It was like a carnival, a political campaign, a crusade and an enormous Polish wedding all in one. Almost from the moment his Alitalia 727 plane deposited Pope John Paul II in Warsaw and he knelt, in his gleaming white cas sock, to kiss the earth of Poland, his countrymen converged upon him in joyful and dumbfounding millions. Babies, brought to be kissed or blessed. Grandmothers in bandannas. The teenage young flocking to him like rock fans afflicted with Beatlemania. Hard-faced coal miners, pampered by the workers' party, gathering around him by tens of thousands and roaring out the words of the hymn Christus Vincit (Christ Conquers), while the first Polish Pope in the history of the Catholic Church sang right along with them in his fine baritone.
The June air was torn by the peal of church bells, the buzz of helicopters, the crackle of loudspeaker commands, the waves of thundering applause, the melodious drone of old hymns, the murmur of Masses being said, dozens of them, beneath the burning sun of an early Polish summer.
Riding in an open car the Pope rolled through city and town. Spires, lampposts, postmen's bicycles, railroad stations, pretty girls' balconies, all were ablaze with flowers, and the tails of innumerable papal banners, yellow and white, the colors of the Supreme Pontiff from distant Rome, fluttered against a blue sky.
It was a performance unique in the annals of the papacy. In all, John Paul made an astonishing three dozen public appearances. When he took to helicopters, often to go quickly to meet with work-worn peasants, a thousand journalists struggled to follow. Wherever he went, the people had walked and driven for miles, and then stood for hours, shoulder to shoulder, some even dropping in exhaustion, merely to glimpse the man. Most unpontifically, the Roman Pontiff plunged among them, raising children high in the air, throwing a hammerlock on old acquaintances, hugging and blessing the pilgrims.
He seemed to convey always an almost tangible sense of strength and an extraordinary, low-burning joy—joy in adversities endured, joy in the signs of national pride and faith that he saw before him, joy in being a Christian, in being human.
There were sobering moments, too, on this unprecedented journey. At Czestochowa, where the revered painting of the Black Madonna is enshrined, the Pope led half a million pilgrims in an elaborate consecration of Poland and the universal church to Mary, the "Queen of Poland" whose veneration runs deep in the Polish consciousness. On Thursday, caught in a whipsaw of emotions, he went immediately from a fond visit to his picturesque home town of Wadowice to the still standing symbol that epitomizes human evil: Auschwitz. The concentration-camp site, he told a huge, hushed throng, is "the Golgotha of the modern world."
Shedding Vatican rhetoric, he spoke to the people in folksy Polish, just as he sang folk songs and ballads and made bad jokes. One night in Gniezno, after an open-air Mass for 100,000 young people, he began to lead them in a songfest of popular tunes, starting the huge crowd into favorite after favorite. The youngsters pressed him into encore after encore, and would not let him go until finally he picked up the microphone and half sang to them: "Your buses