Pope still moral force in Poland

June 20, 1999

Here is an excerpt of an editorial from the New York Times, which was published Friday.

THE FLU that intruded on Pope John Paul II's 13-day trip to Poland was a reminder of the frailty of the 79-year-old pontiff, adding special poignancy to a visit already full of emotion. Poles, while rejecting many of the pope's doctrinal orthodoxies, nevertheless revere the Roman Catholic Church, which for centuries has been viewed as the guardian of sovereignty in an often-subjugated land. Many Poles believe that no one did more than John Paul II to save Poland from Moscow's rule.

The church's defiance softened the harshness of Moscow's rule. Collectivization of agriculture and political purges were relatively mild. Poles could speak more freely than their neighbors.

But Poles have proved as creative in their practice of Catholicism as they were with Communism, angering the pope. In surveys, most Poles have disagreed with church teaching on divorce, birth control and abortion. The church's open attempts to influence politics have often backfired. Today, young people in a rapidly growing Poland scoff at the pope's rejection of consumerism. But none of this makes John Paul II less beloved, as the large and passionate crowds he has attracted on this trip, which concluded on Thursday, show.

Poles may not follow his teachings. But to them, John Paul II is a powerful symbol and moral force.

Pub Date: 6/20/99

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