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Pope Wraps Up Four-Day Visit to Poland

Aired August 19, 2002 - 10:23   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Pope John Paul II is concluding a bittersweet journey of sentiment and symbolism. For four days, the pontiff toured his native Poland, shadowed by the unspoken truth that age and illness could make this his final homecoming.
CNN's Chris Burns has been following his trip, and he joins us now this way from Krakow, Poland.

Good morning -- Chris.

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Leon, very bittersweet.

Look over my shoulder, that's Krakow Cathedral. That's the Wawel Cathedral where the pope in his younger days became priest, rose to archbishop before becoming pope. The same place where kings were crowned and buried.

This is the place where he went to pray last night for a very long time, raising the speculation that perhaps this might also be perhaps, as many people would like here, this to be his final resting place at that cathedral.

Retracing the steps of his youth, his adulthood, his life, continuing today. Going on to a sanctuary, a 400-year-old sanctuary called Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, which is very historic, a place also very historic for the pope himself. It is just a few miles away from his birthplace, Wadowice. If there's any place that he received spiritual inspiration in his younger days, in his very youthful days, it was there. And he went to hold mass at the church there.

In his sermon, very, very interesting sermon where he mixed both his calls, the theme of his trip being calls for divine mercy, but mixing that with politics in a way, saying that the 19th century bishop of Krakow called in a prayer for the unification of a divided Poland. And that he says that Poland has become territorial now and national unity. But the words of that archbishop have lost none of their timeliness he said. Indeed they take on new meaning. We need to repeat them today, asking Mary to obtain for us unity of faith, unity of mind and spirit, unity in families and unity in society.

Listen to those last three words because he's been repeating in very telegraph ways over the last few days the importance of the -- of a very divided country to stick together as it tries to struggle with the last -- with capitalism now after throwing off communism 13 years ago with the spiritual help of the pope very much. And now the countrymen here, depending in many ways on the guidance -- the spiritual guidance of the pope, coming back it his homeland, giving them support, telling them to stick together and to give support to the downtrodden and those who are losing out at the moment under capitalism. Eighteen percent unemployment.

So these messages he's giving little and little messages through this trip, very interesting. And this is probably the most, the strongest political message he gave so far during this trip.

The pope this afternoon, having circled three times in his white helicopters over Wadowice, his hometown, over the town square, the people saluting him. And at the moment, he's visiting two monasteries along the Vistula River. Two monasteries that could very well be raising speculation that he may want to retire there. But then again, may, a lot of speculation -- Leon.

HARRIS: Yes, no end to that. No end to that as -- at all.

Chris Burns reporting live this morning from Krakow, Poland, thank you.

Now let's get some analysis and some more perspective on the pope's trip and on that message that he leaves behind. And for that we turn to Andrew Nagorski. He is a senior editor for "Newsweek" magazine who has covered the pope for many years and actually wrote an editorial about whether or not the pope should retire a couple of weeks ago.

Good to see you this morning, Mr. Nagorski. Let me ask you about that, first of all, question about the controversy surrounding whether or not this pope will ever consider retiring. The words that he uttered while he was there in Poland, did they give you any indication of where he is going with that idea?

ANDREW NAGORSKI, "NEWSWEEK" MAGAZINE: Well it was interesting. There was this one moment in mass yesterday where apparently some people were chanting stay with us. And he joked, he said, well, you mean you want me to abandon Rome? He's clearly aware of the speculation about retirement. He's clearly aware that this could be his last trip.

What is in his mind, we only have some hints. Apparently he has told people who are close to him that he feels that this is the Lord's decision, not his, what happens. But this is a pope who has acted in very unprecedented ways for a modern pope. It's -- of course his travels, he's reached out to so many other faiths, to the Jewish community, to the Muslim community. I think you will -- it would not be totally out of character if he felt he could really not carry on with his office for him to break the precedent of modern popes of staying in office until they die. That's -- yes.

HARRIS: Well I'm just (UNINTELLIGIBLE) noted (ph), I did hear at least this time around he did actually use the words farewell and he did actually speak it. It wasn't necessarily in clear, unequivocal terms, but he did use that word and did not shy away from that subject. But let me ask you about something else, another rumor that I've actually read about this morning, about -- something about the pope having some sort of a letter to detail what should happen if he becomes incapacitated. What do you make of that?

NAGORSKI: That rumor has been around in the Vatican for quite sometime. As you -- as you know, of course the Vatican is a very secretive place. It's hard to break as a reporter. It's hard to know what's true, what's not. For instance, there was the rumor before his trip that he was actually going to announce his retirement during the trip. There seemed to be no basis for that, and we can see that there wasn't.

But this one's been more persistent. And I think the idea that he may be thinking well if I become totally incapacitated do I want to put the church through a prolonged period where I am simply not able to function must be crossing his mind. So a letter of this sort, there's no way of knowing for sure whether it exists or not but wouldn't seem out of the realm of possibilities.

HARRIS: All right, finally, want to ask you this morning to give us a handicap, if you will, of the words of the pope here and the words that he had for liberal capitalism and the things he talked about politically and the rather grim picture that he painted of the contemporary world. What do you make of that? What does that say about his vision and what he would like to leave behind as his legacy here?

NAGORSKI: Well it's been a steady theme of this pope, this pope who helped bring down the communist system, who is -- who is such a catalyst for the collapse of communism that we also have to -- the world has to be ware of what he calls a hedonistic culture or our capitalist system where the idea of the greater good of responsibility is somehow forgotten. So I think he is -- he is one who has always challenged both, not just totalitarian systems but western societies as well to live up to higher expectations. And he clearly wants to go out with that message very strong.

HARRIS: All right. Well how much of that message was intended for only domestic consumption there in Poland, how much of that was a message to the rest of the wider world?

NAGORSKI: It's both. It's both. It's certainly in Poland, which is going through this transition from communism to capitalism, where the church, while still incredibly strong is beginning to face some among -- some of the attitudes, especially among younger people that you find in the west, there's a sense he wants to -- he wants to reassert certain basic values of family, of tradition, of responsibility. And -- but that's a message he carries with him everywhere in the world, and he's carried with him on every trip he's made.

HARRIS: And you know, considering the social and political landscape now in Poland, it'll be very interesting to see in the years ahead how much of those words that he uttered today people will there will actually listen to it and embrace. NAGORSKI: Absolutely.

HARRIS: Andrew Nagorski, thank you very much. We appreciate your time this morning and the insight.


HARRIS: Take care. Be well.




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