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Pope Benedict Celebrated on Visit to Poland


The rain in Warsaw did not dampen Polish enthusiasm for Pope Benedict XVI, who is on a pilgrimage of faith and sentimental journey to his predecessor's homeland. Hundreds of thousands turned out to welcome him in the capital and in Czestochowa.

On his second day in Poland, Pope Benedict XVI celebrated morning mass in Warsaw under pouring rain. A sea of umbrellas covered the large Pilsudski Square below a large metal cross.

An estimated 300,000 people braved the rain. Pope Benedict spoke to those gathered in the same square where his predecessor, Pope John Paul II, nearly three decades ago inspired workers in his homeland to stand up to communism.

Delivering his homily in Italian and Polish, Benedict said to them, "How can we not thank God today for all that was accomplished in your native land and in the whole world during the Pontificate of John Paul II?"

And he added, "Before our eyes, changes occurred in entire political, economic and social systems. People in various countries regained their freedom and their sense of dignity."

In his homily, Pope Benedict also challenged the view that there are no absolute values, and defended the church's unchanging traditional beliefs.

In the afternoon Friday, Benedict traveled south by helicopter to Czestochowa, where he received a very warm welcome. Hundreds of thousands of people there waved flags and cheered.

Czestochowa is home to the shrine of Jasna Gora, which houses the Black Madonna, a dark icon revered by Polish Catholics. Every year, more than four million people visit the shrine, considered the most important in central Europe. Pope Benedict went inside the shrine and the Black Madonna was unveiled. Later outside, he addressed priests, nuns, seminarians and representatives of church movements.

He urged them not to lose their faith and not to fear future duties or the unknown. The world and the church, he said, need priests. "My prayer," he said, "is that you will grow ever more numerous."

The pope spent Friday night in Krakow, where John Paul II served as a priest, bishop and cardinal, until his election as pope in 1978. Saturday, Pope Benedict plans to visit Pope John Paul's birthplace.

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