A Personal Commemoration of Poland's Solidarity 25 Years Later
The 1981 summer English Seminar in Poznan, Poland, had ended, and the twenty-six British and American instructors and the more than two hundred students had gathered for the farewell party. A young woman from one of my classes told me of John Paul II's first visit to Poland as pope and the pilgrimage she and her classmates made to Czestochowa to worship with him at the shrine of their homeland's holiest icon, "the Black Madonna," at Jasna Gora.
"There we were with the Holy Father," she said, "thousands of us, praying silently with him, and you could feel the power rising up through the trees." From the way she said this, I knew that what she said was true, and that what she was describing was the power of the Holy Spirit, which in the summer of 1981 in Poland was as palpably present to me as the country's tawny wheat fields, turbid rivers, and leafy woodlands.
In class, my students never spoke of religion. But there was something in the manner of a good many of them -- a peacefulness of demeanor, a kindly way of addressing each other -- that suggested the inner serenity of deeply held Christian beliefs. A couple of the instructors at the seminar called this "the Solidarity spirit."
They were referring, of course, to the formative Christian spirit of the labor union the Poles called Solidarnos´c´ ("Solidarity" in English) that was also a national freedom movement whose general strike the previous summer (1980) had compelled the communist government of Poland to grant it legal status. Just a few months later, in December 1981, twenty-five years ago this month, the union would be outlawed and many of its leaders imprisoned.
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