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Pope bids farewell to beloved Poland with Mass at mountain monastery

Bells tolled as the popemobile approached the Kalwaria Zebrzydowska monastery, draped in Polish and Vatican flags, and a waiting crowd of some 60,000 people chanted "Your people welcome you, John Paul II."

Thousands more waving countrymen gathered along the winding 50 kilometre route to the sanctuary to catch a glimpse of Poland's favourite son on the final day of his four-day trip.

At the mountain shrine, the ailing pope asked Mary for the strength to continue his papal mission.

"Most holy mother, our lady of Calvary, obtain also for me strength in body and spirit that I may carry out to the end the mission given to me by the risen Lord," the pope said, seated at the altar beneath a gilded painting of Mary and the Christ child.

Kalwaria is the last official stop on the pope's sentimental visit, which has taken the Holy Father to a sanctuary where he prayed under Nazi occupation, the cathedral where he said his first Mass as a priest and his parents' graves.

"I would like the pope to stay longer with us," said Jozef Szczotka, a 63-year-old pensioner, outside the Kalwaria monastery. "There are so many places waiting for him that he would like to see."

The pope omitted a section of his prepared homily at a Mass celebrating the 400th anniversary of the Kalwaria sanctuary, and at times his speech faltered.

The Kalwaria sanctuary, with 42 chapels that depict Biblical scenes surrounding Christ's death, is one of the places where the pope often prayed and walked in contemplation as a boy growing up in nearby Wadowice.

On one occasion, after the death of his mother, the elder Karol Wojtyla pointed to a famous painting of the Virgin Mary and told his son: "This is your mother now," according to monks at the sanctuary.

During Monday's Mass, the Pope recalled returning to the shrine as a young man and later as Krakow bishop seeking guidance to help resolve problems of the archdiocese.

"Today I come to this shrine as a pilgrim," he said.

On his first visit to Poland after becoming pope in 1979, he called the sanctuary "a reservoir of faith, hope and love," and asked the Franciscan monks who live there to say daily prayers for him.

Apostolic Voyage to Poland, 16 - 19 August 2002
Kalwaria Zebrzydowska monastery | (English)


20 Aug 2002