40 years ago, John Paul II's first visit to Poland that brought the collapse of communism

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It is 40 years since St. John Paul II first visited Poland between June 2-10 in 1979. It was an historic moment as the country was ruled by the oppressive regime of the Soviet Union.

The Polish Ambassador to the Holy See, Janusz Kotański, fondly remembers Pope John Paul II's visit to Poland. 

He recalls the hope this pope brought to the many people who despairingly believed the Soviet Union would last forever. 

Ambassador of Poland to the Holy See
“Right in the middle of Warsaw there were around a million Poles. We were listening with tears in our eyes to the words of this Polish pope.” “He treated us seriously. He was telling us you must do this and that. You mustn't be afraid. You are Catholics. You are Poles. You are are young. The future belongs to you.”

He notes how the pope's visit helped bring about peaceful change and ultimately the collapse of communism. This is because soon after his visit millions of Polish people formed the Solidarity trade union.  

Ambassador of Poland to the Holy See
“The Communist party was always saying, 'Yes we are here for you! We are for the workers! For the poor people!' However, these people were now saying no.” “It was a kind of revolution that was absolutely peaceful, absolutely peaceful. The people were praying the rosaries and on the gate of the Gdansk shipyard there was a great portrait of John Paul II.” “I know it was also of course the weakness of the Soviet economy, Ronald Reagan's very good and strong policies. However, who started it? Who did it? St. John Paul II, Karol Wojtyła and the millions of Poles who were not afraid.”

One of the reasons John Paul II wanted to visit Poland was to mark the Millennium of the baptism of Poland. In 1966 the Communists had not permitted Pope Paul VI to visit to celebrate this important occasion for Catholicism in Poland. 

According to the Polish Ambassador, the Soviet government warned John Paul II not to visit and afterward sought ways to destroy solidarity among the polish people. 

Ambassador of Poland to the Holy See
“The first secretary of the Soviet communist party Leonid Brezhnev had said to Gierek, first secretary of the Polish Communist party, before John Paul II's visit 'Oh we know Wojtyła is a wise man. Tell him he must announce he is sick. It would be better for him not to come to Poland.'” “They tried during the martial law. Jaruzelski was trying to destroy our solidarity, our liberty, but he couldn't. It was impossible.”

He says it is important people do not to forget John Paul II, who strongly stood against the violation of human rights and life.

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