UPDATE 1-Shocked Poles pray for Pope's health

Reuters 01.04.05 | 12h25

Adds Polish Jews also praying for Pope)

By Wojciech Zurawski and Natalia Reiter

WARSAW/KRAKOW, April 1 (Reuters) - Poles streamed into churches to pray for Pope John Paul, their revered countryman and moral authority, who appeared near death on Friday after suffering a heart failure.
Churches in the capital Warsaw and the southern city of Krakow where Karol Wojtyla was archbishop before becoming Pope in 1978 filled with worshippers in early hours as bulletins delivered the news that his condition was grave.
"I have a class exam today and I was studying late last night listening to the radio," Lidia Majecka, an 18-year-old student, said after attending mass at one of Krakow's churches.
"With the constant flow of reports on the Pope's health, I couldn't concentrate. I thought this morning: what is the exam compared to the Pope's pain? So I came to pray for his health."
In the southern Tatra mountains, where the young Pope used to preach, hundreds took part in an all-night vigil.
Masses were taking place in churches across the country, with many leaving work for a few minutes to pray for the man many see as their spiritual father.
"I should be at work but I wanted to come to church even for a few minutes," said Beata Laczynska, 40, tears welling in her eyes. "I had to pray for him. I couldn't work without this."
Warsaw's Jewish community also planned to hold prayers for the Pope, with Poland's Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich saying no other religious leader had done so much to reconcile Christians and Jews.
"He has done so much in the fight against anti-Semitism," he told Reuters. "Nobody has accomplished as much as him. No other religious leader from any other church has ever done this."


The 84-year old Pope is revered in Poland, even by those who do not share some of his conservative views on family issues.
His first return visit to the then communist Poland as Pope in 1979 drew millions of people on to the streets. His passionate sermons inspired them to challenge the authorities.
His influence was a major factor behind the rise a year later of the Solidarity movement, the first non-communist trade union behind the "Iron Curtain", which won political power after a decade and hastened the collapse of the whole Soviet bloc.
Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, who became Poland's first non-communist president in 1990, said the Pope's death would be a blow to Poland and the world.
"I pray that he comes back to health because the world and Poland needs him very much," he told Reuters from the port city of Gdansk, the cradle of Solidarity.
The Pope has been the ultimate moral authority for many Poles during the past 15 years of harsh reforms and often painful transformation from communism into a Western democracy.
He drew millions each time he visited his homeland, urging his countrymen not to forget compassion and moral values in their pursuit of long-denied material wealth.
He also urged many sceptical Poles not to shun Europe. His voice helped silence the radical Catholic right's opposition to Poland's European Union entry just days before the 2003 referendum on whether to join the bloc.