after Marshal Jozef Pilsudski, who in 1918 became the first leader of the Second Polish Republic after the country regained independence following World War I and 123 years of partition by Russia, Germany and Austria.
Facing the massive altar and crucifix specially built for Friday's mass is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The monument is fashioned from several pillars remaining from the Saski Palace which was destroyed by Nazi Germany during World War II, along with nearly 80 per cent of the city.
Friday's mass-goers also stood on the very spot where Pope John Paul II made history in 1979 by emboldening his fellow countrymen to throw off the yolk of communism.
On April 8, 2005 several hundred thousand mourners also flocked to Pilsudski Square to watch a live satellite broadcast of the pope's Vatican funeral. A statue of John Paul II is to be erected on the square.
With more than 90 per cent of Poles professing to be Roman Catholic and some 70 per cent claiming to practise their Catholic faith, Poland is the most devout country in the European Union.
Pope Benedict will hold a second mass Sunday in Krakow on the city's sprawling Blonie meadow that is also expected to draw large crowds.
Subject: German News