IF POPE JOHN PAUL II's astounding success in his tour of Poland proves anything other than the singular appeal of this good-natured, self-effacing man, it is that the power of faith is more than equal to the power that tries to deny it.Poland has come alive for the West in the past few days. It has come alive in response to an individual; that is evident in the long rolling cheers given the man who has raised crowd-pleasing to the level of the sublime. Yet the country has also come alive in response to something deeper and more general - to history, perhaps, and a collective memory of a time when church and state were not at odds; or to passions beyond the reach of fears.
There were gods before there were governments, though that is hard to remember in the modern world, especially at our end of the modern world, where religion is a private enterprise, treated for the most part as a social distinction or liability. Certainly religion is no mere private enterprise in Poland. It never was. The Communists have tried to pretend so, but the pope's visit has made it clear beyond doubt how strong and resilient Polish Catholicism remains. That alone would be enough to show the visit as a revelation. But there is more to it than that.
For on Wednesday, when the pope went to pray at Auschwitz and Birkenau, he was showing something more in the Polish faith than the vibrancy of their own Catholicism. He was showing the capacity for different, essentially opposed religions to touch each other - the capacity of faith in the abstract."The very people that received from God the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill,'" he said of the Jewish dead in a mass at Birkenau, "itself experienced in special measures what is meant by killing. It is not permissible for anyone to pass by this . . . with indifference." That was addressed to a million of his own, but he was speaking of millions of others.
It is the millions, finally - the picture and the idea of millions - who are most memorable, most humbling in the story of the pope's visit; they who have died and lived for nothing you can see.