On Saturday (2 June), Pope John Paul the Second became the first reigning pontiff to visit a communist country.
On Saturday (2 June), Pope John Paul the Second became the first reigning pontiff to visit a communist country. The Pope returned to his homeland for an historic eight-day visit and received a tumultuous welcome from thousands of his countrymen. They turned out to see the man who said the identified himself with the Christian communities in all of Eastern Europe, and suggested that perhaps he had been elected Pope so that the Polish, Slav and other related languages could be heard.
SYNOPSIS: Thousands of bells tolled from the Carpathian Mountains to the Baltic Sea, between the Oder-Neisse Rivers in the west and the Soviet frontier in the east, when Pope John Paul the Second set foot on the soil of his home country for the first time since he left Poland last October. His election -- as a Pope -- to the highest Catholic office, and an improving relationship between the Polish State and the Church have made this historical visit possible. His bow to the Polish flag acknowledged the significance Catholics all over the world have attached to his visit.
Cardinal Wyszynski -- the Polish Primate, and former superior of Pope John Paul, with whom he did not always see eye-to-eye -- was the first to greet the Pontiff, boarding his plane on arrival. In his welcoming speech, Wyszynski told the Pope the Polish people would place at his feet "the noble soul of Poland, ever faithful to the Church".
At the airport, the Polish government received Pope John Paul with the honours bestowed on a visiting head of state. But the five-hundred specially-invited guests and the thousands who lined the streets into Warsaw greeted the Pope with the joy many observers compared to Christ's triumphant entry to Jerusalem.
There were no palm leaves but a sea of Vatican flags, waved by thousands - many of whom regard the Church as an unofficial opposition to the Communist state. Pope John Paul was invited by the Polish Episcopate for the nine-hundredth anniversary of the martyrdom of St. Stanislaw, a Bishop of Krakow slain as a rebel on the orders of King Boleslaw the Bold.
Pope John Paul travelled by helicopter on a visit which was delicate to arrange, but a visit also in which both Church and Government have tries to create a mutually friendly atmosphere.