Poland's communist leadership has no love for the Roman Catholic Church. Nor does the church have any love for the communist government. But both have a common interest - the preservation of Poland's independence and achievement of a better life for its people. As Pope John Paul II this week begins his second visit to Poland, the question is whether he and the military regime of General Jaruzelski can come to some understanding, however uneasy and adversarial, that will make it possible for Poles to work together for these mutual objectives.
There is little doubt that the Polish people will greet the pontiff with an outpouring of affection. More than a Vatican emissary, he is one of ''their own ,'' the symbol of their hopes and aspirations for greater freedom and justice in Poland. With martial law not yet abolished, with Solidarity members still interned, with court trials looming, Poles will look to the papal visit to give them support in their continuing, if weakened, confrontation with communist authoritarianism.
It will be a delicate path the Pope treads, however. He knows the communists will exploit the ''pastoral'' visit to give sanction to their rule and their suppression of the Solidarity trade union. He will not want to play into Jaruzelski's hands. He also will want to bolster the dispirited Polish people, many of whom now criticize the Polish church for not speaking out strongly enough against military rule. He will disappoint them if he does not defend human rights.
Yet the Pope's primary concern is not to preserve Solidarity per se but to preserve and strengthen the long-term position of the church in an independent Poland, and so he can be expected carefully to balance - as he did when he was Cardinal - the requirements of religious leadership with the demands of realpolitik in Poland's difficult circumstances. Even if his visit is seen as putting a blessing of sorts on the military government, the Pope necessarily looks to the larger ends of his influential church. One thing is clear: If Poles put on a massive but controlled display of support for the Pope and identity with the church, this will provide him the best leverage possible to press government and people to achieve some kind of national accord. Above all it would help undercut the position of the orthodox hard-liners within the Polish communist party who are doing everything possible (with Moscow's backing) to prevent such a compromise.
General Jaruzelski, too, has his objectives. He wants the papal pilgrimage to show that the country is back to ''normal'' and that the West should therefore be prepared to resume economic and other relations with Poland. Yet he is asking the people to support the opposite of what the church and they want, namely a communist society. He would like the Pope to urge the people to buckle down to work, join the new regime-styled unions, and get the country moving once again. But he cannot escape the fact that the communist party has utterly failed to come up with a coherent policy for economic renewal to attract popular support or even to communicate effectively with the public.
Can the Pope's visit help to bridge that ''them'' vs. ''us'' attitude which now prevails in his disheartened homeland? Can he foster a modus vivendi that will enable Poles to eschew extremism (either communist or unionist) and begin to evolve a long-needed political center - without compromising their religious values? Will the visit give General Jaruzelski ammunition in his struggle against the communist right and yet enable him to keep the Russians at bay?
The world will be watching the papal mission with more than passing interest.