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Poland: Pope Calls For Greater Social, Religious Unity

  • Bogdan Turek



Warsaw, 11 June 1999 (RFE/RL) -- Pope John Paul continued a visit to his native Poland today with a first address to the Sejm, or parliament, in which he called for making ethics and faith the core values of the country's democracy.

The pontiff told the deputies that politics and economic development must be based on ethical principles and spirituality in order to build a world that is more humane and just.

He closed his remarks by echoing a prayer from his first pilgrimage home 20 years earlier, when he asked the Holy Spirit to "renew the face" of Poland.

John Paul's address to the national parliament--a historic first by the Catholic pontiff--underscored what has become a central theme of his current visit to his homeland: the need for greater social unity.

The pope, who supported the rise of Solidarity and its promises of freedom and a better life for millions of Poles, has repeatedly sought to give the result--a market economy--a more humane face.

His visit ten years after the collapse of Communism comes at a time when many Poles are concerned by widening gaps between rich and poor as their country undergoes a continuing transition from communism to a free market and prepares to join the European Union.

The pope addressed those fears in his speech to the parliament by saying the Vatican endorses Poland's move to the EU but also by stressing that human values must not be forgotten.

The pope's other central message during his current visit has been the need for greater religious unity between Catholics and members of the Orthodox Christian church.

He stressed that theme yesterday in an address to some 500,000 faithful in the southeastern city of Siedlce, saying it is the testament of Jesus Christ to be united.

"The first millenium of the church was marked by unity. The divisions came starting from the second millenium, at first in the East and then in the West. And for nearly the last 10 centuries, Christianity has been divided. In the era of the First Republic of Poland, the vast territories of Poland, Belarus, and Lithuania were the place where both western and eastern traditions existed jointly, but gradually the differences began to appear, reflected in the conflict between Rome and Byzantium in the 11th century. Gradually there's been a movement to rebuild the unity of these two churches during the synod of Florence in the 15th century."

The pope has been seeking an invitation from the Orthodox Church to visit Russia and clearly wants to see a rapproachmant between the two churches.

Later today, the pontiff will pray for the victims of the Holocaust at the Umschlagplatz Memorial in Warsaw. The memorial commemorates 320,000 Jews deported by Germans from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka and other death camps in the years 1942-43. The ceremony will be attended by thousands of people, including representatives of Poland's Jewish community.

The pope is also due today to say prayers at the Memorial of Poles fallen and murdered in the East. Historians estimate that between 500,000 to one million Poles, victims of totalitarianism, lost their lives after September 1939.

Economic analysts consider Poland to be one of the most successful countries in Central Europe in transforming its economy from a centrally planned to a free-market model. But the transition has also produced some who see themselves as victims of the process, saying it has enriched others at their expense.

Among those who see themselves as losers are farmers scared by the prospect of integration with the European Union. Polish farmers say they cannot compete with European food products which are heavily subsidized. Farmers in recent months have conducted mass blockades of roads to protest imports of western foodstuffs. These protests stopped only a few days before the pope came to his homeland.

Since his arrival, the pope's call for building a "civilization of love" to close social gaps. In a letter to the pope after he spoke in Gdansk, Solidarity unionists promised to adjust the system to make it more humane.

The letter to the pontiff said the union thanked him for what it called "those beautiful words that 'there is no solidarity without love.'" Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski promised, "We shall proceed in this direction."

Krzaklewski also said that his union should also take a more lenient approach to the reformed communists, who have often been the target of attacks by conservative parties. Krzaklewski promised: "Instead of saying 'our political opponents,' we will now say 'our political competitors.'"

Leszek Miller, the leader of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), the main post-communist political grouping, said he shared the pope's concern about the situation of the poor. In his words: "The views of the pope are close to the views of the leftists. The pope is against blood-thirsty capitalism."

Miller said the pope "inspired" him to act for the improvement of living standards. It seemed clear he would use the pope's criticism during parliamentary elections in two years.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church in Poland has also found benefits to capitalism as it has sought to earn money to help cover the cost of the current papal pilgrimage. The government offered only a little over $6 milllion to help defer the costs.

But state-owned companies such as Polish LOT Airlines, the Budimex construction company and many others were permitted use of the papal logo on their products as official sponsors of the pilgrimage, in exchange for their contributions.

Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, president of the Papal Theological Seminary, said companies who offered at least 100,000 zlotys (some $25,000) could be listed as sponsors.

The fundraising efforts represent the first time in seven papal trips to Poland that the church has not taken a distrustful approach to advertising. As Bishop Pieronek put it: "It reflects a new way of thinking in the church."

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