I AM intrigued to see on a recent .letter from Poland a postage stamp bearing a picture of the Pope. There is no reason why a country should not put the picture of the Pope on their postage stamps, but we are apt to have fixed ideas which countries would not do it.
In June the Pope makes his third visit to Poland since being elected Pontiff. The authorities have granted permission for him to go to Gdansk and Szczecin, two cities he was not allowed to visit when last there in 1983.
Gdansk is Lech Walesa's base in the shipyards and the birthplace of Solidarity. Szczecin, another port, has been at the heart of the struggle for workers' emancipation.
It is said that the Pope insisted on these two towns being included in his itinerary. Unless they were, he was prepared to cancel the whole visit.
Earlier this year General Jaruzelski was received by the Pope in the Vatican and had an unusually long talk lasting for 70 minutes. In a surprising gesture to the Communist leader the Pope received his daughter Monica and presented her with a rosary and another one for her mother.
The Pope looked tired at the end of the meeting, but described it as "historic", declaring that it would bring "fruits for both Europe and Poland".
One gets the sense that great issues are being weighed in that part of the world with probing propositions and calculated changes.
An anniversary in East Slav lands next year is one which is of historic significance. It celebrates the coming*" of Christianity 1,000 years ago, when in 988 Byzantine Christianity was founded in Kiev, now part of the Soviet Union.
This 1988 anniversary will not only be celebrated by the Eastern Slays of the Orthodox Church, but also by the Catholic Byzantine Slavonic Church which was established nearly 400 years ago when part of the Orthodox Church came into Communion with Rome.
This means that it is an event. of great significance to the Pope. Will the Soviet Union recognise the Christian Millennium? And will they permit the Pope to visit Kiev, centre of the celebrations? At the moment it seems doubtful.
It is an ideological minefield that the Holy Father treads. Yet his objectives are clear. He is reported to have said on one occasion, "I am not out to bring down a regime but to see that Jesus Christ has His rightful place in Poland".
Professor Jerzy Zubrzychi, now living in Australia, is an exact contemporary of Pope John Paul II. They were at In 1938 Jerzy Zubrzychi and his friend Karol Wojtyla who was 40 years later to become Pope, attended a camp in the Beskid Mountains of southern Poland. The camp was organised by the Christian student movement Odrodzenie, a name which stands for "Renewal".
They had long discussions on the Fascist and Communist systems which surrounded Poland at the time.
Professor Zubrzychi says that they concluded that "renewal" stood for one's personal and moral renewal, but that was seen as inseperable from the renewal and transformaton of those political and social structures where, in their judgment, the human person is totally subordinate to the state.
Years later in 1976 the Professor was the guest of Karol Wojtyla when he was Archbishop of Krakow. Again, the themes of the campfire discussions of the summer of 1938 came up in conversation. Zubrzyski recalls: "This time Wojtyla's thinking was more optimistic than mine. A few months earlier he had given a series of Lenten sermons at the Vatican in which he spoke of the person of Jesus as a 'sign of contradiction' to the world. This Jesus, he reminded me, was both a sign of liberation for people who are denied freedom of conscience (as in Poland) and also a symbol of liberation from the unjust structures both social and economic which exist equally in the Communist and Western societies. On either count Jesus as a sign of contradiction was a reproach to affluent, acquisitive consumer societies."
In an article written for the Australian press on the eve of the Pope's recent visit to that country, Zubrzycki wrote: "So it is clear that for Karol Wojtyla, John Paul II, Western liberal democracies are not necessarily the City of God in mortal combat with the communist anti-Christ. In fact, by implying that the Spirit of Christ might be profoundly antithetical to both these 'systems', he is at the same time summoning people' to create something beyond them."
The Pope has never called on the Poles to revolt or the clergy to engage in politics, but urged in his sermons that they must concern themselves primarily with personal renewal. He is convinced, as Zubrzycki says, "the future depends not on the people's ability to mount barricades but in their ability to renew themselves in Christ and thus oppose the forces of tyranny".
F R Dilly