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Francis to Polish leaders: Remember the past, but look to the future

After landing in Krakow on Wednesday, Pope Francis told Polish leaders to take a look at their history and use it as an inspiration to take the good and leave the bad behind, including when it comes to modern-day issues such as migration.

“Memory is the hallmark of the Polish people,” the Pope told national leaders after his arrival to Krakow July 27.

He said he was always impressed by Pope St. John Paul II, a Polish native, due to his “vivid sense of history. Whenever he spoke about a people, he started from its history, in order to bring out its wealth of humanity and spirituality.”

To have an awareness of one’s own identity that is free of any “pretensions to superiority” is something “indispensable for establishing a national community on the foundation of its human, social, political, economic and religious heritage,” he said.

Francis noted how in the everyday life of each individual and society, “there are two kinds of memory: good and bad, positive and negative.”

Good memory, he said, is what Mary shows us in her Magnificat when she praises the Lord for his saving works, while negative memory “keeps the mind and heart obsessively fixed on evil, especially the wrongs committed by others.”
“Looking at your recent history, I thank God that you have been able to let good memory have the upper hand,” he said, citing the 2015 celebration of the 50th anniversary of the “Letter of Forgiveness” exchanged between the Polish and German episcopates following the Second World War.

“That initiative, which initially involved the ecclesial communities, also sparked an irreversible social, political, cultural and religious process that changed the history of relationships between the two peoples,” Francis observed, and cited the joint-declaration between the Catholic Church in Poland and the Orthodox Church of Moscow as another example.

Given these recent examples, the “noble Polish nation has thus shown how one can nurture good memory while leaving the bad behind,” the Pope said, and urged them to do the same in the future.

Pope Francis spoke with the Polish diplomates in Krakow’s Wawel Castel immediately after landing in the city’s John Paul II International Airport. He will be on an official visit to the country July 27-31 to participate in World Youth Day.

In his speech, the Pope noted how the trip marks his first visit to central-eastern Europe, and that he is “happy to begin with Poland, the homeland of the unforgettable Saint John Paul II, originator and promoter of the World Youth Days.”

He noted how John Paul frequently spoke of a Europe that “breathes with two lungs,” and said that the idea of a “new European humanism” gets its inspiration from the “creative and coordinated breathing of these two lungs, together with the shared civilization that has its deepest roots in Christianity.”

Francis then noted how Poland recently celebrated the 1,050th anniversary of its baptism, which he will commemorate with a special Mass at the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa July 28, calling it “a powerful moment of national unity.”

The event, he said, “reaffirmed that harmony, even amid a diversity of opinions, is the sure path to achieving the common good of the entire Polish people.”

“Similarly, fruitful cooperation in the international sphere and mutual esteem grow through awareness of, and respect for, one’s own identity and that of others. Dialogue cannot exist unless each party starts out from its own identity,” he said, and encouraged the Polish people to take a look at their recent past.

In order to look at one’s history and take the good while leaving the bad behind, one must have “a solid hope and trust in the One who guides the destinies of peoples, opens closed doors, turns problems into opportunities and creates new scenarios from situations that appeared hopeless.”

This is evident given Poland’s own historical context, the Pope said, noting that an awareness of the progress made, coupled with the joy of achieving one’s goals, becomes a source of strength for facing current challenges.

These challenges, he said, “call for the courage of truth and constant ethical commitment, to ensure that decisions and actions, as well as human relationships, will always be respectful of the dignity of the person.”
“In this, every sphere of action is involved, including the economy, environmental concerns and the handling of the complex phenomenon of migration,” he said, noting that the topic of migration in particular “calls for great wisdom and compassion, in order to overcome fear and to achieve the greater good.”

“There is a need to seek out the reasons for emigration from Poland and to facilitate the return of all those wishing to repatriate,” Francis said, adding that “a spirit of readiness” to welcome those fleeing war and hunger and to show solidarity with those deprived of fundamental rights, including the right to “profess one’s faith in freedom and safety,” is also needed.

However, Pope Francis noted that at the same time, new methods of cooperation are needed at the international level in order resolve the conflicts and wars which “force so many people to leave their homes and their native lands.”

This, he said, “means doing everything possible to alleviate the suffering while tirelessly working with wisdom and constancy for justice and peace, bearing witness in practice to human and Christian values.”

Given Poland’s complex, history, Francis invited the Polish nation “to look with hope to the future and the issues before it,” explaining that attitude will help foster “a climate of respect between all elements of society and constructive debate on differing positions.”

He spoke of the need for social policies which support the poor, families and the disadvantaged, stressing that “life must always be welcomed and protected.”

“These two things go together – welcome and protection, from conception to natural death. All of us are called to respect life and care for it.”

On the other hand, the Pope noted that it is also the responsibility of the State, the Church and society to both accompany and assist those “in serious difficulty” in order to ensure that “a child will never be seen as a burden but as a gift, and those who are most vulnerable and poor will not be abandoned.”

Francis closed his speech by affirming the full cooperation of the Catholic Church with Poland, so that “the nation may, in changed historical conditions, move forward in fidelity to its finest traditions and with trust and hope, even in times of difficulty. May Our Lady of Czestochowa bless and protect Poland!”


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