Pope John Paul II addresses the 24,000-strong Polish crowd

"What we have become accustomed to calling the 'English Polonia' came about as the very backbone of Poland, fighting for the sacred cause of her independence."

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Praised be Jesus Christ!
Dear faithful brothers and sisters,
beloved fellow-countrymen.

During the Vatican Council, Cardinal Heenan, President of the English Hierachy, visited the Polish bishops who were staying in the College on the Aventine Hill. His words were impressed on my memory with remarkable force. He began his address with the words, ‘Polish airmen saved Britain.’

I refer to these words today because it seems to me that it is there we must search for a reply to the question of your identity here. Who are you? Are you merely a community of emigrants similar to many existing throughout the world? That you certainly are. And it is certainly necessary to seek here an analogy with the Great Emigration of the last century, which was chiefly concentrated in France. Nevertheless, there is something special which in a certain sense stops us from thinking of you in terms of ’emigration’. At least it stops us from thinking thus of the people Cardinal Heenan had in mind when he said, ‘The Polish airmen saved Britain.’

It is impossible to think of you in terms of an ’emigration’; we must think of you as expressed by the reality of ‘fatherland’. True, before the second World War there were a certain number of Polish emigrants in England. However, those who found themselves here as a result of wartime events were not emigrants. They were Poland wrenched out of her own frontiers, from her own battlefields – Poland re-awakened, barely twenty years earlier, to an independent existence, Poland which was rapidly being re-built after age-old destruction and handicaps. Poland, in fact, which once again was the subject of an attempt to divide her as in the eighteenth century, imposing on her a terrible and murderous war with the dominating forces of the invaders.

That is how it is. What today we have become accustomed to calling the “English Polonia” came about as the very backbone of Poland, fighting for the sacred cause of her independence, fighting once again under the watchword ‘For our Liberty and yours’. Such a Poland was composed of the airmen defending the British Isles, the divisions and brigades at Narvik, the divisions and brigades made up of Poles emerging from the depth of Soviet Republics in Eastern Europe and Asia, and then across Persia, the Middle East, Egypt and Libya on to the Italian Apennines at Monte Casino, contributing to the restitution of liberty to ‘Italian Soil’. I still have before my eyes that inscription across the street in the centre of Bologna leading to the War Cemetery. I passed it on 18th April this year, the inscription reading, “Your compatriots came by this way bringing us liberty – come along the same way, to strengthen our Faith”.

What I am saying flows from a keen sense of history. You who have created the “English Polonia” of today are for me not first and foremost emigrants, but first and foremost the living part of Poland which, although torn from its native soil, does not cease to be itself. So it lives with the conviction that within it, within that very part, the whole of Poland exists in a special way.

As I stand a pilgrim on English soil, a pilgrim Pope and at the same time a son of the same land as you, I cannot help expressing above all this truth about you, the truth which I have always felt. I have felt its basic authenticity and at the same time the essence of its tragedy.

But then, while recognising your unquestionable right, at the inception, to be a specific and vital part of Poland – its government, army, administration and structures of authority both for the country and beyond – one cannot fail to notice (especially with the passage of years), that painful physical absence into which has had to evolve your spontaneous and splendid, historically irremovable presence of Poland … beyond Poland. One cannot fail to recall once again the Great Emigration and those great, more than great spirits, which, guided by their sense of the living presence prayed: ‘…my country, thou art like good health; I never knew till now how precious, till I lost thee. Now I see thy beauty whole, because I yearn for thee” (trans: Kenneth Mackenzie, “Pan Tadeusz”, London, 1964).

A rather wonderful mystery of coincidences and hearts began to unravel in the last century and is recurring today. Poland is one of the most sorely tried countries in the entire world. One of the countries most deeply furrowed by suffering – and at the same time one of the most loved. Perhaps the mystery of that unusual love of the homeland is partly made up of that wonderful translocation of the spirit: for so many of her sons and daughters (and often for the best of them), though physically absent, she becomes spiritually present. And then for those living in Poland, this absence is not merely absence. It is a challenge. The ‘absent ones’ not only ‘are not right’ – at the same time they bear a historic testimony. They speak of Poland as she was – and as she should be. They speak of what her true worth was – and what it remains.

That is why your sacrifice and toil, the blood of so many of our brothers and sisters, despite the unfulfilled objectives for which they struggled, were not in vain.

History, especially the history of our fatherland, is full of noble deeds. We see them in contemporary times, too. We know that the efforts aimed at freedom, at respect for the dignity of man, at respect for his labour, at the possibility to live in peace with one’s own conscience and convictions seemingly have not attained the desired objectives. Yet they have changed the soul of the nation, and its awareness; these efforts lift up the spirit. They show that in life there are other spiritual and moral values not to be measured by material criteria, but they are the decisive values in the true hierarchy of human existence.

Where does this inward strength of Polish emigrantion come from? – I ask this, thinking not so much of the past which I have already mentioned, but especially with the view to the future.

The roots should be found on the banks of the Vistula river, in the faith of the Poles and in their culture. As I said at Gniezno during my pilgrimage to our fatherland, “Culture is the expression of man … Man creates culture and through culture creates himself … At the same time he creates culture in communion with others … Polish culture is a value on which the spiritual life of Poles rests. It distinguishes us as a nation. It is decisive for us throughout the course of history, more decisive even than material power. Indeed, it is more decisive than political boundaries. As is well known the Polish nation passed through the hard trial of loss of its independence for over a hundred years. And in the midst of this trial the nation remained herself. It remained spiritually independent, because it had its own culture. What is more my friends: We know that in this most tragic period of partition the nation still enriched and deepened it so much; for culture can only be preserved through creative development.”

It must be said today that this was true, also, after the last war. The merits of your emigrantion are commonly known in the field of research and publications about the history of Poland, particularly concerning the last century. It is a great contribution to the knowledge of the true history of the nation. If this contribution of research and publication were lacking, the knowledge of the past Polish history – indeed a sort of ‘self knowledge’ of Poles would be incomplete.

I also said at Gniezno that Polish culture bears very clear marks of Christianity, and it is not by chance that ‘Bogurodzica’ (hymn to the Mother of God, our oldest historical monument) gives evidence to this culture.

It is precisely to these Christian roots that we must always return and grow anew from them in every age. For such is truth about man. He always has to discover it anew.

The emigration will fulfil its mission the more effectively the higher their ethical level is, the more that Christ is the centre of its life and activity, the more it believes that he alone is ‘the way, the truth and the life’ (Jn 14:6).

In the encyclical Redemptor Hominis I said that “Jesus Christ goes to meet man in every age, in our age too, with the same words: “You will know the truth and the truth will make you free …” Today also, after two thousand years, Christ appears to us as the One who brings man freedom based on truth …” (No. 12).

It must be said that you did understand and continue to understand the need of the bond to the Faith and the Church. That is why emigration as a part of the nation, contained all the strata of society, the whole social profile with its political, cultural, scientific and professional institutions, but also with the entire ecclesiastical organisation. From the very first moment the Church was present with its structures: there was the Bishop, the unforgettable Archbishop Gawlina, and later the Rector of the Polish Mission (in England), there were the priests and developing religious organisations. They were among the first organised centres. Thanks to the understanding and goodwill of the local hierarchy, but above all thanks to your generosity and to the self-sacrificing work of the priests, so many Polish churches and chapels were established; they serve indeed to strengthen your links with Christ and introduce you to the Divine Mysteries, uniting you with Christ. In conjunction with these pastoral centres, schools have been set up in which the Polish language is taught.

The link with Polish culture is forged in the home, in religious life and in the life of organisations. On the other hand, the school, higher studies and professional life unite with the culture of the country of residence. The link between the land of your fathers and the country of residence is brought about especially at the level of culture. It is culture that provides the correct prospective of coexistence, and through education prepares a young person both for his tasks within the emigrant sphere and also for taking up the right attitude to life.

However, one of the most important tasks is the passing on of proper ideas to the new generation. The émigré community must be capable of educating, appropriate educating of the complete man. Only in such a case will the younger generation be capable of accepting the idea of freedom and truth from the older generation.

Education of the complete man, education in truth and education in Christian and Polish tradition, begins in the family. The present state of public morals does not always guarantee the family, and especially the parents, the necessary authority which is their due.

There are various causes contributing to this. The family therefore needs particular pastoral care. Only the family which is strong in God and conscious of its Christian duties is competent to carry out the tasks of educating the complete man, since, as I said on another occasion, “the work of educating man is not carried out with the help of institutions alone, with the help of organised and material means, even the best … the most important is always man, man and his moral authority, emanating from the truth of his principles and from the conformity of his actions with these principles” (Address to UNESCO, 2 June 1980 No. 11).

Today, then, I raise my voice from this spot with the words of the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris Consortio: “Family, discover the irrepressible appeal you have within yourself. Family, ‘become’ what you ‘are’.” Being gathered by Word and Sacrament as a ‘domestic Church’, become, like the Great Church, both teacher and mother (cf nn. 17, 38).

You wanted to have this meeting of ours today at the same time as your central pilgrimage to mark the 600th anniversary of the presence of Our Lady in her miraculous icon at Jasna Góra. We know what that shrine was and is for the Polish nation.

Joining in with your common desire which is mine also, let me evoke the memory of the great figure of the departed Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski. I do so at our gathering on this, the first anniversary of his death and funeral, of his passing from this earthly homeland, which he steadfastly served, to his Father’s Kingdom. At our gathering here today, I do it with the love with which all his compatriots surrounded him, both in Poland and abroad, seeing in him a protector designated by Providence to guide Poland through difficult times and along new paths. Like you, I see in him a man linked by his innermost soul to the mystery of Our Lady of Jasna Góra present in her children’s lives and in the nation’s existence. We are all aware what the Shrine and Icon of Jasna Góra have meant and still mean to our country.

Those who left their country, whether seeking their bread or for other reasons, bore with them the icon of Jasna Góra or of Ostrobrama. It was an outward sign of their faith and their attachment to Christ and to Poland. The first emigrants in this country, in the last century, also brought with them the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, both to Manchester and here to London. When Cardinal Augustus Hlond consecrated the first church in Devonia Road in London he dedicated it to the Mother of God of Czestochowa.

During the last war this icon was in almost all the soldiers’ chapels just as pictures of it were often found in the uniforms of Polish soldiers. Icons of our Lady of Czestochowa are found in every church where you join in prayer, especially to take part in a Sunday Mass. Her picture is in almost every Polish home abroad.

The Jubilee Year is the year for a special renewal of faith and family life. Parents need to look to Mary to be conscious once again of their responsibilities and their educational tasks. Certainly many families say the prayer of Jasna Góra: ‘Mary, Queen of Poland, I am close to you, I remember you, I keep watch.’ Let us be close to her and let us keep watch. Let young people keep watch. I turn especially to you, my dear young friends. Have the courage to take on this difficult heritage called Poland and develop it here on English soil. So many are the problems of today, so many values which require us to keep watch, lest man obliterate within himself, in his bonds and social relationships , the image and likeness of God engraved within him by the Creator and renewed by Christ; lest he obliterates it in himself and in others.

It is not by chance that our exceptional meeting today takes place on the feast of Pentecost.

‘Come, Holy Spirit,
send to us from heaven
a ray of your light.”

Convince us about sin, about righteousness and about judgement (cf Jn 16:18).
Lead us into all truth (cf Jn 16:13).
Glorify Christ in us, take what is His and reveal it to us (cf Jn 16:14)
Remind us of everything that Christ has told us (cf Jn 14:26)
Let not our heart be troubled and let it not be afraid (cf Jn 14:27)

The Holy Father concluded by inviting the congregation to renew their baptismal promises.