A year after his election and four months after his dramatic trip home, the spiritual and intellectual impact of Pope John Paul II on his native Poland grows steadily even though the official struggle between Catholic Church and Communist government seems as intractable as ever.
What this means, say a number of Polish Catholic thinkers, is that there is a feeling among many of them that something more profound is going on here that cannot be measured by conventional yardsticks of church-state relations.
They say that an already powerful church has been further strengthened by the advent of a Polish Pope and the demonstration of popular allegiance that accompanied his nine-day visit here in June. They also say that since that pilgrimage longstanding church demands for more churches, less censorship of independent Catholic publications and access to the mass media are still not being met by the government.
"But nobody who understands Poland or Communist governments expected anything concrete to happen quickly so no one is disappointed," says one Pole. "Communists want to be seen as tough. No one expected them to be seen as capitulating to the church under pressure of a new pope."
"Nevertheless," adds a well-known Catholic historian, "I am convinced that the pope's visit here has created a new situation, which will force the [Communist] Party, within the next three years, to take a new line in its policy toward the church."
The pope's visit, according to a lawyer, should be seen as part of a transformation of Poland. It reached all of society and brought together Poles of every generation in an outpouring of pride and religion that dwarfted anything that has ever been seen in Eastern Europe.
Poland has 35 million people, about 85 percent of them Catholics. It is estimated by Catholic leaders here that between 8 million and 10 million people traveled to see the pope here in June in one point or other on his somewhat restricted pilgrimage.
The personal mark of John Paul's papacy thus far can be felt, Poles say, in things ranging from the trivial to the profound, from an upsurge in female babies named "Karoline," after the pope's Polish name, to the forging of a strong link between the Vatican and the Polish church. For many years, the Polish church hiearchy feared that the Vatican might be too willing to trade Soviet concessions elsewhere for the Vatican's effort to tame the Polish church.
Now, however, the speeches, homilies and private directions of the pope increasingly dominate Catholic religious and intellectual forums here so that internal Polish church-state disputes have the prospect of taking on much broader challenges to both the Kremlin and the Polish government of Edward Gierek.
The pope's intellectualism, Poles here say, also is turning more Catholic intellectuals into actual churchgoers and turning non-Catholic intellectuals at least into sympathizers.
The number of young people attending the so-called "oasis" network of church-run summer camps is increasing. The camps are mostly for working-class youngsters and the prospect that their popularity could develop into a movement is said to be a source of government concern.
Veneration and identification with the new pope can be seen in every church. Copies of Time magazine with color pictures of the trip go for large sums of money here.
"This is not a miracle," one Catholic intellectual cautions. The churches were crowded before and the camps have been there for years, he says. But the sense of religious community and trends have been accelerated.
Whethere it will last is unclear. If it does, where will it lead is the big question.
While the church has been strengthened, Communist Party chief Gierek also, in one sense, probably has been strengthened by his decision not to try and block the pope's visit and not get in the way of the population's obvious ardor for him. Gierek met with and was embraced by the pope and the officially atheistic government has joined skillfully in attempting to share Poland's pride in the man.
Gierek is generally viewed as a decent man, and the venerable leader of the Polish church, Cardinal Stefan Wyizynski, 78, is said to believe that Gierek is about the best Poland could hope for under present conditions. Nobody wants things to get out of control or to run the risk of Soviet intervention and replacement of Gierek by some unknown and possibly harder line Moscow substitute.
Thus, progress on church affairs is made slowly and delicately. In September, the church redrew its traditional battle lines in the form of a communique from Polish bishops that said government declarations of the need to cooperate could not be taken seriously "without taking into consideration the needs of the church and granting believers their due rights in public life." Soon after, the church renewed demands for more churches and access to radio and television.
Thus far, the government has not made any positive response. There have been minor concessions, such as letting a traditional Corpus Christi procession move through the center of Krakow for the first time since World War II. But the government also cracked down on two unauthorized church constructions and tried, unsuccessfully, to shut down the "oases" camps.
Within the party heirarchy, there is said to be both fear of the new pope's powers and at least some recognition that the party may have to make some adjustments.
The fear reportedly extends not just to events within Poland but to the pope's outspokenness in behalf of Catholics in the Soviet bloc, the blame for which the government here supposedly feels will fall on Warsaw.
On the other hand, the influential party official and editor of Polityka magazine, Mieczyslaw Rakowski, recently wrote that "the pope's visit has made the Polish Communisty Party review many problems. But from the point of view of the development of our doctrine and the practice of socialism, this is not a negative development."
For the church here, which traditionally has taken the long view of things, there is now a new sense of having the psychological edge that will enable the church to outlast the Communists and "that will be telling over the long run."
For Gierek, faced with mounting economic troubles, a harvest that is even worse than last year, shortages of consumer goods, and energy shortages that are already causing brownouts here, the testing time could come sooner.