June 1, 1997 in Nation/World

Pope Urges Poles To Seek Tolerance Asks His Countrymen To Find Peace Between Church, State

Washington Post

Pope John Paul II came home Saturday, embarking on one of the longest trips of his papacy, to sort through the tensions and achievements of his native land.

The 77-year-old pontiff immediately challenged his listeners to seek tolerance as they learn “how to be a democracy,” an allusion to the political battles raging over the demands of church and state in this overwhelmingly Catholic nation.

“I rejoice in your achievements,” he said to the hundreds of Poles who braved wind, rain and bone-chilling temperatures to welcome the former Cardinal Karol Wojtyla to this western city. “But there are problems and tensions, sometimes quite painful ones, which need to be resolved by a common and fraternal effort on the part of all.”

The pope, who spoke with anguish last summer when Polish legislators approved a law that eased restrictions on abortion, raised the ideal of tolerance along with respect for human life. Problems must be solved, he said, “with respect for the rights of each human being, especially the most defenseless and weak.”

The pontiff’s visit falls days after Poland’s highest constitutional court ruled that the new abortion law ran counter to the Constitution and asked Parliament to re-examine it.

The reception was unrestrained for the Pole who left for the Vatican nearly 19 years ago. Around the city, believers huddled under umbrellas for hours to wave and cheer as the pope’s motorcade passed by.

In St. John the Baptist Cathedral, nuns strained cordons to catch a glimpse of the pope. One gray-haired sister climbed on the back of another to reach out to the pontiff.

John Paul received a standing ovation at an ecumenical prayer service Saturday evening.

As he began to explain the need to search for unity, Pope John Paul sneezed. Twice. “Na zadrowie,” said the crowd, calling out the Polish blessing, “to your health.” Applause welled up. The pope smiled.

“It turns out even sneezing can have an ecumenical sense and serve in the matter of reconciliation,” he said. The crowd loved it.

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