Most Poles hope Pope's visit will bring modest gains

Poland's mood is joy as it awaits the Pope's arrival this week. But the joy is more sober, less emotionally euphoric than on John Paul II's first return to his homeland in 1979.

For most people, the dominant feeling seems to be relief. They are pleased that a friend who understands their experiences of the past three years is coming to see them again.

Many are skeptical that the visit will have any beneficial, tangible results. Some profess to ''fear'' that the Pope's presence will do no more than bring aid and comfort to a still untrusted government, but that view seems to underrate the man himself.

But most people exude a sense of quiet satisfaction. Beneath this one discerns a vague, undefined hope that ''something'' might change as a result of his talking with a leadership that antagonized virtually the whole nation by imposing martial law 18 months ago.

The military grip on day-to-day life was relaxed at the start of the year. But the regime has not yet felt bold or confident enough to risk removing it altogether.

Recent official pronouncements on the visit have given an impression that the leadership is counting on the Pope's trip to help make the removal of martial law possible.

The former Gierek regime accepted John Paul's first visit with considerable apprehension. Only about halfway through that visit did the authorities wake up to the political mileage they might derive from it.

By contrast, Edward Gierek's successors are trying hard to ensure this visit is successful, even in the face of obvious disfavor on the part of the Russians and hard-line allies like Czechoslovakia, which currently is harassing local churches.

''They really are pulling out all the stops,'' a Western observer who lives here commented, pointing to the care with which the program is being organized jointly with the church and to the obvious official respect for this Polish Pope.

In his speech to the Communist Party Central Committee at the end of May, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski spoke of a need to emphasize ''once again'' that ''we are building socialism in a country which has a thousand-year-old Christian tradition strongly tied to the complex history of nation and state.''

Not all Poles, or Polish Catholics, are enamored of that kind of talk. There are those who say that when General Jaruzelski speaks of a ''vast area'' in which the fundamentally different Christian and Marxist philosophical motivations ''do not clash in the search for proper moral attitudes,'' he is indulging in a tactical ploy.

Even within the Catholic Church a minority has questioned the wisdom of the Pope coming just now. These people, many of whom are lay intellectuals and younger priests, have been critical of the role their primate, Jozef Cardinal Glemp, has played in bringing the visit about.

As in 1979, this second visit will be more than a passing distraction from the economic vicissitudes and political contraints that press even harder on the Polish people now than they did then.

Conventional wisdom says Solidarity was a direct result of the 1979 visit. (The East bloc's hard-liners have been depicting the Pope as the calculating creator of the union.) Obviously there was a connection, but some who are close to the Pope say he was as surprised as anyone else when the strikes of August 1980 mushroomed into a gigantic national movement. Moreover, they indicate, he was later concerned by the more political aspects of the union's development.

What the Pope really did in 1979 was to bolster Poles' confidence in their own ability and strength - and right - to press legitimate social and economic aspirations. This second visit may do no more than give that confidence - which was shaken by martial law - a new lease on life.

But if the Pope's eight-day pilgrimage is not marred by political disturbances, it could conceivably convince the authorities of the wisdom of concessions. Both the Pope and Cardinal Glemp have said that at least some concessions are necessary if the authorities are ever to convince the people they are sincere when they talk about national conciliation.

The principal points are amnesty for political prisoners, an end to political discrimination against former Solidarity activists and supporters, and a return to genuine trade unions.

The Pope never set these as conditions for his visit. But he has made it clear that he will introduce such questions when he meets Jaruzelski and other leaders Friday morning.

There is no prospect that the government will yield any ground on Solidarity per se. The regime is in enough trouble with the Soviets without appearing to make even tiny concessions on what Moscow considered the most obnoxious of all the Polish backsliding.

The regime will try to convince the Pope that, under the law that eliminated Solidarity, opportunity does exist for ''independent, self-governing'' unions that have substantial though limited autonomy from the government.

Nevertheless, recent official statements that there are ''at present'' no plans for general amnesty have seemed to hint that it can be an option later. Obviously that will depend on the final outcome of the visit.

Similarly, it has been hinted that July 22, the Polish national holiday, could bring an announcement about the termination of martial law. But that in itself would not do much to change the social climate or ease public discontent.

Apart from the immediate crisis issues, however, there are important questions on which the Catholic Church has pressed for many years for adjustments in its overall relation with the state.

Of primary importance for the church is its claim to ''legal status.'' That is, its recognition by the communist regime as an institution with accepted moral and religious prerogatives and full freedom to exercise these within the communist political system, a formal status in place of the largely undefined and often vulnerable basis on which modus vivendi has been conducted thus far.

Over the years, the communist authorities have made many concessions to the church (the removal of restraints on trainees for priesthood, enlarged media outlets, and the Sunday radio mass that Solidarity fought for). But they have balked at extending ''legal status'' to it because of sensitive questions of politics and ideology. Any potential ''rival'' to the Communist Party is feared and excluded.

Another issue is the government's desire and readiness (judging by several recent statements) to move toward diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Now the church is said to be chary of any such move without substantive action by the authorities to ease tensions within Polish society generally.

The time allotted for talks between Jaruzelski and the Pope will allow for little more than pleasantries and general exchanges on the wisdom implicit for each side in a less troubled relationship between church and state.

Many Poles are skeptical that such exchanges can yield meaningful results, but they as well as the Catholic Church - and the government - would all seem likely to gain if some understanding were to emerge.

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