GDANSK, Poland, AUG. 31, 2005 ( Benedict XVI rendered a tribute of "historical justice" to the Polish labor movement Solidarity, which made possible Europe's reunification.

"We all realize the great significance that the emergence of this labor union had in the vicissitudes of Poland and in the history of the whole of Europe," the Pope wrote in a letter to Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz of Krakow, his special envoy to today's celebration for the labor union's 25th anniversary.

The Holy Father's letter was read during the Mass presided over by Archbishop Dziwisz, which culminated the celebrations in the old shipyard in Gdansk, and was attended by world leaders.

"Not only did it bring about unimaginable political changes in Poland, setting the Polish people on the path to freedom and democracy," Benedict XVI wrote, "but it also indicated to other nations of the former Eastern bloc the possibility to repair the historical injustice that left them on the other side of the Iron Curtain."

In his message, the Holy Father recalled Pope John Paul II's efforts to have "this act of historical justice take place" so that Europe would "be able to breathe with two lungs, the Western and Eastern."

Benedict XVI also recalled the "skillful diplomatic work" in favor of Solidarity, carried out by Archbishop Dziwisz himself, who for 40 years was Karol Wojtyla's private secretary.

1980 birth

Workers' strikes in the Baltic city of Gdansk and other Polish cities in the summer of 1980 led to the birth of Solidarity, the first independent labor union in Eastern Europe. Its president was electrician Lech Walesa, who in 1983 received the Nobel Peace Prize.

After being forced underground by the imposition of martial law, Solidarity struggled until 1989, when it obliged the Communist government to negotiate a peaceful transition to democracy. It marked the beginning of the collapse of the other dictatorships that gravitated around the Soviet Union.

"I know also that it was a just cause, the best proof of which is the fall of the Berlin Wall and the introduction in the European Union of the countries that had remained outside of it after the Second World War," observed the Holy Father.

In the message, Benedict XVI congratulated Poles who, "with the support of the Church, had the courage to unite their spirits, ideas and forces and this union bore fruits that have lasted until today in the whole of Europe."

"My heartfelt hope is that all will be able to enjoy not only freedom but also the economic well-being of the country," concluded the letter.

Archbishop Dziwisz said during the Mass that "in this city, workers pronounced the word 'solidarity' in a new way and in a new context. They pronounced it with all their strength and determination, as a system could not continue to be tolerated that fueled envy, the class struggle, the struggle of one people against another, of man against man."

Return to roots

The Krakow archbishop paid tribute to the men of the Church who supported Solidarity.

In addition to John Paul II, he mentioned Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski and Father Jerzy Popieluszko, Solidarity's chaplain, who on the night of Oct. 19, 1984, was kidnapped by the security forces, tortured and killed.

"There is no doubt that Solidarity, specifically, awakened in men oppressed by the totalitarian regime the awareness of their social subjectivity," said the archbishop.

Finally, the prelate urged that the labor union return to its roots and ideals, as "power passes to new hands," but the workers "expect help in the defense of their just rights."

He added: "We are really aware that new efforts and sacrifices are needed to improve people's material situation both here and in other places."

Papal Telegram on Behalf of Hurricane Victims

VATICAN CITY, AUG. 31, 2005 ( Here is the telegram of sympathy, for the victims of Hurricane Katrina that hit the Gulf Coast of the United States, sent by Benedict XVI through Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican Secretary of State, to the country’s civil and ecclesiastical authorities.