Benedict XVI - how Poles react to the first ever visit of a German-born Pope

Pope Benedict XVI in Poland, photo: CTK

Pope Benedict the Sixteenth is on a four day visit to Poland. It's the first visit by a German born pope to Poland and it's loaded with significance for Poles because Pope Benedict's predecessor John Paul the Second was not only Polish born but a major figure in the country's spiritual and political life.

Pope Benedict XVI in Poland,  photo: CTK
Though church leaders in Poland have been saying that Pope Benedict's visit opens a new chapter in history, for millions of Poles who've attended the services and meetings with the Pope, comparisons with John Paul II seem to be natural:

"The people expect from the present Pope to continue the mission of Pope John Paul II."

"It's not the same Pope, we don't know Pope Benedict so well, he's not from our country so the atmosphere is not of coming back to the homeland like when John Paul II was coming."

"I think it's important for Catholics because Benedict will continue the way Pope John Paul chose in the past, so it's important for us morally."

According to a survey, 80 percent of Poles are not bothered by the Pope's nationality and only three percent feel that this poses a problem. Robert Strybel, one of the over four thousand journalists covering the visit.

Pope Benedict XVI in Poland,  photo: CTK
"The Pope has shown himself to be a very staunch admirer, and not only successor but a continuator of John Paul II tradition and his teaching. He's constantly evoking his memory, calling him John Paul the Great. I think Poles will be up to the level of providing him a very cordial welcome with plenty of respect and veneration."

The Pope's visit comes at a time when many disputes take place within the Polish church, particularly around the controversial Radio Maryja and the recently-surfaced reports of the clergy who collaborated with the communist secret services. According to Jonathan Luxmoore, a prominent writer on religious affairs, it is therefore a good time for the Pope to visit Poland

"Because a year after the death of John Paul II we're clearly well beyond the kind of euphoric atmosphere, in the sense of uniting the nation, if only temporarily. That seems to have fallen away. It's quite clear that this great centre of gravity which the Polish Pope provided has now disappeared and there is a sense of divisive elements."

Small wonder therefore that the visit is seen as a kind of test for Polish Catholics.

"We should show that there's no difference between the Pope from Poland or Germany."

Warsaw's Pilsudski square in Poland during a mass celebrated by Pope Benedict XVI,  photo: CTK
"This will show if people really believe in God because many people showed their attachment to religion because the Pope was from Poland. This is important because the new Pope is German and there were some misunderstandings between our nations so this will be a kind of reconciliation."

The visit to the former Nazi death camp of Auschwitz is surely one of the highlights of the pilgrimage. Polish priest Szymon Stefanowicz describes its message in these words.

"It will be healing, because the Pope is from Bavaria, so there will be a tremendous positive healing for those who suffered."

Those Poles who expect Pope Benedict to address some of their country's most burning social or political issues, as John Paul II did on so many occasions, are most likely to be disappointed. But his message on present-day moral issues and his silent march through the gate of Auschwitz will surely be the subject of comment worldwide.