World

The indelible journey of John Paul II

Sue Masterman June 18 1979
World

The indelible journey of John Paul II

Sue Masterman June 18 1979

The indelible journey of John Paul II

World

Sue Masterman

In Warsaw, the normally staid inhabitants paved his way with flowers; on the tank training range at Gniezno

more than a million people, many of them farmers who had come by horse and cart, gathered to hear him preach; at Auschwitz he knelt in comparative solitude to pray at the monument to Father Maxmilian Kolbe, one of the four million victims at that concentration camp, who gave his life so that another man, still alive and the father of eight children, might live. Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul II, had come home.

He came, in part, like a tourist. “If this is Nowy Targ, it must be Friday,” quipped one journalist in the mountain resort as the Pope revisited the scene of his early exploits in mountaineering and skiing. And the breathtaking pace set by the pontiff in his hedgehopping white helicopter added substance to that impression. He came as a native son, perhaps for the last time, to revisit the scenes of his youth and earlier career in the church. The demands of office, with its international perspectives, make it next to impossible for him to favor one country even if it is the land of his birth. He came as a diplomat, delicately treading the thin red line between the Roman Catholic Church, which, in Poland, is the living expression of nationalism as well as religion, and communism. And he came as that mystical being, the Supreme Pontiff, and magically the rains answered his

bidding and the prayers of farmers to break an unprecedented heat wave and, later, rolled away to grant his spoken wish to see again the mountains that he loved.

In its turn, Poland welcomed him officially with all the honors due a head of state—and unofficially with public rapture on a scale that will echo in the minds and hearts of a people to whom the Pope’s visit was at once an article of faith and a renewal of their centuries-old declaration of independence from oppression, from whatever source in whatever cause.

The warmth was such as to temper even the cool winds that blow from the Kremlin. President Henryk Jablonski turned out for a truly cordial greeting at the start of the nine-day triumph and even the stony face of Communist party Secretary Edward Gierek relaxed somewhat for the official exchange of gifts, though no one was prepared to guess where he will put the mosaic of saints Peter and Paul, which the Pope bestowed on him.

From then on it was a Ro-

man holiday. The only figures that counted were millions: half a million in Warsaw’s Victory Square, the million at Gniezno (with the thermometers in the high 30s); uncounted crowds at Czestochowa, whose Jasna Gora monastery contains the sanctuary of the sabre-slashed Black Madonna; a multitude in Krakow, where the Pope spent 14 years as bishop and archbishop before that fateful day, last October, when he set out for Rome for the last time in the red cap of a cardinal.

All this with the same capacity for self-discipline manifested by those mullah-marshalled mass demonstrations that shook the Peacock Throne of Iran’s Shah. Indeed, throughout the Pope’s visit, there was hardly a “militia” to be seen. The church-appointed stewards, many of them priests, wielded severe and sometimes ruthless hands to harness the near hysteria which the pontiff, with his charisma, could invoke by a simple smile or spreading of his arms.

But there was a serious aspect, aside from all rejoicing. Well aware that the TV cameras were speeding his actions and words into homes in neighboring East Germany, Czechoslovakia and, even, parts of the Soviet Union, the Pope sent special messages to this wider audience in a series of sermons. “Christ cannot be kept out of the history of

man, the Holy Father cannot forget any of his children, his brothers,” and, explaining his visit: “He comes to speak... of those often forgotten nations and peoples ... to cry with a loud voice.”

That voice was heard clearly directing to Poland’s temporal leaders what sounded like an appeal for a lasting accommodation between church and state, though one which conformed with the church’s view of its mission to produce citizens “more conscious of their dignity, conscious of their rights and duties.” The church wanted no privileges, said the Pope. But it did want “what is essential for the accomplishment of her mission.”

There were other, earthier digs. One country cannot live at the cost of another, said the Pope, to joyous applause from people who had just learned that Poland had “won” the right to supply meat to the Moscow Olympics, although housewives have to line up for hours for a decent cut once a week. And there were some matters of theology. Well aware of the realities of divorce and abortion within the socialist system, the Pope preached once in favor of the indissolubility of marriage and once for the unborn life.

Somehow, throughout, Pope John Paul II managed to stop just short of offending his official hosts who, anyway, were inclined to take an indulgent view, no doubt thinking of all the Vatican millions which might, if all goes well, be diverted in their direction in the form of much needed investment capital.

But even if they were disinclined to be charitable, the fact remained that from the little grey nun who burst through the barriers to clasp the Pope’s hand to the party officials who secretly bring priests to say mass in their homes, there was no doubt about where the underlying power in Poland and other parts of Eastern Europe resides. And that power received a massive reinvigoration from its source last week.'ÿ