Sat, May 27, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Thousands greet pope in Warsaw

AP , WARSAW

Two priests take shelter from the rain during Pope Benedict XVI's Mass in Pilsudski Square in Warsaw, Poland, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Thousands greeted Pope Benedict XVI in a rain-drenched Warsaw square yesterday at the spot where his predecessor, John Paul II, inspired Poland's Solidarity movement against communist rule in a historic 1979 visit.

People lined the street to wave and cheer as Benedict's popemobile passed, and church bells pealed.

Others stood resolutely in ponchos and under umbrellas, filling the vast Pilsudski Square determined to see Benedict pay tribute to his friend and mentor -- a main theme of his trip to Poland.

The choice of site for the Mass recalled John Paul II's bold call to "renew the face of this land" at the square during his triumphant first visit to his native land after being elected pope.

His appearance challenged the atheist communist authorities and is credited by Solidarity founder Lech Walesa with energizing the emerging trade union resistance to Soviet-backed communist rule, which collapsed in 1989-90.

The crowd was substantially less than in 1979, when some 300,000 people jammed the square, with some 750,000 in the surrounding streets. Yesterday, the square was full but not packed, while the surrounding streets were mostly empty, with just a trickle of people walking to the square.

Vatican flags festooned lampposts, and Benedict's picture stood in apartment windows; one window on Mazowiecka Street had pictures of both Benedict and John Paul.

"Today, the feeling is more spontaneous -- in 1979, we still were under a different system, we were under a regime and people came because they wanted this meeting with the pope to bring fruit, and it did, "said Barbara Kamela, 60, who attended the 1979 Mass.

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