- The Washington Times - Friday, May 26, 2006

WARSAW — Pope Benedict XVI celebrated Mass for an estimated 270,000 people yesterday in a rain-soaked Warsaw square where his predecessor, John Paul II, inspired Poland’s Solidarity movement against communist rule in a historic 1979 visit.

In his sermon, Benedict challenged moral relativism, or the view that there are no absolute values, and defended the church’s unchanging traditional beliefs.

In remarks read in Polish by an aide, Benedict warned the faithful against those “seeking to falsify the word of Christ and to remove from the Gospel those truths which in their view are too uncomfortable for modern man.”

“They try to give the impression that everything is relative; even the truths of faith would depend on the historical situation and human evaluation,” he said in remarks that echoed his homily at John Paul II’s funeral last year. “Yet the church cannot silence the spirit of truth.”

The choice of the site — called Victory Square in 1979 and today Pilsudski Square — harkened back to John Paul’s challenge to “renew the face of the Earth, of this land” during his triumphant first trip to his native land after being elected pope.

That visit challenged the atheist communist authorities and is credited by Solidarity founder Lech Walesa with inspiring trade union resistance to Soviet-backed rule, which collapsed in 1989-90.

Spectators stood resolutely yesterday in ponchos and under umbrellas, filling the square before an 82-foot-high metal cross on an elevated platform.

Aneta Owczarek, 18, who was dripping wet without a raincoat, didn’t consider going inside.

“No way,” she said. “This is one of the most important events that could ever happen in Poland and we don’t know if we’ll ever see the pope here again.”

Warsaw authorities said doctors on site treated about 100 people during the Mass, and 19 persons were taken to a hospital with cold or circulation difficulties, but there were no serious injuries.

As the Mass ended, the sun broke through the clouds and spectators dropped their umbrellas in favor of Polish and Vatican flags, along with signs and banners that they waved as Benedict walked through and blessed the crowd.

Textile merchant Zbigniew Kowalski, 48, attended the Mass and said he was impressed by the pope’s “warmth and openness” and his stress that “love is the most important thing between people.”

However, Warsaw retiree Miroslawa Rogozinska said she missed the personal connection that John Paul had with ordinary Poles.

“John Paul II knew our history; he knew our lives; in his words there was always some advice, some words of hope for the future. This Mass was very religious; what I heard in the homily was something I could hear in any church,” said the 70-year-old. “It’s too early to feel that this is our pope.”

The numbers were smaller than in 1979, when about 300,000 people jammed the square, with another 750,000 in the surrounding streets. Police spokesman Pawel Biedziak provided the estimate of yesterday’s crowd, with a packed square but virtually empty side streets.


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