WARSAW, Poland—Pope John Paul II bounced back from the flu to end his marathon trip to Poland, a demanding 13-day trip complete with beatifications and 20 stopovers that attracted 10 million of his countrymen.
It looked as if the Pope would be slowed to a stop when he came down with the flu during the packed schedule of the June 5–18. But on June 16, he returned to his tour, surprising many people by his stamina.
The illness did force him to postpone many activities in his trip. The delay also caused him to cancel a trip to Armenia that he had planned for on the way back to Rome. He spent June 15 recovering at the Archbishop's Residence in Krakow — his old home before becoming Pope — but returned to the public spotlight that night.
Joaquin Navarro-Valls, director of the Holy See's Press Office, told reporters, “The Holy Father has not had a fever, so much so that he got out of bed at 9 p.m. and went to a window of the Archbishop's Residence in Krakow to greet the many faithful on the square.”
However, his scheduled visit with the Patriarch Karekin I, Catholicos of all Armenians, who is ill, “will not take place at this time. The Pope hopes he will be able to visit [Armenia] in the near future,” said Navarro Valls.
John Paul's stamina throughout his Polish visit was the subject of much comment in Poland. Dominican Father Jan Kloczowski, director of the Tygodnik Powszechny weekly newspaper, which published many of Karol Wojtyla's poems and essays, said that the Pope draws strength from the crowds.
“In 1991 he shouted at us; in 1997 he caressed us,” wrote Father Kloczowski. “And now happy.”
On the day of his fever, crowds surrounded the residence, playing instruments, singing songs, and calling for the Pope's presence at the window. “Father, Father,” they cried, “Speak, speak.”
Finally, visibly moved, the Pope came to the window and invoked the Virgin Mary.
Youths shouted: “Stay, stay! Get well, get well!”
When he returned to his schedule the next day, John Paul reportedly told some Sisters he had “eternity” to rest.
Sister Eufrosia, one of the Polish nuns who care for the Pope at the Vatican, said she told him, “I am worried about you, Your Holiness.”
“I am also worried about my holiness,” the Pope responded.
Traveling by airplane, helicopter and car, the Pope went from one end of the country to the other in his trip, speaking on several themes along the way.
Throughout the trip, he returned to several themes again and again. The most prominent was that of love — the love of God the Father and love between people.
In Gdansk, birthplace of the Solidarity union that challenged communism, he urged the Poles to love one another. “There is no freedom without solidarity,” he stated, recalling the slogan of his 1987 visit, “but there is no solidarity without love.”
In Elk, one of the poorest zones of the country, he extended this love to the poor. “Let no one be without a roof over his head, or bread on the table; let no one feel alone, abandoned or uncared for,” he told the crowds on June 8.
He added human life issues in his visit to Lowicz, a small city to the west of Warsaw: “Human life is sacred. No one, under any circumstance can claim for himself the right to directly destroy an innocent human being. God is absolute Lord of man's life, created in his image and likeness. Human life, therefore, has a sacred and inviolable character which reflects the very inviolability of the Creator.”
Sanctity and Martyrdom
The other major theme that punctuated the Pope's visit was sanctity and martyrdom, particularly at two separate beatifications of a total of 109 martyrs and the canonization of a Polish princess. The Holy Father also often made reference to the victims of the Nazi and communist regimes.
On June 6, he celebrated Mass at Pelpin, where, during World War II, half of the town's priests were killed by the Nazis. The Pope said their memory lives “because it was from their lips that our generation heard the word of God and, thanks to their sacrifice, experienced its power.”
The next day, in Bydgoszcz, about 100 miles south of Gdansk, John Paul remembered centuries of martyrs from the victims of Roman persecution, to Father Jerzy Popieluszko, a local priest kidnapped and killed by the communists in 1984. He made special mention of mothers who even today die to bring life to their children.
“The world needs people who have the courage to love and do not retreat before any sacrifice, in the hope that one day it will bear abundant fruit,” the Holy Father said.
One of the most dramatic moments of the visit was the beatification of 108 martyrs of the Nazi persecution in Warsaw on June 13. These brave men and women “gave their lives for Christ, in order to possess life forever in his glory,” the Pope said. Many were killed because of their action to help the Jewish people during the war. One mother died in the place of her pregnant daughter. Another martyr, Father Stefan Wincenty Frelichowski, martyred in Dachau, was beatified June 8 in Torun.
The final witness of sanctity in the Pope's visit was St. Kinga, whom he beatified on June 16 in Stary Sacz. Though she wanted to consecrate her life as a virgin, circumstances forced her to marry. This didn't stop her resolve — she convinced her husband to live a chaste life within their marriage. This heroic virtue became the springboard for the Pope's homily: “I speak in a special way to you, young people: Defend your inner freedom! Let no false shame keep you from cultivating chastity!”
The Sacred Heart
On June 11, in Warsaw, the Holy Father signed a document commemorating the 100th anniversary of the consecration of the human race to the Sacred Heart by Pope Leo XIII.
“From the Heart of the Son of God who died on the cross flows the perennial source of life, which gives hope to every man,” John Paul said. “From the Heart of the crucified Christ the new humanity is born, redeemed from sin. The man of 2000 needs the Heart of Christ to know God and to know himself, and to build the civilization of love.”
The Holy Father ended his pilgrimage with an unplanned stop at the shrine of Jasna Gora, in Czestochowa. There he prayed at the icon of the Black Madonna. “I come to Jasna Gora as a pilgrim in order to bow before Mary, Mother of Christ, to pray to her, and to pray together with her. I wish to thank her for the care extended in these days of my pastoral ministry in the Church of my homeland. Mary has been with us throughout this pilgrimage, interceding to her Son for spiritual gifts for us so that we may be able to ‘do whatever he tells us.’”