Thousands gather for Mass by Benedict XVI in Warsaw

Thousands greeted Pope Benedict XVI in a rain-drenched Warsaw square Friday at the spot where his predecessor, John Paul II, inspired Poland's Solidarity movement against communist rule in a historic 1979 visit. People lined the street to wave and cheer as Benedict's popemobile passed, and church bells pealed.

Others stood resolutely in ponchos and under umbrellas, filling vast Pilsudski Square before the (0730 GMT) 9:30 a.m. start, determined to see Benedict pay tribute to his friend and mentor a main theme of his trip to Poland. The choice of site for the Mass recalled John Paul II's bold call to "renew the face of this land" at the square, then called Victory Square, during his triumphant first visit to his native land after being elected pope.

His appearance challenged the atheist communist authorities and is credited by Solidarity founder Lech Walesa with energizing the emerging trade union resistance to Soviet-backed communist rule, which collapsed in 1989-90. The crowd was substantially less than in 1979, when some 300,000 people jammed the square, with some 750,000 in the surrounding streets. On Friday, the square was full but not packed, while the surrounding streets were mostly empty, with just a trickle of people walking to the square.

White and yellow Vatican flags festooned lampposts, and Benedict's picture stood in apartment windows; one window on Mazowiecka Street had pictures of both Benedict and John Paul. Benedict was to speak from a 4-meter (17-foot) platform topped by a 25-meter (82-foot) cross. "Today, the feeling is more spontaneous in 1979, we still were under a different system, we were under a regime and people came because they wanted this meeting with the pope to bring fruit, and it did, " Barbara Kamela, 60, a retired bookkeeper who attended the 1979 Mass, reports the AP.


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