Lech Walesa paid homage Sunday to the spiritual strength that has sustained his Solidarity movement, making a pilgrimage to a Roman Catholic shrine named for Poland’s most famed icon, an ancient painting of the Virgin Mary.
Walesa usually wears a lapel medallion featuring the painting, titled “Our Lady of Czestochowa.” The Chapel of Our Lady of Czestochowa in south-central Poland houses both the original painting, which Polish lore says was painted by St. Luke, and the Nobel Peace Prize that Walesa won in 1983.
Walesa’s presence here at an outdoor Mass in the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in rustic Bucks County, an hour’s drive north of Philadelphia, drew 5,000 spectators who worshiped in Polish for 90 minutes in sunny but near-freezing weather. Then they heard Walesa make a brief speech.
The Mass, celebrated by Cardinal John Krol, the retired archbishop of Philadelphia, underscored the close ties between politics and religion in the Solidarity labor movement, which leads the non-Communist coalition that now governs Poland.
During the centuries that Poland was governed by outsiders and more recently when Communists ruled, the Roman Catholic Church was the most powerful symbol of national survival. Poles, the vast majority of whom are Catholic, traditionally have invested their church with a moral authority denied to governments.
The origins of the American Czestochowa shrine reflect that depth: It was built to celebrate the 1,000th anniversary of Christianity in Poland, and the shrine’s copy of the “Black Madonna"--so-called because of the dark features of Mary and the infant Jesus--made its way to New Britain Township only after a four-year tour of scores of Polish parishes.
“In these sacred places, we have always been free,” said Walesa, who concluded a seven-day tour of four American cities Sunday by attending several union and cultural events in downtown Philadelphia later in the day, including a stop at the Liberty Bell. He will fly today to Caracas, Venezuela, and then back to Poland.
Walesa is a devout man who attends Mass every day and on this visit has celebrated it regularly in his hotel room with a visiting priest. He broke an informal rule against making speeches Sunday to repeat his promise to America that Poland is building a new government.
Here, however, speaking from a railed balcony of the angular shrine that dominates the township’s low grassy hillsides, he took pains to say that “Solidarity is also a moral program . . a program of moral resurrection.
“Generations had to pray for freedom, using the words of this patriotic song: ‘Oh Lord, we pray for the return of a free homeland to us,’ ” Walesa said.
In his homily, Krol praised Walesa for having placed Solidarity “under the patronage of the Blessed Mother; she has so far not been a disappointment.”