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Poland: Pope's Sickness Puts Rest Of Trip In Doubt

  • Bogdan Turek

Warsaw, 15 June 1999 (RFE/RL) - Pope John Paul -- on his seventh and longest pilgrimage to his Polish homeland -- was taken ill today shortly before he was due to celebrate Mass in Krakow, the southern city where he was cardinal before his election to the papacy in 1978.

Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said the pontiff developed a fever last night. He said doctors advised the pope to remain for the rest of the day in the archbishop's residence in Krakow. He said no decisions have been made about the rest of the pope's trip, which had been due to end Thursday.

The Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, celebrated the Mass for the pope today in a pouring rain before about 1 million faithful. The homily the Pope had written for the Mass was read by Krakow Cardinal Francizek Macharski.

The 79-year-old pope has had many tiring days under changing weather conditions since the start of his 13-day pilgrimage to Poland. He has visited 15 cities during the past 10 days. It is the longest trip to a single country during his papacy.

The pontiff had appeared fatigued during the last few days. He failed to appear Monday evening as usual at the window of his rooms in Krakow, despite crowds calling for him. At the weekend, the pope fell in his private quarters and required stitches to his forehead.

The pope's fever now raises questions about the rest of his visit to Poland, as well as a planned trip on Friday to the Armenian capital, Yerevan, to see that country's ailing church leader, Catholicos Garegin I.

The Reverend Kazimierz Sawa from the Krakow press center said that the final decision on the pope's stay in Poland will be made this evening.

The pope began his marathon trip to Poland on June 5. One of the main themes of his visit has been social justice in the new Poland. The pontiff has several times openly criticized aspects of the country's new market economy.

He reiterated his message yesterday during a Mass for 300,000 people in the city of Sosnowiec, a poor coal-mining center with the highest rate of unemployment in the Silesia region.

The region is undergoing a government-sponsored restructuring plan under which several coal mines will be closed and coal production will be reduced by about 20 percent. More than 100,000 miners will be laid off by 2003. More than 30,000 miners have already received severance payments for voluntarily leaving their jobs.

The pope said that -- because of the laws of the market -- the well being of some citizens is sometimes being forgotten:

"I am praying so that my words can create hope in the hearts of those who want to work but who were affected by the bad luck of unemployment. I am asking God so that economic development in our country and other countries can go in the right direction and the people -- like St. Paul said -- can work and eat their bread in peace. I am saying it loudly because I want you to know that the church is aware of your problems."

The remarks in Sosnowiec echoed the pope's message to the Polish parliament on June 11. In a speech to the Sejm, he said politics and economic development must be based on ethical principles and spirituality in order to build a world that is more humane for everyone.

Last Friday -- in the southeastern city of Zamosc -- the pope focused his attention on the plight of the nation's farmers. The farming sector in Poland is in crisis and the government has yet to implement an agriculture reform program. Low prices for crops and the growing import of cheaper western foodstuffs triggered nationwide protests by farmers two weeks before the pope's visit.

In Zamosc, John Paul spoke of his respect for Polish farmers and their faithfulness to the national tradition of toiling on the land, despite the fact it brings them little profit:

"If we speak about respect for the land, we cannot forget about those who know the value of the land and their own dignity. I am thinking about farmers here who -- not only in the Zamosc region but also throughout Poland -- are working the land, producing indispensable food for the countryside and the cities. For centuries the farmers have tilled this land and did not spare their blood to defend it. They are serving this land. I bow my head before you. God bless your work."

Many of Poland's top politicians say they have been deeply impressed by the pope's visit and the messages he has delivered.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski -- speaking after the pope's Mass in Warsaw on Sunday -- said the pope's visit to Poland is of significance for everyone in the country, regardless of faith. He said the pope's words have turned Poles' attention to matters that are crucial but which tend to be forgotten.

"Twenty years ago," Kwasniewski said, "no one believed the world and Poland could change so much." He said the pope and the Catholic Church can take large credit for these changes.

Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek said the Mass in Warsaw was special for him because the pope clearly went back to the events of 20 years ago.

Buzek said: "At that time, I was just one in a crowd. Today, I am in a different situation, and I received the pontiff's words as an enormous obligation and responsibility."