I cordially greet the Solidarity pilgrimage, which has come in such large numbers to Rome. Dear brothers and sisters, I greet you here in St. Peter's Basilica as was as all the workers of Poland. I offer my welcome to everyone present: the Cardinal Primate, the other cardinals, the Metropolitan Archbishop of Gdansk, the bishops, the priests and the representatives of the national and regional authorities of Solidarity, the Autonomous and Independent Trade Union, led by your President. I warmly thank you for your words. I am pleased to be able to be with you today and I give thanks to God for this meeting. You are very dear to me. In the depths of my heart I bear your problems, aspirations, worries and joys and the fatigue that goes with your work, and I commend them to God in my daily prayer.
Dear friends, today reminds me of the Solidarity delegation's visit to Rome in January 1981, shortly after its foundation, and then of my stay in Gdansk-Zaspa during my third pilgrimage to Poland. I then said that Solidarity was a great cause. That historic movement for Polish workers 16 years ago in Poland remains impressed upon the pages of contemporary history. Precisely because of the solidarity shown by the workers in 1989, radical social and political changes were brought about on our continent, resulting in freedom, sovereignty and independence for Poland and for the nations of Central Europe after the long decades of the totalitarian regime established by the communist system. Poland and Europe then found they were facing a new reality and a great historical opportunity. It must not be forgotten. The idea of Solidarity is part of the Polish heritage; it is a good purchased by sacrifice, suffering and even the lives of many. We cannot squander this good. It must be continuously increased so that it becomes firmly rooted in the soil of Polish hearts and in the awareness of these and of future generations.
In view of the changes taking place in Poland, I would like to awaken your consciences to the Gospel ideals of love, justice and solidarity, which must guide every action in the present and in the future. Without these values, an authentic social order cannot exist. A society that claims to be democratic and free cannot function properly without respecting fundamental human rights and the most basic of these: the right to life from conception until natural death.
Here I wish to express my great appreciation of the vast and consistent action, undertaken in Poland by Solidarity, on behalf of the family and the defense of human life. In my Letter to Families, among other things I said: "A truly sovereign and spiritually vigorous nation is always made up of strong families who are aware of their vocation and mission in history. The family is at the heart of all these problems and tasks. To relegate it to a subordinate or secondary role, excluding it from its rightful position in society, would be to inflict grave harm on the authentic growth of society as a whole."
I thank you today for this genuinely Christian and patriotic attitude which is a concrete contribution to building the civilization of life and love, and ultimately, to the humanization of the world.
The Autonomous and dependent Trade Union Solidarity was founded out of a deep concern for man and his spiritual and material needs, as well as from a sense of great responsibility for the common good of the whole nation. Your task, as a union, is to cooperate in solving the workers' problems. These must be solved in the spirit of that interhuman solidarity which has its source in genuine love. Therefore, courageous and fruitful collaboration and the will to engage in dialogue are necessary on the part of all who have the good of the country and of society at heart. Today Poland needs a great collective solidarity of minds, hands and hearts which can overcome differences and divisions, in order to build a more just, free and fraternal society with consistency and self-sacrifice. For all the members of Solidarity, a thorough formation is therefore essential, one open to the new phenomena appearing in society and, at the same time, faithful to the values that gave rise to this union. It is not only a question here of acquiring the knowledge and competence indispensable for assuming responsible tasks, but it is also a question of the will to act with consistency and in a spirit of sacrifice for the common good in the light of the Church's social teaching. It is a question of a new culture of work which should take man's spiritual and material needs into consideration and respect his fundamental rights.
Conscientious, persevering and honest work will thus become the way that leads to real progress: the way of hope. It will become a unifying agent, a sign of interhuman unity and solidarity. It will be able to bring minds closer together, to unite hearts and help people discover that they are brothers and sisters. Man must understand his own work as a way "to increase the common good developed together with his compatriots, thus realizing that work serves to add to the heritage of the whole human family, of all the people living in the world."
Speaking of work, I would also like to call attention to the question of employment and the consequences that flow from it. A society marked by solidarity is one which shows solidarity to working people, a society in which the human person is the first and ultimate criterion in employment planning. Everything must therefore be done to restore to human labor in our country its due importance and the role it should have in a democratic society. Every effort must be made to fight spreading unemployment, showing a sincere readiness to seek concrete and effective solutions. This is a vast undertaking, both now and in the future, for all in Poland who have their country's good at heart. As St. Paul wrote to the Philippians: "Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others" (2:4)
Dear friends, accept these reflections on a day which is particularly dear to us: the anniversary of the independence regained by our homeland in 1918. We cannot forget that many sacrifices and heroic deeds by our brothers and sisters contributed to this memorable day of November 11. How many of them paid with their life for Poland's freedom! let us bow our heads with a sense of deep gratitude before those who did not hesitate to sacrifice everything for the common good. Thus November 11 includes a great exhortation to build a society worthy of the sacrifice of those people: a society based on our thousand-year-old Christian tradition; a society in which there is room for Christ - in the family, at school and in the work place. A society which makes good use of its freedom and respects every person's basic and undeniable rights.
I would like, lastly, to repeat the words I spoke after celebrating Mass in Gdansk in the memorable year 1987: "Every day I pray for you, in Rome and wherever I am. Every day I pray for my homeland and I pray for the workers, and I pray for this particularly great Polish heritage: 'Solidarity'. I pray for all those who are linked with this heritage..." (June 12, 1987). These words have lost nothing of their timeliness and force. I ask you: pray with me, here in the Eternal City, at the tombs of the apostles Peter and Paul, and there, in Poland, when you return from this pilgrimage. Let us pray together for all our country's problems: for the workers, for Polish families, for all that Poland represents.
I bless all of you present here. Take my blessing back to your homes and your families. Take it to the weary farmers, to all those who work in offices, in factories, in mines and in every place where man earns the bread for his sustenance by the sweat of his brow.
November 11, 1996
Joannes Paulus II