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Saturday, June 5, 1999 Published at 23:05 GMT 00:05 UK

World: Europe

Pope pays tribute to Poles

The Pope received an enthusiastic welcome

Pope John Paul II has praised the people of Gdansk for having broken their chains of oppression, as he begins a 13-day trip to his native Poland.

BBC's Emily Buchanan in Gdansk: A highly symbolic visit
A crowd of 700 attended the mass led by the Pope, among them Lech Walesa, the former shipyard worker who became Poland's first democratically elected president.

"Could there be any more appropriate place to speak of all this than here in Gdansk," the 79-year-old pope said.

"It was in this city that Solidarity was born 19 years ago. This was an event that signalled a turning point in the history of our nation and in the history of Europe."

The Pope's support for the Solidarity movement helped topple Communism 10 years ago.

[ image: The president embraces the Pope]
The president embraces the Pope
The Pope went on to say there was "no solidarity without love" and told those in the crowd who had gained from Poland's social and economic transformation that they must keep their eyes set on spiritual values.

On his arrival in Gdansk, the Pope was greeted by President Alexander Kwasniewski.

Children dressed in traditional dress gave him flowers, and a military band played the papal and Polish anthems.

In the longest visit he has made to a single country, the Pope will be taking in 20 cities from Gdansk in the north to his hometown of Wadowice in the south.

Nation in transition

He arrives in the country at a time of heightened social tension, with farmers and public sector workers angry over government policy.

The government is hoping that his presence will give a boost to the reform process.

His itinerary is intended to mark major events in Polish history, and give a sense of unity to the country.

Although there is growing religious scepticism among the younger generation, the pope is still revered as an icon who brought dignity to Poland during the country's darkest years.

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