Pope John Paul yesterday ended a grueling, nostalgic 13 day trip to 21 cities and towns in his homeland with the wish that Poland would stay faithful to its Christian roots as it forged ahead with economic and social development.
    ``My homeland, beloved country, blessings upon you,'' he said in his last address before leaving for Rome. ``To all those who are lovingly forging a prosperous future for the homeland I wish to express today my sincere appreciation and gratitude.''
    As he often did during the trip, the Pope warned of the ''obstacles, problems and dangers'' on the path to economic development but he was hopeful that difficulties would be overcome.
    ``How else can I express my love for this land and this people, except through an earnest prayer that the God who is love will bless everyone abundantly,'' he said at a departure ceremony at Krakow airport in southern Poland.
    Earlier Thursday, the Pope joined 250,000 pilgrims in prayer before Poland's holiest icon.
    The trip to the Jasna Gora shrine was not originally on the Pope's schedule and its hasty inclusion on the last day reflected the increasingly valedictory tone of the trip.
    An estimated 10 million people turned out over the 13 days to see their national hero and to thank him for helping them cast off the chains of communism in the 1980s.
    Even Polish politicians like former-communist President Aleksander Kwasniewski acknowledge the crucial role Papal support for opposition movements played in the collapse of authoritarian rule and the return to democracy in 1989.
    But the Vatican cancelled a trip the Pope was to have made Friday to the Armenian capital of Yerevan.
    Ironically, the purpose of the hastily planned trip to Armenia was to pay a personal visit to the country's religious leader, who was himself stricken by illness.
    Reuters 12:11pm 18/6/99

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