Pope Visits Alma Mater, City of His Ministry


Nearing the end of an emotional journey home, Pope John Paul II awoke Sunday in the house where he lived as archbishop, made a tearful return to his alma mater and said Mass for more than a million fellow Poles.

The crowd, stretching beyond sight to fill a 120-acre meadow, was one of the largest to gather during seven homecomings since the pontiff left here in 1978 to lead the Roman Catholic Church.

For eight days, John Paul has been hopping across this predominantly Catholic country by helicopter, urging Poles to cling to spiritual values that sustained them through four decades of communism but are now threatened, in his view, by Western consumerism.

On Sunday, he singled out Hedwig, a 14th century Polish queen, as a contemporary role model while canonizing her a saint.


The Hungarian-born Hedwig, crowned at age 10 and married off at 12 to a Lithuanian prince, devoted the rest of her life to spreading Catholicism from Poland to her husband’s nation and others in Europe. Hedwig, or Jadwiga in Polish, was also a benefactor of Krakow’s Jagiellonian University, where the future pope studied theology. She died in childbirth at 25.

“She gave the whole nation the example of love of Christ and of man--of man who is hungry for faith and knowledge, as he is also for daily bread and clothing,” the pope said. “God grant that this example will also be drawn from today, so that the joy of the gift of freedom may be complete.”

As John Paul’s 11-day pilgrimage draws to a close, Poles are weighing its potential impact on September’s parliamentary elections, pitting the ruling party of former Communists against a Solidarity movement with close ties to the church.

But the pope’s thoughts appear focused on his past.


Before arriving in Krakow late Saturday, John Paul spent three days at a resort in the nearby Tatra Mountains, where, from boyhood until his hip-replacement surgery in 1994, he hiked and skied. This time he took helicopter excursions and rode on a cable car.

Today in Krakow, the pope is to visit the graves of his mother, father and brother, who all died before he reached 22.

“He is living through a lot of memories,” Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said. “It’s a time of reflection.”

John Paul stayed at Krakow’s 17th century archbishop’s palace, where he lived for 14 years, but had to eschew his old bedroom for a quieter one to ensure his sleep through all-night vigils by adoring crowds in the street below.

After Mass, he went to his alma mater to commemorate the 600th anniversary of its theological school, which went underground during his student years after Nazi occupiers closed it. Tears welled in his eyes during a concert in his honor.

“A university bears some resemblance to a mother . . . giving birth to souls for the sake of knowledge, wisdom, the shaping of minds and hearts,” he read from a text.

Breaking from his prepared address, he recalled the day in 1939 when the Nazis, trying to destroy Poland’s intellectual life, hauled away 144 of the school’s professors to concentration camps.

“I was talking to some of them that day,” he said. “They never went home, they never came back. . . . There are many other memories deep in my heart.”


Before his election as the first Polish pope, Karol Wojtyla spent 40 years in this southern industrial and agricultural center as a student, laborer, priest, professor, bishop, archbishop and cardinal.

“He always had something magic that drew young people to him,” Marianna Moskala, a woman in her 50s, said as she waited in Sunday’s crowd, which had a large proportion of teenagers.

Many said they attended the Mass believing this is John Paul’s last homecoming. Frail and stooped on the three-tiered altar, surrounded by 100 musicians, a choir of 500 and cardinals from across Europe, John Paul looked and sounded exhausted.

But spokesman Navarro, a physician, insisted that John Paul “has held up perfectly well” on the journey, which he suggested was less tiring than the pope “spending 16 hours a day cooped up” in his Vatican offices.

Sunday’s Mass brought together government officials and Solidarity leaders whose parties are running neck and neck in preelection polls.

The Solidarity alliance, trying to regain control of the government it lost three years ago, has put up posters across Poland depicting the pope greeting crowds. Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski said the pope’s visit should prompt a “moral awakening” that could help defeat the government.

But John Paul has avoided the political fray, appealing in religious language for national unity. Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, who met with him Sunday, expressed “gratitude . . . for the fact that during his pilgrimage there reigns an atmosphere of peace and reconciliation.”