Pope John Paul II's journey through Poland, now drawing to a close, has proven in most respects a magnificient event, a festival of faith and popular pride by a people so often in the past frustrated in the expression of both.
Will Poland in the future be a different place? The answer, say Poles questioned at every stop, is probably yes. But precisely how is much harder to say. "It is a matter more of how we see ourselves rather than anything concrete," one young man explained, "more unified, more optimistic and able to control what we do."
Jerzy Turowicz, editor of the leading Catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny, put it this way: "From a situation in Poland of social, moral and economic malaise, in which people felt that nothing good could happen, this came, and the emotional, psychological consequences are inevitable."
Communism remains entrenched, of course, as the official state system. The pope's trip, which ends Sunday, changed nothing about that. Poles believe, however, that now even more than before, the party will have to reckon with the church as a spiritual authority and, to the country's majority, the embodiment of Polish nationalism.
Poles contend that the Kremlin also has to accept Catholicism's sway in this, the largest of its Eastern European partners. With chants of "We want God" and hymns of praise to a Polish pontiff still resounding from the Baltic to the Soviet frontier, Moscow, for all its power, has no other choice.
The impact of John Paul II's pilgrimage came on multiple levels. Sentiment was perhaps the easiest to grasp.
Only the callous could have witnessed the scenes over the last week without being deeply moved: the pope in a simple white gown, his arms raised in greeting, standing beneath a huge cross in Warsaw's Victory Square as a quarter million people sang with joy; the pope at Poland's holiest shrine beseeching the Communist state for full religious freedom; the pope, astride an altar topped symbolically with barbed wire at Birkenau, once a Nazi death camp.
Many in the horde of reporters who followed the pontiff around the country became numbed by it all. Everywhere the expectant and then exultant crowds; the homilies balanced between Christ and human rights, the papal humor. It all seemed to blend together.
To the Poles at every point on a schedule that went 14, 15, even 16 hours a day, however, each occasion was a lifetime memory to be highly valued. And the pontiff nearly always succeeded in making each communion with the people as much a personal embrace as a religious ritual.
John Paul often spoke of Pope Paul's VI's disappointed dream of visiting Poland (the Communist Party would not permit it). Could Paul have had the effect on Poles that this pope had? Almost certainly not. It was hearing this strong, youthful man, revered for his holy station speaking to them, singing with them in Polish, in his native tongue that so thrilled all who came.
This was, above all, a hero's homecoming.
On another level, the visit was a near marvel of public decorum and coordination between the normally antagonistic church and state.
A message plainly went through the ranks of the church hierachy to the parishes that disturbances of any kind would blemish the pope's sojourn. So on day after hot, muggy day, the massive crowds gathered smoothly and dispersed quickly. In many places, church volunteers and priests were solely responsible for order.
The police, always present, occasionally ominously so, stayed mostly in reverse.
In retrospect, the early crowds in Warsaw, the pope's first stop, seemed relatively wary, as if not entirely certain how far they could go. The moment that the mood changed was exact. It was midway through the papal sermon in Victory Square last Saturday when the pontiff declared in a booming voice: "Christ cannot be kept out of the history of man in any part of the globe. . ."
The clapping started. It spread and gathered force. Then there were chants. The display went on for many minutes before the pope could resume. The right to demonstrate had been established.
Yet everyone also knew when to stop. Even the students of Krakow, crammed into a church Friday night while some 30,000 others waited outside, heeded the pope's call to be "temperate" despite their zeal for change. They left the area without incident, but not, some said later, without inspiration.
As for the organization of the pontiff's itinerary, the church pressed for more than it got in its prolonged bargaining wiht government officials. But it succeeded, nonetheless, in extracting official cooperation far beyond anything it had ever achieved before.
Vast downtown areas of Warsaw, Krakow and the smaller towns visited by the pope were cordoned off, facilities were offered for full foreign press coverage as well as coverage on Polish television that added up to about 15 hours over the course of the week. The country was decorated with literally millions of small papal flags, badges, banners and religious objects.
That all this was possible is a tribute to the determination and political understanding of the church and the flexibility of the party which opened up the opportunity for an opposition platform like no other before in the Communist world.
But this is still, ultimately, an authoritarian one-party state. So, on another level, the struggle between authorities and the people continued, providing a nasty undertone to the rejoicing.
There were the police roadblocks outside cities where cars were ordered to turn around. Officials insisted that the reason was crowd control and that people who wished to could leave their cars at designated places and walk. Some of those checkpoints, however, were 20 miles from papal stops.
Then, there was the business of the Polish frontier, largely closed to Catholics from other Communist countries - as if Moscow had give its sanction only to Poles to celebrate the pontiff's visit to the Kremlin's sphere of influence. The limitations on access from home and abroad provided evidence for the pope's repeated assertions that human rights and genuine religious freedom in Poland remain unfulfilled goals. There was also the harassment of secular dissidents on the eve of the pope's arrival. Adam Michnik, one of the most active of Poland's dissenters, and a number of others were kept in custody while the pontiff was in Warsaw. The detentions were trivial compared to the concessions made by the party. Yet they showed that details of repression were not overlooked.
It was important to the Polish leadership that the pontiff's visit leave a substantial residue of goodwill here that would - in the general improvement of morale - also benefit the party. Nonetheless, wherever police power surfaced in some ugly way, as when scores of vans swept ostentatiously through Krakow only a short time before the pope's arrival, the public hissed.
In the view of Poles, it seems, the state did well - though in significant ways, not well enough.
Lastly in this catalogue of what the papal visit wrought comes the political impact. This is hardest to quantify. While the pontiff spoke firmly about the church's problems with the government, he stopped well short of advocating any fundamental economic and social changes.
The objective John Paul II espoused was coexistence with the state, greater tolerance for religion with no suggestion that Marxism-Leninism had to go as a consequence. The contradiction of two such opposing ideologies surviving in one country was never explained.
The pope came closest when he spoke of Marx Friday night with the Krakow students. Some followers of Marxism, he said, believe religion "distracts man from temporal reality. . . The truth is quite different. Only this conception of life gives full importance to all problems of temporal reality. . . It decides his freedom." In short, Marx and the church need not cancel each other out.
Practical results of the pope's visit may be few in the short term. Poles say that everyone needs time to recover, to assess what has happened before deciding what to do next.It may well be fall before such old issues as church access to the media, building permits and religious education are brought forth again.
In the meantime, party authorities have another headache to consider. Poland's economic problems are serious. Many people believe their standard of living is dropping, that the availability of quality food and housing is actually on the decrease. Once the glow of the past week is gone, these deficiencies may seem all the greater. And there will be no papal trip to act as a diversion.
"Something simply has to be done with the economy," one leading Communist said. "We've got a pope to compete with now."
From the outset, the party has sought to identify itself with John Paul's popularity, offering encouragement to his calls for peace and brotherhood and hailing the fact that he is a Pole. But despite the state-church collaboration of the past week, it seems certain that this pope is not prepared to rescue the government from troubles of its own making. CAPTION: Picture, Girl in traditional costume kisses Pope John Paul's ring as he walks amid crowd. AP