Poles Give Pope Rousing Welcome

Published August 17, 2002

| Associated Press

Pope John Paul II spent a deeply nostalgic day in his homeland Saturday, sleeping in his old bed, visiting his old street and driving by the disused quarry where he labored during the Nazi occupation.

John Paul's second day in Poland showed that a return home is unlike any other pilgrimage for the ailing 82-year-old pope.

"I wish to say that many of my personal memories are connected with this place," John Paul said at the end of Mass in the just-completed Basilica of God's Mercy, across a field from the Solvay chemical plant and quarry and surrounded by supermarkets and a movie theater complex.

"Until this day I remember this road that led from Borek Falecki to Debniki. Every day I walked this road coming to work for different shifts in wooden shoes that one used to wear in those days.

"How could one imagine that this man in wooden shoes would one day be consecrating" a basilica in Krakow, said John Paul, who worked at Solvay in the 1940s to escape deportation to labor camps in Germany.

Later, his "popemobile" stopped in front of the gray two-story building at No. 10 Tyniecka Street, where he lived with his father after they moved from Wadowice, the pope's birthplace, in 1938. A 7-year-old boy living there now came out and gave John Paul flowers.

"Behind every corner there's a memory," said the pope's spokesman, Joaquin Navarro-Valls.

Tens of thousands of adoring Poles are giving John Paul a joyous welcome home on his ninth, and some fear his last, trip back.

They lined the seven-mile route and shouted, "Long live the pope!" as he arrived to consecrate the new basilica.

Some 4,000 faithful clapped in rhythm as if to propel the frail pope as he made his way down the main aisle on a rolling platform. Nuns waved white handkerchiefs and tiny Vatican flags.

John Paul appeared breathless as he lowered himself into the papal chair by the marble altar.

"You can see he got a bit tired during the ceremony but I believe this pilgrimage will be good to him and he will continue his mission," said Polish-born Jan Kolata, 54, a machinery company supervisor from Chicago standing outside the basilica holding an American flag.

"He's in good shape, intellectually perfect," Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said after private talks with the pontiff Saturday afternoon.

Poles hoped the visit to his homeland would invigorate John Paul, who suffers the symptoms of Parkinson's disease -- trembling hands and slurred speech -- and knee and hip problems.

Consecrating the basilica, John Paul referred to evil in the world, making what appeared to be references to the Sept. 11 terror attacks and their aftermath.

"Where hatred and the thirst for revenge dominate, where war brings suffering and death to the innocent, there the grace of mercy is needed," the pope said, his voice faltering.

Prime Minister Leszek Miller said he told the pope it would not be his last visit and declared the government's readiness to receive him at any time. "Well, if God only allows," he quoted John Paul as responding.

Later in the evening, when the pope appeared for a second night at his window, young people in the square below sang "Stolat," the Polish song meaning "May he live 100 years."

During the four-day trip, John Paul is staying at the archbishop's residence in central Krakow. Polish church officials said John Paul is sleeping in the same bed he used as archbishop before his 1978 election as the church's first Polish pope.

John Paul clearly is overjoyed by the warmth of the reception. He is held in enormous esteem by the Polish people, both as the first Polish pope and as the man who encouraged their opposition to Poland's communist regime.

The visit, limited by frailties, centers on the Krakow region, where the young Karol Wojtyla nurtured his faith, was ordained and became archbishop.

More than 4 million pilgrims were expected to attend the pope's visit. About 2.5 million people were expected at Sunday's open-air Mass -- the largest outdoor service ever in Poland.

He will also visit the graves of his parents and brother -- all dead more than half a century -- and private prayers at the Wawel Cathedral, where he said his first Mass as a priest in 1946.

"Despite his illness, he has not closed himself behind the doors of the Vatican. This is a great example," said Maria Panczuk, 42.

Poland has not been immune to the sex abuse scandals that have shaken the Roman Catholic Church. Earlier this year, the archbishop of Poznan, a former member of John Paul's inner circle at the Vatican, was forced to resign following allegations he abused seminarians.

Responding to reports the Vatican decided to reject at least portions of a U.S. proposal to stamp out sex abuse among the clergy, Navarro-Valls said Saturday the document still was being studied.

"No decision has been taken yet," he said. "We hope to be able to communicate soon to the [U.S.] bishops the answer to their requests."

Vatican canon law experts and officials from three Vatican congregations are involved in studying the guidelines, which include a policy keeping priests who molest children away from parishioners. Some at the Vatican are said to be worried that innocent priests could be removed by overly zealous bishops.

The Vatican also denied a report in the Rome daily newspaper Il Messaggero that the beatification of Mother Teresa would take place in October, but said the process for her possible sainthood was progressing well.

Mother Teresa, the nun who dedicated her life to caring for India's outcasts, died in 1997 at 87. Pope John Paul II waived the customary five-year waiting period to start the procedures that can lead to sainthood.

Her case, compared with many taking decades or even centuries, is progressing unusually fast. However, the pope has not approved the finding of a miracle attributed to Mother Teresa's intercession after her death -- a necessary step for beatification, the last formal step before sainthood.

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