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Poland Celebrates Pope's Anniversary - 2003-10-16

Poles are celebrating the 25th anniversary of their native son's papacy with cheers and prayers for the pope's health. The people of Poland credit the pontiff with inspiring those who led the fight against communism in Poland and putting the country on the world map.

Celebrations of Pope John Paul's silver anniversary at the Vatican started in Poland days ago. There were masses held throughout the country, concerts and TV specials. Yellow papal banners festooned churches and public buildings in the southern city of Cracow, where Cardinal Karol Wojtyla served, before he was elected pope in 1978.

When asked in a recent survey whether they agreed with the statement, "Poles love the pope," 85 percent of the people surveyed said "yes."

On Thursday, the pope's hometown of Wadowice gathered for an outdoor mass on the central square and for a prayer for the pontiff's health.

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and his predecessor, Solidarity founder Lech Walesa, traveled to Rome to attend the ceremonies there. Mr. Walesa says the pope's support for the Solidarity movement helped hasten the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe.

President Kwasniewski called the pope a great humanist and a person who can implement his visions. He said "the pope's merits are immeasurable."

Pope John Paul II himself, in a pre-recorded TV message to Poland, said that, at the 25-year mark, the words of St. Luke's Gospel came to mind: "We are useless servants. We have done no more than our duty."

The pope added he wanted to "thank God for all the good he has caused to spring from the hearts of individuals, the church and the world" throughout the 25 years of his ministry.

As Poland celebrated John Paul's silver jubilee, the predominantly Catholic country of 38 million also expressed concern about the pope's declining health.

Cardinal Jozef Glemp, in a special anniversary mass last Sunday, said a prayer for the pope's health, but lashed out against the media, whose reporting of the pontiff's physical ailments, he said, distracts attention from the significance of his papacy.