The 30-seat Soviet-built helicopter came to a standstill on the grass runway of the Nowy Targ airport in Southern Poland.
It is here at the foot of the snow-covered Tatra Mountains straddling the frontier between Poland and Czechoslovakia that Polish-born Pope John Paul II will be holding a service for an estimated 100,000 people on June 8.
The group that emerged from the craft and strolled about the field discussing local arrangements was made up of Polish Communists, Vatican officials and Polish churchmen who are organizing the nine-day papal visit to Poland, the first ever by the head of the Roman Catholic church to a Communist-run county.
"It was strange watching them," commented a local inhabitant, with a smile but also a trace of suspicion in his voice, "all working together like that - Communists, clergy, security men. It's not something that we've used to."
Indeed the situation is new for the church and the state but the two sides are working together, faced as they are with the formidable logistics of an event in which millions will crowd to see their pope.
Not that there are no suspicions or tensions.
The church hopes that the visit will be a powerful demonstration of religious feeling, while the Communist Party is aware that this would be setback to their aim of undercutting church influence in this country, which is 90 percent Catholic.
But as June 2 get closer - the day the pope will land at Warsaw airport in an Alitalia jet, to be greeted by the Polish head of state, Henryk Jablonski - the detailed organizational problem seem as important as the major political ones.
The clergy at Czestochowa, Poland's national religious shrine, where the pope is to spend three days conducting services and attending a session of the Polish bishops conference, appear confident that all will go well.
Church authorities in Poland are used to large crowds. The organizing committee meets with the local authorities as often as three times some days and church spokesmen say that the mutual atmosphere is good.
"Not that there aren't hitches. Some officials are simply very dogmatic and that makes them hard to work with," one priest said. "But then we ask them, 'Do you really think we won't get our way even if you refuse to give us permission?' and the barriers come down."
Something of this spirit of cooperation may remain at the local level after the pope goes, the clergy say. But what effect the visit will have on formal church-state relations is unclear.
Kazimierz Kabol, the Cabinet minister for religious affairs, contends that relations are improving all the time anyway and that differences now tend to be settled by negotiation rather than open conflict.
Church building permissions, ever a sore point, have increased in recent years since the party officially determined that the church and Catholics have a role to play in the building of a socialist Poland.
But Kakol is reluctant to commit himself to any promise of improvement in the areas where church demands are still unmet.
To judge by Kabos's recent remarks to reports, few of the church's key conditions for full normalization of relations-such as allowing church acess to television and radio or the granting of institutional status to the church - will be satisfied. Indeed, the authorities are so jealous of their virtual monopoly over the media that the question of how much of the papal visit will be shown on television still seems undecided.
The church by no means got its own way during the negotiations over the pope schedule here.
The authorities refused a church request that the pope be allowed to go to Piekary Slaskie, a shrine in the heart of Silesia, Poland's most improtant industrial district.
But the religious sentiments of the Silesian miners and steelworkers should not be underestimated.
An incident at Tychy, another Silesian town shows the sensitivity of the populace. On April 23 an attempt by local officials to remove a cross from the city center provoked day-long peaceful demonstrations that ended only after the cross was replaced by the authorities that night.
How Pope John Paul will treat the visit is another question. The first trip by a pope to the Communist bloc is sure to provoke intense interest among Christians in the other East European countries.
Indeed Poles are wondering how many Czechs and Slovaks, East Germans and Hungarians will make the journey to see the pope. Authorities in those countries, where policy toward religion is far from liberal are surely concerned about the implications of the visit.
But Catholics here say that the pope too is aware of these factors and will probably confine his remarks on the role of the church in this part of the world to the historical context.
In any case it is thought that the pope will stress the religious character of his tour, although politics may emerge in a muted form toward the end of his stay.
The four days the pope will spend in his former diocese of Krakow will culminate June 10 with celebrations commemorating the 900th anniversary of the murder by Polish king Boleslaw the Bold of the bishop of Krakow, St. Stanislaus.
The bishop was killed after opposition to the king's rule. The church maintains that he was killed for defending the oppressed.
Others, including the state, say that he was a traitor. In any case the historical record, happily for both sides, is unclear.
Pope John Paul is much attached to St. Stanislaus. Last Christmas he called the saint a defender of human rights - a description that upset Polish authorities so much that they insisted the pope not come in mid-May, when St. Stanislaus' feast day is commemorated.
The fact tht the pope is coming in June instead is the result of a compromise that is typical of church-state relations here.
The church moved the trip to June with the unstated understanding that the connection between St. Stanislaus and human rights be played down.
In the end the personal aspect of Polish pope visiting Poland may dominate the visit.
It seems unlikely that Pope John Paul will ever come back to Poland again and more and more people are coming to see the trip as a farewell to his native land, which he loves and yearns for very much.
This will be especially true of Krakow where he spent most of his life and was bishop for many years.
One of the pope's recent Polish visitors in the Vatican was asked by her host to describe the snow in the Tatra Mountains.
As the pope says mass at the Nowy Targ airport he will be well aware that he may be seeing those mountains for the last time in his life. CAPTION: Picture, POPE JOHN PAUL II . . . sensitive, sentimental journey