June 10, 1997

Pope bids difficult farewell to Poland

By Philip Pullella

KRAKOW, Poland - Pope John Paul II said farewell to his beloved homeland Tuesday at the end of a triumphant 11-day visit, telling Poles he carred the whole country in his heart and holding out the possibility of another trip home.

When the visit began there was speculation it could be the 77-year-old Pope's last to his homeland given his age and health, but Vatican officials have insisted his health is good and the latest trip was not planned as a farewell to Poland.

``Throughout this pilgrimage I have seen with optimism that I am capable of a new visit if God permits it,'' the Pope said at a lunch in Krosno shortly before his departure.

Replying to an invitation by the local archbishop to return to Poland, he said: ``There are many other places around here to visit and I promise to give serious attention to this possibility.''

Still, his age and recent health problems made his seventh trip home since his election in 1978 more poignant as he traveled through areas where he survived the horrors of World War II, discovered his vocation and lived as priest, bishop and cardinal.

As throughout the trip the pope used his farewell at Krakow airport to urge his fellow countrymen yet again to use their post-communist economic and political freedoms in line with Christian values.

``Moments of farewell are always difficult,'' he said. ``I take my leave of you, beloved countrymen, with a profound awareness that this does not signify a breaking of the bond which unites me with you, which unites me with my beloved native land.

``As I return to the Vatican, I carry in my heart all of you, your joys and your cares, I carry my whole native land.''

While his visit was filled with personal memories, it also gave him a chance to take stock of the new Poland eight years after it cast off communism with cheer-leading from his prestigious pulpit at the Vatican.

``I have seen the changes taking place in my homeland. I have admired the enterprise of my countrymen, their initiative and willingness to work for the good of the country,'' he said.

Poland's economy is one of the fastest growing in the former Soviet bloc, and the country is on the fast-track to join Western structures such as NATO and the European Union.

In his farewell address, the Pope appeared to back these aspirations, saying Poland was ready ``to offer its own creative contribution to the common treasure of the great family of European nations.''

But during the trip that took him from cosmopolitan Krakow with its opera and old town to peasant countryside of rolling fields, dotted with humps of hay, he expressed concern over how his countrymen were using their new wealth and liberties.

``Obviously, there are also many problems needing to be solved,'' he said.

``I am convinced Poles will find in themselves the wisdom and perseverance necessary for building a just Poland which can guarantee a worthy life for all its citizens,'' the Pope said.

President Aleksander Kwasniewski, an ex-communist, thanked the Pope for words that would help Poles overcome weaknesses, avoid inflaming hatreds and ``find the ability for cooperation among all -- left, the right and the center.''

``These have been great days,'' Kwasniewski said in an address at the airport, inviting the Pope to return.

The Pope, saying he hoped that his trip would ``serve the Church in Poland, my country and all my fellow countrymen,'' urged Poles to remain faithful to their Christian roots.

During the trip, he told Poles that despite recent social changes, Catholicism was an inextricable part of Poland's national identity and had to remain an influential force.

``My wish for my countrymen, and for Poland, is that she will be able... to be faithful to herself and to the roots from which she has grown,'' he said at the departure ceremony.

During his journey, he spoke out forcefully several times on what is perhaps the most burning issue dividing the Church and state as well as many Poles -- abortion.

He railed against the practice, saying that otherwise successful societies were still barbarian if they allowed it.

Whether abortion should remain liberalized or be restricted has become a key issue in the campaign for elections due in September, in which a powerful alliance around the pro-Catholic Solidarity union is challenging the ruling ex-communists.