The Holy Father spoke with the Polish pilgrims gathered in St. Peter's Square on May 19; they had come for Sunday’s canonization of their fellow countrymen St. Joseph Sebastian Pelczar and St. Ursula Ledochowska.
In his greeting, John Paul II reviewed the trips he made to Poland, starting with the first historic trip of 1979, and mentioned his country's profound bond with Europe.
With only a few weeks left before Poland's June 8 referendum on membership in the EU, the Holy Father quoted from his speech in Warsaw in 1997: "The foundations of Europe's identity are built on Christianity."
"Today, while Poland and the other countries of the former 'Eastern Bloc' enter the structures of the European Union, I repeat these words which I do not speak for the purpose of discouraging but, on the contrary, to indicate that these countries have a great mission to carry out in the Old World," he added.
John Paul II said he understood the reasons "of the numerous detractors" in his homeland, to Poland's integration in Europe.
"I must stress, however, that Poland has always been an important part of Europe and at present it cannot abandon this community which, it is true, is experiencing crises at various levels, but which constitutes a family of nations based on the common Christian tradition," he explained.
"Entry in the EU structures, with equal rights to those of the other countries, is for our nations and for the adjacent Slav nations, expression of an historical justice," the Pope said.
John Paul II also illustrated the enrichment that this step represents for the continent. "Europe has need of Poland. The Church in Europe needs the Poles' testimony of faith. Poland has need of Europe."
This represents a challenge "that the present puts before us and before all the nations which, in the wave of political transformations in the so-called Central-Eastern Europe, emerged from the circle of influence of atheist communism," the Pope continued.
"Such a challenge, poses a task for believers, the task of an active construction of a community of the spirit based on the values that made survival possible during decades of efforts oriented to introducing atheism in a programmatic way," the Holy Father concluded.