Mon, May 29, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Hundreds of thousands of Poles join Pope Benedict XVI for Mass in Krakow


Some 900,000 Poles sang, clapped and waved yellow and white Vatican flags in a soggy field yesterday for Pope Benedict XVI, who urged them to share their faith with other countries in a mostly secular Europe.

Benedict called that the best way to honor his predecessor, John Paul II -- one of the themes of his four-day visit to John Paul's homeland.

"I ask you, finally, to share with the other peoples of Europe and the world, not least as a way of honoring the memory of your countryman, who, as the successor of St. Peter, did this with extraordinary power and effectiveness," said Benedict as he concluded his homily during the Mass in the Blonia meadow.

"I ask you to stand firm in your faith! Stand firm in your hope! Stand firm in your love! Amen!" he concluded, speaking in Polish on the last day of his trip.

Benedict has appealed to Poland to serve as a beacon of faith in a Europe that has become mostly secular. The country joined the EU only two years ago.

The 79-year-old pope has reached out to Poles by delivering parts of his speeches and homilies in Polish, and by retracing beloved native son John Paul II's steps.

He visited John Paul's birthplace, Wadowice, and yesterday's Mass was held on the same spot where John Paul also drew large crowds on his return trips to Krakow, where he served as archbishop before becoming pope.

Later in the day, the pope was to make a somber stop at the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp before flying back to Rome.

A shadow was cast over the Auschwitz visit by an attack on Saturday on Poland's chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich, who was scheduled to say Kaddish, or the Jewish prayer for the dead, during the ceremony led by the pope.

Without giving many details, police said an unidentified assailant used his hands to attack Schudrich in downtown Warsaw before fleeing, but that the rabbi was unhurt. Police said they were treating the incident as a possible anti-Semitic attack.

Pope Benedict has won applause during his visit to Poland for encouraging prayers for John Paul's canonization, and for saying he hopes it will happen "in the near future." People in Krakow have responded warmly, giving Benedict his first John-Paul sized crowds of the trip, with police estimating Sunday's crowd at 900,000.

Benedict made a triumphant entrance in his popemobile, riding through a sea of flags -- red and white for Poland and yellow and white for the Vatican.

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