WARSAW, Poland, MAY 25, 2006 (Zenit.org).- Benedict XVI arrived in Poland, homeland of Pope John Paul II, to confirm the faith of the country’s 36 million Catholics.
As he descended from the Alitalia airliner today at Warsaw’s international airport, Benedict XVI pronounced his first words in Polish to express his joy at arriving in the land where he plans to visit Karol Wojtyla’s most loved places.
“I have come to follow in the footsteps of his life, from his boyhood until his departure for the memorable conclave of 1978,” the German Pontiff said.
“Along this journey,” he added, “I would like to meet and come to know the generations of believers who offered him to the service of God and the Church, as well as those who were born and matured for the Lord under his pastoral guidance as priest, bishop and Pope.”
Three thousand people greeted the Holy Father when the airliner he was in landed at 11 a.m. at Okecie International Airport. Church bells rang throughout the country to greet him.
Among the personalities who welcomed the Pope were Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, who greeted him at the foot of the aircraft’s steps.
The archbishop of Warsaw, Cardinal Josef Glemp, and Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow and John Paul II’s former secretary, were among the Church representatives on hand.
The international apostolic pilgrimage, with the motto “Stand Firm in Your Faith,” is the second of this pontificate, though it is the first planned by Benedict XVI. His trip to Germany last August for World Youth Day had been planned by John Paul II.
In an address at the airport, Benedict XVI stressed that his trip “is no mere sentimental journey, although it is certainly that too, but rather a journey of faith, a part of the mission entrusted to me by the Lord in the person of the Apostle Peter, who was called to confirm his brothers and sisters in the faith. I too wish to draw from the abundant fountain of your faith, which has flowed continuously for over a millennium.”
The Pope delivered his address, alternating passages in Polish and Italian. Some of the Polish paragraphs were read by aides.
He ended by expressing his hopes for this trip, which will conclude on Sunday in Auschwitz, after having visited Warsaw, Czestochowa, Krakow, Wadowice and Kalwaria Zebrzydowska.
The Pope left the airport to go in an open car to Warsaw Cathedral to meet with priests. As he passed by, he was greeted by crowds that took to the streets to express their affection, as they did during John Paul II’s trips.