By Jonathan Luxmoore
CZESTOCHOWA, Poland — Jurek Najgebauer attended Pope Francis’ Mass at the Jasna Gora national monastery. Although police said about 200,000 people attended the Mass, Najgebauer said there were far fewer than when St. John Paul II was there, when there was “no spare place anywhere.”
He said Poles would appreciate Pope Francis’ appeal to humility and simplicity, and against being “attracted by power, by grandeur, by appearances.” However, he also said that some might be offended that the Argentine pope had chosen to stand, rather than kneel, before the fabled Black Madonna icon in Jasna Gora’s Lady Chapel July 28.
“We respect Pope Francis, but he’ll always be a guest here, and there can be no comparison with John Paul II, who was Polish in blood and bone and had a divine gift, as head of the church, in being able to speak directly to each of us.”
Grazyna Swierczewska, a Catholic from Warsaw, said she also believed Pope Francis was being well received in Poland and had chosen his words well “at a time when there’s so much division and aggressiveness, lack of love and faith.”
However, she added that reactions to the pope were a lot less enthusiastic than under his Polish predecessor, who had been able to “speak directly to the nation.”
“Of course, we’re listening and considering what he says in our own way — but when John Paul II preached, he caught us with every word,” said Swierczewska, who left the Polish capital at 4 a.m. to reach Jasna Gora.
“We’re still here, in this special place for Poles. But the atmosphere is clearly quite different now.”
A Catholic priest from Belarus, who was in Czestochowa during Pope Benedict XVI’s visit in May 2006, said he also thought the pontiff’s homily had been well received.
“The pope understands people here because he understands the church,” said Father Pawel Wikary, who came with a large group of Belarusian Catholics. “People in our region know what it means to be considered small and humble alongside the world’s big powers. So his carefully appeal to unity and identity will suit people well.”
However, recently retired Auxiliary Bishop Antoni Dlugosz of Czestochowa said he believed Francis had a “deep understanding of popular feelings,” as a Jesuit and former parish priest.
He added that prayers recited at the Mass for Poland, on the 1050th anniversary of its Christian conversion, had been “well expressed and welcomed.”
“Coming from Buenos Aires, he knows about wealth and poverty and is fearless in asserting the need for divine mercy, whatever the media may say,” Bishop Dlugosz said. “The pope’s words were concrete and challenging, and I think he’s been well prepared when it come to the situation in Poland and the rest of Europe.”