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Thursday, 25 May 2006

A message of remembrance, reconciliation and peace

On 25 May 2006, at 11.00 a.m., Pope Benedict XVI arrived on a pilgrimage to Poland. The President of the Republic of Poland, Lech Kaczyński, welcomed the Holy Father at Warsaw’s Okęcie military airport.

The address of the President of the Republic of Poland is given below:

Your Holiness,
Dearly Beloved Holy Father,

On behalf of the Republic of Poland and the Polish People I welcome with all my heart the Bishop of Rome, the Head of the Roman Catholic Church and the Vatican State, Dearly Beloved Holy Father Benedict XVI to our Motherland.

We welcome Your Holiness with deepest respect, with great joy and hope.

We have been waiting for you, Holy Father, ever since the outset of your pontificate, and now your pilgrimage to Poland is beginning.

As the President of the Republic of Poland and as a Roman Catholic, I am happy and proud about the fact that Poland has become the destination of the first apostolic trip of Your Holiness, planned shortly after your election to the Holy See. We are grateful and we thank you, Holy Father, for this distinction, for this sign of affection.

Your Holiness, we want to offer you our warmest thanks for the way in which you continue the mission of John Paul II. Thank you for the fruits of the friendship that bound Your Holiness to Him, John Paul II, the greatest son of Poland. From the earliest moments of your pontificate, Holy Father, you have recalled the name and the words of John Paul II, and spoken about the bond between you and your Predecessor. It is a very special, great gift for us to be able to retrace His footsteps together with Your Holiness. We are looking forward to hearing your words, Holy Father, just as we were always looking forward to hearing the words of John Paul II.

We are aware that you know Poland, Your Holiness. For a millennium, our nation has based its identity on the foundation of Christian faith. Hence Poland’s great traditions of tolerance, respect for the freedom of conscience, co-existence of many cultures, religions and denominations. ‘Polish national identity is actually about plurality and pluralism, and not about narrow-mindedness or shutting out external influences’, wrote John Paul II.

Our country, situated between the West and the East, has for centuries sat at the crossroads of European civilization. This has brought a lot of good and a great deal of spiritual wealth. The Poland of today is a country with major successes to her credit, which have also left a mark on the history of Europe. We are a European Union member, and being part of this unique community we can foster those values that underpin European civilization and on whose preservation our common future depends. The people of Poland want to have a say in the shaping of this common future.

Dearly Beloved Holy Father,

‘Stand Firm in Your Faith’: this exhortation will accompany us throughout the pilgrimage of Your Holiness that is beginning today. We will follow along the path of life of our great countryman John Paul II, which is a path of faith, hope and charity; of faith understood by John Paul II as the core of culture, the core of human life.

There is a great desire among the people of Poland to commemorate the heritage of John Paul II’s life and thought. Your Holiness, you are our spiritual guide in this effort. We see in you, Your Holiness, a great theologian with a thorough knowledge of today’s world and, above all, the Shepherd of the Roman Catholic Church, whose teachings strengthen our faith.

However, one can hardly overlook this decree of history, or perhaps an act of Providence, by which a Polish Pope is followed to the Holy See by a Pope coming from among the German people, a German-born Pope very close to the Polish-born Pope, through ties of friendship, respect and trust. This act of Providence carries a special symbolism. Poland and Germany are nations close to each other in geographical terms, and yet often drawn apart by history. Today, we are drawing increasingly closer to each other, and the present day offers us the most worthy model to follow for cooperation between a German and a Pole. Today we feel that genuine reconciliation is taking place most fully in the spiritual dimension, in the spirit of faith and Christian charity. This is a symbol important not only to all of us, not only to our two peoples.

Your Holiness, for years you have voiced a belief that ‘democracy is viable only provided that conscience is viable as well’. Your Holiness, you want the world, and Europe in particular, to be guided by this belief. The history of Polish freedom teaches us the same message. Today, we understand even better that conscience and democracy do need each other. Democracy guarantees societies freedom of action, but without conscience democracy can easily turn into its own opposite. In the future, we want to be guided by historical experiences, by the faith that is expressed through the community of the faithful and the Roman Catholic Church, by those laws and values whose catalogue includes tradition and customs, human rights and freedoms, tolerance and ultimately the state founded on the rule of law.

Therefore, I am asking you, Holy Father, to be our guide on the paths of humanity and Christianity. Poland has been looking forward to this pilgrimage. Not only Warsaw, Częstochowa, Kraków, Wadowice and Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, but the whole of Poland. Holy Father, you are awaited by Polish youth, by members of other Churches and religious associations as well as by those non-believers who choose to seek moral values in the teachings of Christ.

I am grateful to you, Your Holiness, for staring your journey from Warsaw, the city that is a symbol of our people’s heroic and tragic history. It was here that John Paul II delivered the historical words: ‘May Thy Spirit descend and renew the face of the earth, the face of this land!’. They became an inspiration for a moral awakening of the Polish people, for the emergence of the Solidarity movement, for the collapse of the criminal system that held this part of Europe in bondage.

On the itinerary of the pilgrimage of Your Holiness there is also the former Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camp, the place that symbolises, like no other, the ultimate negation of faith, of the principles of charity and tolerance. The place where ‘No’ was said to man, and where ‘No’ was said to God. The place of extermination of millions of Jews as part of the so-called ‘final solution of the Jewish question’, the place of extermination of great numbers of Poles, too, as well as members of other nationalities. We will join you in prayer, Holy Father, in this place of horror, which moves the conscience of mankind. We see the presence of the Holy Father in Auschwitz-Birkenau, his meeting with former inmates, as a meaningful message of remembrance, reconciliation and peace.

Your Holiness,
Holy Father,

For the people of Poland, Papal pilgrimages have always become a time of hope, a kind of a nation-wide retreat experience. It is an uplifting tradition that during Papal pilgrimages the Poles become better people. I trust that this will be the case this time, too. That we will open our hearts before you, Holy Father, and before each other. And that, having become better people, we will remain better people.

We realize how great are the challenges that lie ahead for us and how difficult it is to face up to them. We are looking for ways to combine spirituality with modern development. We want to stand firm in our faith! We are asking you, Holy Father, for your pastoral support in this effort. Our hearts are open to the message preached by Your Holiness!

Holy Father, let me welcome you warmly to Poland on this 11th Papal pilgrimage to our country within the last 27 years.

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