|Poland||PAPAL TRIP A CHANCE FOR POLISH LEFT TO HEAL RIFT|
Pope John Paul's trip to his native Poland is a chance for the country's opposition, the atheist-dominated ex-communists, to build ties to the Catholic church, a senior ex-communist official said on Thursday.
``I am here, because I think the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) should change its attitude to the church, be more open towards it,'' Jozef Oleksy, a former SLD chief and prime minister from 1995-1996, said from his front-row seat at a papal mass.
``We cannot ignore the fact that the majority of Poles are Catholics,'' he added.
But Oleksy said he feared rapprochement between the proudly anti-communist church and the SLD could not take place until the current generation of SLD activists, many of them senior figures under communism, gave way to a younger breed.
Poland's Catholic church played a leading role in bringing down communism in 1989 with its strong backing for Solidarity, the Soviet bloc's first free trade union, and its help in mediating a path to free elections a decade ago.
The Pope used his sermon in Siedlce to remind Poles of how the faithful suffered to keep the church alive under communism.
Memories of anti-clerical repression are strong and relations between the local church and the SLD are still rocky.
Reuters 1:29pm 11/6/99