After 35 years of Communism, the influence of the Roman Catholic Church in Poland could reasonably be expected to be on the wane. Instead, there are more than 20,000 churches and chapels in Poland, each filled to overflowing for hourly Sunday masses. More than 85 percent of the Poles are practicing, often fervent Catholics, with the swing toward identification with the church the strongest among youth.
Pope John Paul II’s return this month to his native land dramatically demonstrated to the world the robust health of the Polish church—to the embarassment of his reluctant Communist party hosts.
The largest crowds in Poland’s postwar history thronged to greet him, in spite of roadblocks set up everywhere to turn them back. More than a million congregated in Warsaw and in Czestochowa; one-half million filled a Gniezno meadow in 90-degree heat to welcome their Pope; a quarter million, mostly youth, cheered him at Gebarzewo; and so it went.
The entire visit was one round of restrained but relentless sparring between hosts and guest. The former archbishop of Krakow picked up his campaign for human rights and religious freedom where he had dropped it nine months ago, using his increased clout to the full.
John Paul II said he was in Poland to commemorate the 900th anniversary of the death of St. Stanislaw, the patron saint of Polish Catholics who was killed because he defied a tyrannical king. The regime maintained that the reason for his visit was the 35th anniversary of the Polish socialist state. He was officially received as head of the Vatican state rather than as a religious leader. Therefore, like any other newly arrived head of state, he reviewed a military guard of honor (perhaps the only time during his visit that the self-assured ...1
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