- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 25, 2006

WARSAW — Poles gave Pope Benedict XVI a warm greeting yesterday — if not the rapturous reception reserved for native son Pope John Paul II — as the German-born pontiff pledged to strive to heal painful wounds from the “tragic tyranny” of the Nazis during World War II.

Benedict made clear his trip was “no mere sentimental journey” but was intended to keep alive the goals of his friend and mentor, John Paul: German-Polish reconciliation, strengthening relations with Jews and keeping Poland a beacon of Catholicism in secular Europe.

He drew a roar of applause at the airport as he launched into his welcoming speech, which he began in Polish but later switched to Italian.

“I have very much wanted to make this visit to the native land and people of my beloved predecessor, the servant of God, John Paul II,” Benedict said. “I have come to follow in the footsteps of his life.”

Poles like Benedict’s emphasis on continuing John Paul’s legacy, and don’t seem to mind that he is German despite the memory of the war, which left Warsaw in ruins. But many still miss John Paul.

“It’s not the same as with our pope,” said Wanda Nowicka, 75, who was waiting on a downtown street to watch Benedict pass by on his way to his first stop at Warsaw’s Cathedral of St. John the Baptist.

“I don’t mind if he is German. He is very friendly and he’s learning Polish and he was a friend of John Paul,” said Aniela Kalisz, 72, who carried a small Vatican flag bearing Benedict’s photo.

Thousands of people lined the motorcade route from the airport to downtown Warsaw — a large crowd by European standards for a visit by the Roman Catholic leader, but small compared with the hundreds of thousands who turned out when John Paul flew into Warsaw in 1979 for the first time since assuming the papacy.

Benedict beamed broadly and waved as he descended from the plane to begin his four-day visit, and managed to keep his skull cap from flying off in a brisk breeze.

This tour will touch on some of the most painful memories of Europe’s past, and will include a visit Sunday to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, where the Nazis killed 1.5 million people, mostly Jews.

“There I hope especially to meet the survivors of Nazi terror who come from different countries, all of whom suffered under that tragic tyranny,” Benedict said at the airport.

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