Pope John Paul II received on Tuesday representatives from the Polish trade union “Solidarnosc” (Solidarity), founded on Christian ethics and the social teaching of the Catholic Church, and recalled its successful peaceful fight against Communism.
Addressing the delegation, which included former President Lech Walesa, and Archbishop Tadeusz Goclowski, head of pastoral care in the work force of the Polish Episcopal Conference, the Pope recalled that this meeting takes place on November 11, the anniversary of the institution of the Polish Republic in 1918.
“National freedom was regained that day,” said the Holy Father, “after years of fighting that cost our nation so much deprivation and sacrifice.” “This exterior freedom did not last but we have always been able to call upon it in the fight to preserve interior freedom, freedom of spirit,” he added.
The Pontiff reviewed the history of “Solidarnosc,” recalling it was born among those who fought against “the programmed suppression of man’s freedom, the humiliation of his dignity and the negation of his fundamental rights” and he affirmed that these principles went on to become “the foundation for peaceful changes” in Poland.
The Pope especially recalled 1979 when “the sense of unity in the good and the common desire for prosperity in the oppressed nation prevailed over hatred and the desire for vengeance and became the seed for building a democratic state.” He then referred to 1989 when he entrusted the union, which was by then legal, to Our Lady of Jasna Gora.
Nevertheless, he observed, these events “seem to be forgotten with time. Younger generations are not familiar with them. We could then ask ourselves if they are able to appreciate the freedom they possess, if they do not realize the price that was paid for it.” John Paul II affirmed that these events are a “heritage which must be constantly remembered so that freedom does not turn into anarchy but rather takes on the form of common responsibility.”
The Pope, quoting from his speech to members of the union in 1981, emphasized that they had “duties of enormous importance…which are connected to the need for the full assurance of the dignity and efficacy of human work, through respect for the personal, familial and social rights of each person who is the subject of labor… Your activity has, and should always have, a clear reference to social morality.”
“Today,” he continued, “this urgency to guarantee the dignity and efficacy of human work has not lost its importance.” He cited current problems in the labor force in Poland: unemployment, temporary work, laying off “without any concern for the plight of employees and their families,” as well as the difference between public and private employment.
“It is necessary that your union openly defends workers who are denied the right to speak out, or to express opposition to the phenomena that violate the fundamental rights of the worker.” John Paul also recalled the issue of non-payment in Poland, defining it as “a grave sin that cries out for vengeance from heaven,” and “denying workers the right to rest, medical care and even maternity leave.”
At the end, the Pope warned them that in recent years the fact that the union has become politicized, “probably due to historical necessity, has contributed to its debilitation.” “Today if Solidarnosc really wants to serve the nation, it must return to its roots,” All workers, regardless of who is in power in the country, depend on your help in defending their lawful rights.”
The gathering concluded with the Holy Father greeting the National Polish soccer team as well as players from the National Italian soccer team who will play each other tomorrow in Warsaw.