Papal ceremony draws 1 million

Pope John Paul beatifies martyrs killed in Poland during Nazi occupation

June 14, 1999|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WARSAW, Poland -- At a Mass before 1 million pilgrims who turned the center of the Polish capital into a human sea, Pope John Paul II beatified 110 martyrs yesterday and called on fellow Poles to emulate the sacrifice and charity of Roman Catholic victims of history.

The beatification ceremonies drew one of the biggest gatherings of the pope's 20-year pontificate as he sent the 110 who gave their lives for their faith to the last step before sainthood.

The Mass that flooded sprawling Pilsudski Square with worshipers and filled streets and intersections over a square mile was celebrated at the same site where Pope John Paul used his first papal Mass in his homeland in 1979 to issue a call that would ignite Eastern Europe's pro-democracy movements.

Twenty years and 11 days later, he basked in the glow of his countrymen's victory over the forces of atheism and evil.

"In those difficult times, we begged the Holy Spirit to light the flame of hope in men's hearts, and the cry has been heard," recalled the pope, drawing thunderous applause and cheers.

"Before our eyes, changes of political, social and economic systems have taken place, enabling individuals and nations to see anew the splendor of their own dignity," he proclaimed during a service that lasted more than three hours.

"Truth and justice are recovering their proper value, becoming a challenge for all those who are able to appreciate the gift of freedom," he continued. "For this, we give thanks to God, looking toward the future with confidence."

As he has throughout this 13-day pilgrimage to his transformed homeland, the pope also asked fellow Poles to reflect on the sacrifice and suffering that occurred along their nation's tortured progression to democracy and freedom.

Of the 110 people he beatified, all but two were killed during the occupation of Poland by the Nazis, who saw the Catholic Church as a challenge to their authority. More than 2,700 Catholic priests were killed in Poland during World War II, especially those who sought to defend the country's 3.3 million Jews from the Third Reich's campaign of annihilation.

Most of the martyrs named were beaten or shot to death, were gassed in concentration camps or died of illnesses contracted in the squalor of incarceration.

The other two Poles beatified were Regina Protmann, a 16th-century noblewoman who founded an order of nuns dedicated to nursing plague victims, and Edmund Bojanowski, a 19th-century lay minister to the sick and unfortunate despite his affliction with tuberculosis.

Later in the day, the pope said prayers at a military cemetery in nearby Radzymin for those killed during the 1919-1921 Polish-Soviet War. More than 1,000 Polish soldiers died in the 1920 Battle of Warsaw, considered the decisive victory that halted the advance of communism into Eastern Europe.

Pope John Paul received three stitches Saturday after slipping at the Vatican Embassy in Warsaw. The bandage on his temple was smaller yesterday and the pope was able to wear his gold miter again.

His schedule has remained unchanged. The 13-day pilgrimage next takes Pope John Paul to Krakow, where he studied for the priesthood and served as archbishop before assuming the papacy in 1978.

Pub Date: 6/14/99

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