John Paul II's third pilgrimage to Poland - 1987. Lessons on subjectivity

"The future of Poland depends on you and must depend on you!" - said John Paul II to young people during his pilgrimage to Poland in 1987. These words were seen as an expression of solidarity with the society suppressed by the communist authorities. However, they were much more than that - a timeless call to take responsibility for one another.
Mass in Zaspa - a district of Gdańsk, 12 June 1987. Photo by Stanisław Składanowski.
8 June
WARSAW: Okęcie Airport - greeting by the Chairman of the State Council, Wojciech Jaruzelski, Primate Józef Glemp, representatives of the government and episcopate - Cathedral - visit to Stefan Wyszyński's tomb, meeting with cloistered nuns (among the guests were Mother Teresa of Calcutta) - Meeting with the Polish Ecumenical Council - Royal Castle - meeting with Wojciech Jaruzelski, Primate Józef Glemp, representatives of the state authorities and a tour of the castle - All Saints' Church - meeting with the Pope. The Royal Castle - meeting with Wojciech Jaruzelski, address to representatives of state authorities, and tour of the castle - All Saints' Church - Mass for the opening of the Second National Eucharistic Congress
9 June
LUBLIN: Majdanek - visit to former concentration camp. Silent prayer and short speech - Visiting the cathedral - Catholic University of Lublin - meeting with representatives of the scientific world and then with professors and students of the Catholic University of Lublin combined with a liturgy of the word - Czuby district - Mass combined with the conferral of priestly ordination. TARNÓW: Meeting with young people
10 June
TARNÓW: Jasna II Estate - Meeting with the faithful before Mass, followed by Mass with the Beatification of Karolina Kózkówna - Eucharistic Vespers in front of the Cathedral. Meeting with the clergy and religious KRAKÓW: Błonia - Liturgy of the Word. The image of Our Lady of Calvary, which John Paul II decorated with a golden papal rose, was placed on the altar - Wawel Cathedral - Mass in front of the altar of the Miraculous Cross, in which the relics of Blessed Jadwiga the Queen were placed
11 June
KRAKÓW: Metropolitan Curia - meeting with friends and acquaintances from years gone by - Rakowicki Cemetery - visiting a family tomb SZCZECIN: Jasne Błonia - Mass for families. Participation in the ceremony of laying the foundation stone of the new building of the major seminary - Meeting with seminarians - Cathedral - Meeting with seminarians, priests, men and women religious GDYNIA: Meeting with seafarers. Liturgy of the Word GDAŃSK: Bishop's seat in Oliwa - private meeting with Lech Wałęsa and his family
12 June
GDAŃSK: Westerplatte - meeting with young people. Liturgy of the Word - St Mary's Basilica - meeting with the sick. Liturgy of the Word - Prayer before the Monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers 1970 - Zaspa District - Mass for representatives of the working world. Coronation of the Icon of Our Lady from the shrine in Trąbki Wielkie CZĘSTOCHOWA: The Jasna Góra Appeal
13 June
CZĘSTOCHOWA: Chapel of the Miraculous Picture - Holy Mass - Farewell meeting with the Pauline Fathers and pilgrims ŁÓDŹ: Lublinek airport - Mass during which 1.5 thousand children made their First Holy Communion (some of them received the sacrament from the hands of John Paul II) - Cathedral - meeting with representatives of the world of science and culture - "Uniontex" cotton mill in Łódź - meeting with textile workers WARSAW: Holy Cross Church - meeting with representatives of the world of culture
14 June
WARSAW: Meeting with representatives of the Jewish community - St Stanislaus Church - Visiting the grave of Solidarity chaplain Fr Jerzy Popiełuszko - Holy Cross Church. Radio Mass for the Sick, during which a papal homily was played from a tape recording - Prayer in the Greek Catholic Church of the Basilian Fathers on Miodowa Street - Defilad Square - Mass for the Beatification of Bishop Michał Kozal, marking the conclusion of the Second National Eucharistic Congress. During Mass, 100 missionaries received missionary crosses from the Holy Father - Eucharistic procession along Marszałkowska, Królewska, Krakowskie Przedmieście streets to Zamkowy Square - Meeting with representatives of the Polish Bishops' Conference - Meeting with General Wojciech Jaruzelski - Okęcie Airport - farewell ceremony
The aims of the visit were perceived differently by the Pope, by the activists of the underground anti-communist opposition, and by the authorities of the People's Republic of Poland. The opposition saw the Holy Father as their protector - ever since the strikes of August 1980, when the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union "Solidarity" was founded. In 1987, they expected to hear from him a voice of support that would breathe new strength into the Poles' fight against communism.

The opposition's special hopes - and the authorities' fears - were raised by a visit to Gdańsk, the birthplace of Solidarity. "Why Gdańsk? There are so many beautiful cities. I am afraid that (...) the celebrations in Gdańsk will turn into a witches' sabbath," said Czeslaw Kiszczak, Minister of the interior of the People's Republic of Poland, when negotiating plans for the pilgrimage with the Polish episcopate. He anticipated aggressive speeches by the opposition and feared the power of the symbol that was the city. Despite being fully aware of which side John Paul II was on, the Polish government agreed to the arrival in an attempt to capitalise on the Pope's visit in the best possible way. It hoped for normalisation of relations with the Holy See and a positive coverage of Poland in the world press, in order to bring the People's Republic of Poland out of the international isolation that had lasted since the imposition of martial law in 1981.

What position did John Paul II take towards these expectations? Certainly, his aim was to appreciate the achievements of Solidarity and to help create a programme of action on the basis of a deeper reflection on values such as solidarity, work and freedom. However, John Paul II did not come to Poland to encourage confrontation. "Solidarity must go before struggle," he said in Zaspa, Gdańsk, to working people. He came to inspire change on the path of understanding, making it clear, however, that this would only be possible with respect for the subjectivity of the society and human rights.

The faithful during mass for working people, Gdańsk-Zaspa, 12.06.1987. Photo: Stanisław Składanowski.

At the same time - and perhaps above all - the Pope wanted to prepare ordinary Poles to take responsibility for their country. During successive meetings, he developed themes about true sovereignty and how it is inseparable from a sense of mutual solidarity. In homilies and speeches, the Pope argued that social change must arise from spiritual sources. The third pilgrimage to Poland was part of a larger event, the Second National Eucharistic Congress. John Paul II thus spoke to the Poles about the sacrament of the Eucharist. He showed its value not only in religious life, but also as the best means to build a subjective nation.
1987 was the time of deep crisis. The economic collapse was underway and attempts at reform only revealed the inefficiency of the central planning system. GDP dynamics at negative levels, inflation above 25 per cent - these statistics became apparent on a daily basis in the form of empty shelves in shops and drastic price spikes. The government did not know how to cope with the deteriorating economic situation. After the assassination of Warsaw Solidarity chaplain Father Jerzy Popiełuszko by SB officers in 1984, the mood in many opposition circles, especially youth circles, became radicalised.

The communist authorities began working towards the transformation of the system, trying to gain public support for the planned reforms. To this end, they pursued, among other things, a policy of concessions to the Catholic Church. In January 1987, Wojciech Jaruzelski paid an official visit to the Vatican to help him emerge from the international isolation that had lasted since the imposition of martial law on 13 December 1981. He knew that he would have to pay for papal assistance in relations with Western countries by making concessions to the Church and the society. Among others, the arrival of John Paul II in Poland depended on the success of this visit. Both Jaruzelski and the Pope positively evaluated the Vatican talks and John Paul II even called the audience "an undoubtedly historic visit".

In September 1986, most Polish political prisoners were released from prison and Lech Wałęsa and his closest associates set up an openly operating Provisional Council of the “Solidarity” Trade Union (although Solidarity itself had not been re-legalised). In February 1987, Jaruzelski decided that the economic transformation in Poland was to be carried out after asking the opinion of all citizens in a popular referendum. This course of action was influenced by the international situation. In the USSR, the so-called perestroika, the process of transforming the communist system in the USSR after Mikhail Gorbachev took power, was underway, and the USA under the leadership of Ronald Reagan was pursuing a very active policy of pressure on the Eastern Bloc countries.

The leaders of the People's Republic of Poland were in no doubt that communism had to reform and that this had to happen by agreement with the society or at least some part of it. This did not exclude simultaneous violent action against a significant part of the opposition. Even during the 1987 pilgrimage, one could be arrested for holding a banner with the word “Solidarity”. Besides, plans to undertake further political and economic reforms were not yet widely known at the time. Poles therefore had neither hope for positive change nor confidence in the authorities to cooperate with them.

A banner during the meeting with the Pope. Photo: Stanisław Składanowski.
Main themes and the process
John Paul II's pilgrimages to Poland were mass events, exceptional in terms of the number of participants and the difficulty of preparation. It was no different in 1987. For six days, from 8 to 13 June, the Pope visited nine cities. An intensive programme was planned in each of the cities and the central events gathered hundreds of thousands of people. According to the survey conducted by the Public Opinion Research Centre (OBOP), one third of Poles wanted to take part directly in the meetings with the Pope, i.e. more than 13 million people. Only 3 per cent of respondents expressed no interest in the pilgrimage. This means that more than 30 million Poles followed the teaching of John Paul II with more or less attention.

1.  Love

"In the visible world there is one subject, one hotspot (...). Man is such a hotspot," the Pope said in his homily on the last day of his pilgrimage. He began his pilgrimage at Warsaw Okęcie airport with his humanist credo – “every man is the way of the Church”. The speech left no doubt that John Paul II's main goals were religious and that he wanted to base all social transformations on the spiritual transformation of individuals. He spoke primarily about the sacrament of the Eucharist in the context of the Second National Eucharistic Congress which was about to begin. The Pope's visit was part of this event - he began with Mass on the first day of his pilgrimage in Warsaw and ended with Mass and a solemn procession with the Blessed Sacrament also in the capital. Other cities on the pilgrimage route were the stations of the Congress, during which, in addition to celebrations with the Holy Father, other events were held to strengthen the Eucharistic devotion, including nightly Eucharistic adoration.

This sacrament, John Paul II said, builds community. In the Eucharist, "the sacrament of man's love for man", he saw the true source of solidarity. This was most fully presented by the Holy Father in his homily at the end of the Eucharistic Congress at the Defilad Square in Warsaw. The proper basis of solidarity and every community is love. Man is obliged to love, but at the same time proves incapable of it. Only Jesus, as God incarnate, was the first man capable of fulfilling the call "Thou shalt love". According to John Paul II, it is only the Eucharist, in which Jesus gives himself to man, that makes it possible to respond "with love to Love". And "one can only love oneself, one's neighbour and the world by loving God".

John Paul II, 14 June 1987. Photo by Stanisław Składanowski.

In this homily, the Pope unequivocally identified the Eucharist as the only solid foundation of any community. In an impromptu address to young people from the window of the archbishop's palace in Kraków, he called it "the beginning of all solidarity". There he also called it the sacrament of "empowerment", indicating that it is in it that young people should seek their subjectivity - also in the social dimension.

2.  Subjectivity

"Man is strong, strong with a consciousness of goals, a consciousness of tasks, a consciousness of duties" - this is how John Paul II explained to the young people of Kraków where true subjectivity comes from in man. He continued this theme in his famous homily at Westerplatte, also to young people: "one speaks rightly of human rights. (...) We must not forget, however, that human rights are there to give everyone the space they need to fulfil their tasks and duties. (...) Human rights must be the basis of that moral power which man achieves through fidelity to truth and duty". This was a call to build inner subjectivity, which he referred to as the "moral power".

At the beginning of his pilgrimage, he reminded it to the authorities of the People's Republic of Poland and personally to Wojciech Jaruzelski. On 8 June, at the Royal Castle in Warsaw he said: "Only then does a nation live authentically its own life when it asserts its subjectivity in the whole organisation of the state life. It states that it is the host in its home". With his teaching on subjectivity, he struck not only at the political practice of the communists, but also at the ideological basis of their power. Contradicting Marxism, which proclaims that historical processes are determined by social relations, John Paul II said to the Polish episcopate: man "above all is a person, he is the subject of his actions. The subject of morality. The subject of history".

Subsequent speeches to various circles, in which the call for subjectivity or sovereignty is repeated like a refrain, should be understood in this context. To the scientific community, the Pope said: "This subjectivity is worked out everywhere, at the various workplaces on this native land of ours. There are industrial and agricultural work environments called to it. There is the family and every individual called to it. Subjectivity arises from the very nature of personal being: it corresponds in the first place to the dignity of the human person." To all these circles: the farmers at a mass for more than 2 million people in Tarnow and the workers in Gdańsk, the families in Szczecin, the children in Łódź, the priests in Lublin and the cloistered sisters in Warsaw - he reminded them all of their personal duty to act freely and sovereignly for the good of the whole community. But also that it is the human right for the state to provide the conditions for such activity.

3.  Solidarity

The Pope's statements about subjectivity struck directly at the state authorities. It was clear to everyone that, in Polish conditions, the attempt at such subjectivity was primarily made by the Solidarity trade union, whose activity was brutally suppressed by those in power. When the Pope said to the representatives of the authorities in the Warsaw castle: "remember man. (...) about his right to religious freedom, to associate and to express his views", it was clear that he was reproaching the authorities for, among other things, imposing martial law, breaking social agreements and imprisoning almost all of Solidarity's most important activists. According to an OBOP survey, 70 per cent of Poles knew the content of this speech - perceived as anti-state both in party analyses and in foreign media. It is hardly surprising that the PRL authorities perceived the Pope's visit as a direct threat to the political system.

John Paul II did not hesitate to speak the truth about human rights violations by the communist regime. He also expressed support for Solidarity. Above all, his words "he wants to speak about you, and in a certain sense for you", with which he expressed solidarity with the workers at Zaspa in Gdańsk and made it clear that they themselves could not speak out freely, have gone down in history. Equally important were gestures such as praying in front of the monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers 1970, commemorating the bloodily suppressed workers' revolt, or at the grave of the murdered Solidarity chaplain Fr Jerzy Popiełuszko. Popiełuszko, in fact, was mentioned by the Pope many times in homilies and speeches, as were the strikes and August Agreements of 1980 and the lesser-known agreements of the Solidarity agricultural organisations - in Rzeszów and Bydgoszcz.

The behaviour of the listening crowds also signalled that the meetings with the Pope had a political context in addition to the religious one. Shouts, applause, banners and opposition leaflets constantly created an atmosphere of confrontation. The Ministry of the Interior did a great deal of work to prevent such a pronouncement of the pilgrimage. An operation code-named "Zorza II" was launched for this purpose. It was to secure the pilgrimage in the context of the standard threats that accompany the arrival of important personalities and mass gatherings - and this in itself, due to the size of the event, posed an enormous challenge. The job was, incidentally, well appreciated by both the public and the Pope himself. At the same time, 'Aurora II' was intended to protect the state from activities directed against the communist system. The operation involved preventive arrests of some opposition activists, searches of their homes, and the requisitioning of Solidarity leaflets and banners. There was no shortage of bizarre actions either. In Gdańsk, at the monument to the Fallen Shipyard Workers 1970, several thousand plainclothes officers of the Ministry of the Interior, PZPR activists and soldiers were lined up at the foot of the monument to the Holy Father, their backs turned. In this way, they were to show disrespect to the Pope paying tribute to the fallen and at the same time separate him from the crowd gathered there.

4.  Other events

Gdańsk was the highlight of the pilgrimage, where John Paul II's call for subjectivity and support for Solidarity resonated most strongly. However, the main theme of the mass at Zaspa was work. John Paul II devoted a great deal of attention to it during his pilgrimage, trying to convey the Church's social teaching in simple words. "Work - it means man," he said, pointing out that work must not be treated as a commodity.

He also recalled proper working conditions: in Gdańsk, fair pay, and in Łódź, at a meeting with fibre workers, the need to ensure proper conditions for women to combine work with their role as mothers. He recalled the Church's demand "that all that a woman does at home, all the activities of a mother and educator, be fully appreciated as work. This is great work". This was, according to many accounts, the most moving encounter of the pilgrimage, during which John Paul II spoke with deep emotion about his childhood years spent with his mother. He spoke with equal emotion at a Mass for families in Szczecin, where he spoke of mass culture and its victims: "betrayed, abandoned and abandoned wives", "abandoned husbands", "spiritually crippled children".

It is impossible to describe all the meetings that took place during this pilgrimage. Very important for John Paul II was the Mass in Wawel, Kraków, with the transfer of the relics of St Jadwiga of Anjou. He regarded the event as part of the celebrations of the 600th anniversary of the Baptism of Lithuania. He wished to celebrate this anniversary in Lithuania - then a Soviet republic - but Moscow did not agree to the visit. On several occasions, the Pope met with priests and seminarians. There was an ecumenical meeting in Warsaw and with representatives of the Jewish community, and with creative circles in Łódź and Warsaw. A visit to the German World War II concentration camp at Majdanek in Lublin had great symbolic power.

Defilad Square in Warsaw during the papal pilgrimage. Visible on the photograph are Jan Englert and Gustaw Holoubek, among others. Photo: Stanisław Składanowski.
It is clear from the analyses of the communist authorities that the Pope's visit led to an increase in public activity. They also emphasise the reflective nature of the pilgrimage. Similar conclusions appear in the recollections of the then young anti-communist opposition activists Maciej Płażyński and Alicja Grześkowiak. They recall their meeting with the Pope in 1987 as an impulse to strengthen their sense of strength. They perceived it as an encouragement to act, not only to fight communism, but also, for example, to be active in protecting the life of the unborn. In the opinion of both the opposition and the authorities, the pilgrimage was a great success for the Church. Among other things, it succeeded in very strongly involving young people, also to participate in policing and liturgical services.

The Solidarity underground perceived the Pope's gestures and words as an expression of support and as material for a more general reflection on the concept of solidarity in connection with freedom and sovereignty. Everyone agrees that the meetings with the Pope woke people up from their lethargy, 'recharged their batteries', but according to opposition activist Bronisław Geremek, Solidarity as an organisation failed to take advantage of this opportunity. 'The pilgrimage also confirmed,' Geremek said, 'that Solidarity must try to follow the path of agreement.

Photo by Br. Cyprian Grodzki OFMConv.

Two years after the visit, on 4 June 1989, the first partly free parliamentary elections were held in Poland, during which Poles unequivocally voted against the authorities and in favour of Solidarity representatives. In studies on the 1987 pilgrimage there are often opinions that this event was one of the most significant factors that led to the systemic transformation in Poland. However, the fall of communism was such a complicated process that it is very difficult to determine the extent and scale of the influence of one particular factor.

The pilgrimage was one of the many momentous events at this turning point in Polish history. It was an important element of the negotiations between the state and the Church, as a result of which the Polish episcopate became one of the three most important parties - alongside the communist authorities and representatives of Solidarity - deciding on the shape of the changes in 1989. The Polish episcopate received many offers from the communist authorities at that time to cooperate in carrying out reforms. The condition was that the Church dissociate itself from representatives of the underground opposition. John Paul II gave Solidarity his unequivocal support, showing the bishops that, in his opinion, this movement should not be overlooked in the process of changing the system.

The behaviour of the faithful during meetings with the Pope - such as the Solidarity banners or the enthusiastic reactions whenever the Pope spoke about the value of solidarity - showed that Solidarity continued to be a social force that would be difficult to ignore. Despite this, the communist authorities attempted reforms without agreement with the democratic opposition. Only after they failed and another wave of workers' strikes broke out in the spring and summer of 1988 did the communist authorities decide to hold talks with Solidarity representatives.
Interesting facts
Anti-government demonstrations of several thousand people were organised in Kraków and Gdańsk after meetings with the Pope. This happened against the clear will of Pope John Paul II, who, after the mass in Zaspa, unequivocally called for calm and dispersal in a prayerful mood. Also the majority of the population - at least according to OBOP surveys - commented with disapproval on the riots.

John Paul II's visit, despite his calls for calm, disappointed Wojciech Jaruzelski. Before the Pope's departure from Poland, he asked him for an additional talk. Unforeseen in the schedule of the visit, the meeting lasted almost an hour. It took place face-to-face, so it is not known what they discussed, but Jaruzelski's clear agitation during his farewell speech was indicative of an intense course.

The closing ceremony of the 2nd National Eucharistic Congress took place on Defilad Square in Warsaw. Until then, it had been reserved for state events. For one day, a place intended for communist, atheist propaganda became the sacred space of a vast Christian community. The Palace of Culture and Science, a gift to the Polish people from Joseph Stalin, became the backdrop for the papal altar.

Mass at Parade Square on the last day of the pilgrimage. Photo by Stanisław Składanowski.

The weather during the pilgrimage was difficult to bear. This is how Anna Gręziak from the medical service recalls the mass at Parade Square: "(...) there was a terrible, terrible breathlessness. There was a resuscitation ambulance standing next to it and I, too, as an anaesthetist, had a service that was, shall we say, wider than others. There were very many people who needed help. There were so many, we were simply so busy all the time during the Mass that it was out of the question even to keep track of what was happening (...)". This problem did not only affect Warsaw. According to reports on Operation Zorza II in individual cities, 18 people were hospitalised in Gdańsk as a result of fainting spells, 1,071 fainting spells occurred in Szczecin, and one person died during the ceremony in Tarnów.
Quotations by John Paul II

Each of these people has a personal dignity, and has rights corresponding to that dignity. In the name of this dignity, rightly everyone and everyone strives not only to be an object of the superior action of the authorities, of the institutions of state life - but to be a subject. And to be a subject means to participate in the determination of the "common things" of all Poles. Only then does the nation authentically live its own life when it asserts its subjectivity in the entire organisation of state life. It states that it is the host in its own home.

Address to representatives of state authorities at the Royal Castle in Warsaw, 8 June 1987.

I remember when I was young, like you, and reading the Gospel, for me the strongest argument for the truthfulness of what I was reading was that there was no cheap promise there. (...) This was very convincing to me, because normally people try to attract others with promises. (...) Christ - none of that. This is the greatest gift. It is the infinite gift - the Eucharist, Christ. At the same time, it is the most profoundly obliging gift, and therein lies its creative power, by which it builds up man, builds up our humanity, by which it gives us this power of transformation. Because that is how man is constructed. Man is strong, strong in his awareness of goals, in his awareness of tasks, in his awareness of duties, and also in his awareness of being loved. Therefore, in order for me to break through, I must be sure that I am loved.

Address to young people in Cracow, 10 June 1987.

For the future of man and humanity, this word 'solidarity' had to be spoken. Today it is flowing in a wide wave through a world that understands that we cannot live according to the principle: "all against all", but only according to the principle: "all with all", "all for all". This word has been spoken here, in a new way and in a new context. And the world must not forget it. This word is your pride (...).

Homily from the Liturgy of the Word to the People of the Sea, 11 June 1987.

Each of you, young friends, also finds in life some sort of "Westerplatte" of your own. Some dimension of the tasks that you must undertake and fulfil. A just cause for which you cannot fail to fight. Some duty, a duty from which one cannot evade. One cannot 'desert'. Finally - some order of truths and values that must be "maintained" and "defended", like this Westerplatte, in and around oneself. Yes, defend - for oneself and for others.

Homily from the Liturgy of the Word to young people at Westerplatte, 12 June 1987.

True, work has to be paid for, but that's not all. Work - that means a human being. A human being who works. Thus, as far as the just relationship between labour and wage is concerned, it can never be sufficiently defined unless one starts from man as the subject of labour. Labour cannot be treated - never and nowhere - as a commodity, because man cannot be a commodity for man, but must be a subject. He enters into work through his whole humanity and his whole subjectivity. Work opens up in social life the whole dimension of man's subjectivity and also the subjectivity of society, made up of working people.

Homily from a Mass for the working world in Zaspa, Gdańsk, 12 June 1987.

I talked about the 'female genius'. And this is true. People often sing to the Pope: "Long live, long live us, long live a hundred years". It is then difficult not to think of a mother, of a woman, of my birth mother. If I am alive in the world at all, it is because she was the one who gave me this life. (...) It is difficult to read without deep emotion Christ's words about woman, especially about the woman who is to give birth to a human being. Christ says: "Then she experiences sorrow", because it is a great toil and suffering, but - he goes on to say - "once she has given birth to a human being", this toil and suffering and sorrow turns into joy. It is hard not to think of our mothers when meeting women. This is the 'feminine genius'.

Speech to fibre workers in Łódź, 13 June 1987.

Author of the text: Ignacy Masny, Centre for Thought of John Paul II

Event Place
Choose location...