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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 May 2006, 19:46 GMT 20:46 UK
Papal memories linger in Warsaw
By Adam Easton
BBC News, Warsaw

Pope Benedict is escorted to the Cathedral of St John in Warsaw
Poles have been preparing for the Papal visit for many months
Pope Benedict XVI's plane touched down at Warsaw airport on a bright sunny spring morning.

Moments before, the airport choir had been singing his predecessor's favourite song, "Barka".

John Paul II was on everyone's minds, especially the new pope's.

Speaking in Polish - which drew cheers from the waiting crowd - Benedict said: "I have come to follow in the footsteps of his life."

In a welcoming ceremony full of pomp and tradition, the 79-year-old pontiff was given a guard of honour, and greeted by the Polish president Lech Kaczynski and his wife.

Along the 10km (six-mile) route into the city centre, thousands of people had lined the streets.

Many waved the yellow and white flag of the Vatican state.

It was a great experience. I'm happy and I'm glad that I was here. It's very nice he's visited Poland
Kasia

Some sang hymns, one group sang religious songs accompanied by an acoustic guitar and megaphone.

The crowd was a cross-section of Polish society, young and old, families, priests and nuns.

Some had waited for months to catch an all too brief glimpse of the Holy Father as he sped by in his Popemobile.

"I'm very excited. I've been waiting for this moment from the moment he was elected pope. All my family and my parents, my husband, we've been waiting. Tomorrow we will go to the mass with him," 26-year-old Magda said.

Others were happy he was paying homage to John Paul II, always referred to in his homeland as "our pope".

"It was a great experience. I'm happy and I'm glad that I was here. It's very nice he's visited Poland, it's something like a prize for us and something meaningful that he remembers about our pope," said 24-year-old Kasia.

In fact, by speaking about his predecessor in the Polish language, Pope Benedict had already partially fulfilled the wishes of most people here.

Polish pride

In a survey published in Thursday morning's Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper, 83% of people asked said they hoped the German-born pope would speak a lot of Polish.

The second thing most people had said they wished for from the pilgrimage was that Benedict make reference to John Paul II.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Benedict has not inspired the same warmth or rapture as John Paul II's pilgrimages did

Under a third said they hoped he would criticise liberal values.

Poland has been preparing for this papal pilgrimage for months.

Across the country, special masses, concerts and religious conferences have been held.

In Warsaw's large Pilsudski square, a huge altar topped with a 25m high silver cross has been erected.

Hundreds of thousands are expected to fill the square - where John Paul II famously called on the Holy Spirit to come down and change the face of this land during his first pilgrimage home to communist Poland as pope in 1979 - to hear Benedict celebrate Mass on Friday morning.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Benedict has not inspired the same warmth or rapture as John Paul II's pilgrimages did.

Crowds wave at the Pope
Thousands of people turned out to greet Pope Benedict

The charismatic Polish pope filled Poles with pride.

During his visits, he met the public, he hugged children and the crowds hung on his every word.

So far, the public has been limited to seeing Benedict through the windows of his car.

That will change during his first public mass on Friday.

And measuring Benedict's welcome by the standards set by his predecessor is unfair.

Poles are still deeply committed to their faith and this is a chance for many of them to see the head of their Church.

"For me it is very important as it is for many people in Poland," 19-year-old Dariusz said.

"On his trip from the airport to the city there was so many people beside the road. I'm very happy because I didn't get to see the last pope. I like him very much, he's a good man. I know that he was a good friend of our Polish pope."


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