In an unprecedented gesture at Krakow airport just before Pope John Paul II flew back to Rome after his nine-day visit to Poland, the pontiff took hold of the Polish head of state, Henryk Jablonski, and kissed him on both cheeks.
The scene produced a gasp of wonder from the millions watching the live broadcast on television and many began to ask if the Polish head of state - and a Communist Party Politburo member at that - would have to explain how he had got into such an ideologically compromising situation.
Now, however, the Communist Party weekly Polityka has matched the warmth of the occasion with a markedly conciliatory assessment of the impact of the pope's visit on church-state relations.
The piece, by Central Committee member Mieczyslaw Rakowski, draws a veil over the pope's more outspoken comments during his visit and asserts that John Paul's aim is to carry on a constructive dialogue with a Polish authorities.
In a similar vein, party leader Edward Gierek praised the pope for "sharing the will for peace with Polish and other world leaders."
"We are particularly happy that the first Polish pope has during his homecoming visit, stressed the need to stop war, saying it was a necessity but also a possibility," Gierek said in a speech on the 30th anniversary of the Leninsteel mill at Nowa Huta. His remarks were thought to be the first public statement by party leadership on the pope's visit, which ended June 10. The prolonged silence on such a sensitive issue, which is likely to have a long term impact on Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe, suggests that the leadership was undecided about the public position it should adopt.
In the Polityka article, Rakowski leaves his critical comments for the activities of a "certain category" of the Western press that was out to "sow discord between the church and the state" in its reporting of the visit.
Rakowski leaves his critical comments for the activities of a "certain category" of the Western press that was out to "sow discord between the church and the state" in its reporting of the visit.
Rakowski is editor-in-chief of Polityka, a paper that is noted for its moderate political stance. He denied that the visit caused problems for the authorities here and said that "the hopes of those who expected trouble during the visit of Pope Paul II to our country were not fulfilled."
Nor is it true, Rakowski continued that the Polish authorities remained indifferent to the visit or tried to play down its significance.
According to Polityka, the truth of the matter is that the visit must be seen in the light of the "dialogue and various forms of cooperation which already exist between Catholicism and the Communist movement."
"It is understandable," Rakowski said, that the pope "spoke out in full accord with Catholic teaching, but his opinions do not lead the church onto the path of a fierce confrontation with socialism and the secular authorities."
Moreover, he continued, the pope's conception of a realistic dialogue with socialist countries can lead to cooperation between the two sides "as regards the strengthening of world peace, the fight against hunger and poverty, for social justice and toleration."
The Rakowski article is the first commentary in the Polish press since the papal visit. Its message is that the visit gave both the population and the authorities something to think about and that the church-state dialogue should continue.
Rakowski's commentary, however, provides an indication about the arguments that more tolerant elements in the party hierarchy are putting forward.
Rakowski focused on the pope's address to the Polish bishops at Czestochowa, Poland's national shrine, where the pontiff urged mutual respect in the church-state dialogue and efforts to overcome ideological divisions.
The pope's statement was"creative and promising," Rakowski said, and posed an intellectual challenge for both sides.
The papal sermons, he said, provoked discussions in many homes and "these discussions are a natural thing to be desired."
Rakowski quoted from the pope's airport statement when the pontiff said that his trip had been a matter of courage for both sides.
"Our times require of us that we do not shut ourselves within strict frontiers when the good of man is at stake," the pope said.
It is difficult not to agree with such a statement, Rakowski said. CAPTION: Picture, Pope waves to one of the vast crowds that greeted him on his tour of Poland. UPI