In a small apartment here, a group of Catholic friends gather daily around a shortwave radio to hear about the travels in America of Pope John Paul II, the Polish pope.
They are listening to Polish-language broadcasts on the U.S.-Government-backed Radio Free Europe. "I listen about eight hours a day," says one man. "My Russian-built radio picks up very nicely." The station is a long standing irritant to the Soviet Union, and its broadcasts are jammed in some Soviet bloc countries.
But the broadcasts are not being jammed in Poland and appear to be the main source of detail and color for such of the Polish Catholic intellectual and clerical hierarchy about the pope's trip, what he is saying and the impact of his reception in the United States.
Radio Vatican also is broadcasting details of the visit on short-wave, "but its coverage is too boring," says a Polish history teacher, who prefers the U.S. coverage.
At the state-controlled television station here, a Polish journalist says privately that large numbers of viewers have called to ask, politely, if the roughly two-minute segment of the nightly television news being devoted to the papal visit could be expanded.
Interest in the pope's journey to Ireland and the United States, a well-known Polish newspaperman said privately, "is absolutely tremendous."
Yet, as was the case with the pope's momentous nine-day visit to his homeland in June, his travels present a particularly difficult problem for the Communist government and its state-controlled press and television. The dilemma is simply the clash between the extraordinary national pride of Poland's 35 million people in the pontiff and the fear and suspicion within the government that he will say or do something that will cause trouble for it at home or with their Communist-bloc allies.
By the Communist-bloc standards, however, Polish press coverage of the papal visit is, as described by experienced observers here, "reasonable."
Warsaw's leading daily, Zycie Warszawy, has carried the story on the front page, while the official Communist Party newspaper, Trybuna Ludu, has alternated between front-page accounts and shorter reports on inside pages.
The most extensive coverage has been in the pro-government Catholic daily newspaper, Slowo Powszechne. But this newspaper, although backed by and supportive of the government, has a circulation of only 80,000.
The independent Catholic newspaper, Tygodnik Powszechny, is highly regarded among both lay Catholic intellectuals and the clergy. But the paper is a weekly and is heavily censored by the government. Its circulation is also restricted tightly to 40,000 subscribers, making it virtually impossible to get for most people.
In general, Polish newspaper readers can find accounts of the pope's itinery and brief summaries of what he said on the noncontroversial subjects, with an emphasis on peace, cooperation and a reaffirmation of the church's traditional stand against divorce, abortion, violence and materialism.
But the government is also using its media to place heavy emphasis on security aspects of the pope's visit in a move that, in part at least, reflects annoyance of the Warsaw government at the Western press last June for calling attention to Polish police roadblocks and other crowd control measures. The Polish press is highlighting the thousands of police and soldiers used in Ireland and the United States to guard the pope.
The Polish press also is calling major attention to church-state issues in the United States, such as attempts by the American Civil Liberties Union in Philadelphia to prevent use of tax funds for building platforms for the pope and the law suit seeking to prevent him from holding mass on the Mall in Washington.
The tremendous interest in the pope's visit, a Polish journalist says, is not a reflection of solidarity with America's 50 million Catholics and the many Polish-Americans among them. Rather, he says, "it is because he is a Pole and this trip, and all his trips, are good for Poland. It is good when the Irish president greets him in Polish and good when he speaks to the United Nations. It is a matter of deep, national pride."
A Catholic historian disagrees, in part, believing that the huge U.S. Catholic population is a major factor of interest in this particular trip and because the pope, in private talks with the U.S. leaders may raise the issue of religious freedom in Eastern Europe.
But, he adds, "there is a feeling here that the West isn't really interested in what happens in Poland or the rest of the East . . . There is a view that the U.S. should link its grain sales to Poland with pressure on the Soviets to allow more human rights here."
U.S. grain is crucial to the Polish economy. Yet, he says, "there is no U.S. use of this leverage. Thus, people conclude that the Russians are tough, the West is soft, and for Poland there is the conviction that we may only count on ourselves."