KRAKOW, Poland – Pope Francis encouraged his churchmen to leave their comfort zones and tend to the needy on the peripheries as he celebrated a Mass Saturday in a Polish church dedicated to St. John Paul II, the Polish pontiff whose staunch defense Hof workers’ rights in the 1970s and 80s challenged his nation’s then Communist rulers.
Francis said Jesus wants the church “to be a church on the move, a church that goes out into the world,” as he gave his homily in a spanking new monumental church dedicated to John Paul on the outskirts of Krakow.
He said that Jesus’ call to his followers to minister to the world is relevant today to church men and women.
“This call is also addressed to us. How can we fail to hear its echo in the great appeal of Saint John Paul II: ‘Open the doors’?” Francis said to rows of priests in white robes and nuns sitting in pews on the side.
A year after John Paul II was elected pope in 1978, he returned to his homeland, urging millions of his beleaguered Poles behind the Iron Curtain – in nuanced and coded words – to oppose communism. That visit inspired the birth of Solidarity, a labor movement which struggled through the 1980s and eventually became a key factor in the collapse of communism in 1989 in Poland, and throughout the East Bloc.
At the end of the Mass on Saturday, Krakow Cardinal Stanislaw Dwiwisz, who for decades was John Paul’s closest aide, told Francis the church remains open.
“We are not closed,” Dziwisz said. “We are open to the needs of the church.”
The religious celebrations Saturday came on the fourth day of the pope’s five-day visit to Poland, his first ever visit to Eastern Europe, where he has been gathering with young Catholics attending World Youth Day, a global event. He has also held meetings with Polish leaders and visited Auschwitz.
Francis began his public day with a visit to the Divine Mercy Sanctuary, a kilometer (half-mile) stroll away from the St. John Paul II shrine.
In 2002 a frail, 82-year-old John Paul II consecrated that new basilica during his last visit to his homeland, anointing its white marble altar. John Paul stressed then his special attachment to St. Faustina, whose accounts in her diary of visions of Jesus spread devotion to Divine Mercy.
Francis prayed before the chapel of St. Faustina, where she is buried.
Going into the church, the pope paused to see a young girl, whose artificial legs were paid for by Francis, Vatican spokesman the Rev. Federico Lombardi said. The Argentine pope also heard confessions from seven young people and a priest, speaking Italian, Spanish or French.
From there it was a quick drive to the hilltop Sanctuary of St. John Paul II. That church was consecrated in 2013 and dedicated to the late pope who is still the source of great pride in Poland. The lower church hosts a glass container of blood from John Paul, who died in 2005, while his body is entombed in a lower level of St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.
By MONIKA SCISLOWSKA and FRANCES D’EMILIO – The Associated Press
Frances D’Emilio is on twitter at www.twitter.com/fdemilio
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