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A Prophet Ignored

WARSAW: The thirteen days that Pope John Paul II spent in Poland this summer will probably be the last that he ever spends in his homeland. What the Pope wanted to say to the Polish people, and what was understood by them appear, as the nostalgic haze of that journey fades, to have been two very different things.

Pope John Paul II began his pilgrimage in Gdansk, birthplace of Solidarity, with a remembrance mass for St. Adalbert, who introduced Poland to Catholicism some thousand years ago. St. Adalbert's evangelism is often called the "baptism of Poland". What the Pope sought, indeed, was nothing less than a re-baptism of our country. In a way, he treated Poland – up to a point – as a pagan country. His numerous sermons and speeches revealed his intention to restore Adalbert's spirit in Poland.

John Paul spoke constantly of the need for love, about the love of God, but also about love between people. In an unprecedented visit to Poland's parliament -- indeed, his address to the Sejm was the first address to a democratic assembly John Paul II has given in the two decades of his papacy -- he even spoke about love between politicians, although he is clever enough to know that such a thing is practically impossible. Our politicians were happy to hear that they should love each other, though when Pope left they started to quarrel about the meaning of love. On the last day of his stay, the Pope invited the Polish President, a man with a long communist past, into the "papamobile", which also was totally unprecedented.

So, what was the meaning of the Pope's sermons and this behavior? First, we can quote the sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf, who often says that democracy and free markets are cold things. The Pope wanted to show that democracy can be warmed by love, or at least by the fact that real human beings participate in the making of democracy and in the free market. What was very surprising, particularly given his finger-wagging visits to America and other rich democracies, was that the Pope did not criticize the Polish people for their robust materialism. In a sense, John Paul II accepted Poland as it is with the hope that people will find more pleasure in democracy and in the free market when they love each other.