He appeared out of the fog like a dazzling vision of white, rounding the corner near Bobak's sausage shop early this morning as bells rang, flags waved and thousands of Polish people on the South Side paid an emotional greeting to the pope who shares their heritage.

Here, in what John Paul II called "this second Polish city in the world," it was for once chic to be a Pole.

"This visit is God's way to show people that all Poles are not like in those disgusting jokes," said Stella Tobis, as she huddled behind the police barricade, sharing a blanket with her daughter and sister.

Since the Polish foundry worker's son became pope, said Tobis, "people have come up to me and said, 'Aren't you proud?' I tell them I've always been proud to be Polish. But I'm glad their eyes are opened."

Polish pride glowed on the faces at Five Holy Martyrs Church like the sun that finally burst through the fog. And John Paul II appeared as proud and joyous as any of the throng around him, his manner loosened by the return of his native tongue.

When the pope cracked a Polish joke of sorts, his audience laughed heartily.

The joke made reference to his demanding schedule and the fact that he had to get up very early. He quoted a Polish saying: "He who rises early will be sleepy all day -- but he who rises early will be blessed by God."

As relaxed as a visiting uncle, the pope remarked to the crowd that the weather was "as cold as the mountains around Krakow."

He spent a full two hours in the neighborhood. Choirs sang Slavic folk songs for the mass in the church parking lot that had been renamed Five Holy Martyrs Field.

The pope spoke to them of their common heritage of struggle and achievement, of escape from political oppression.

The Polish community of Chicago, estimated at perhaps 800,000, is the largest in the world outside Warsaw. Many in today's crowd knew the pope from his days as priest, bishop and cardinal in Poland.

They sang their popular "Sto Lat," wishing the pope "100 years" of life. He responded, smiling, "No matter how many times you will sing '100 years,' you will never win, because God will have his way."

He had ad libbed an aside to Poles in an audience the previous night after they had sung the same song to him. "If you keep singing that, people will think it's our national anthem," he said in Polish.

The South Side neighborhood of neat gardens and lace curtains, small shops and light industry was transformed for the pope's visit.

Many homes sported elaborate outdoor decorations, similar to those of Christmas time -- garlands of plastic flowers, framed portraits or posters of the pope, flags, and one ancient tapestry. Some of the displays had been covered with plastic cleaning bags as protection against the weather and were unveiled only this morning.

Gardens which had been so specially spruced up and enlarged were obscured or trampled by the solid mass of humanity that filled yards, trees and windows.

George Danielewski, a heavyset young carpenter, had spent 15 hours and $44 painting a portrait of the pope in high-gloss enamel on an 8-foot slab of marlite, a material used in kitchens and bathrooms.

He had screwed it into the mortar and brick high up on the home of his brother-in-law, right across the street from the altar, where the pope could not miss it.

"I was inspired," he said.

Jean Pacanowski, the wife of a postal service worker, had volunteered to spend last week ironing vestments for the mass. "Maybe one of those worn by the Holy Father," she said.

Some three dozen of her family and friends, from as far away as Wisconsin and New York, crowded onto her front porch to try to get a glimpse of the pope.

Like many other neighborhoods, the parish of Five Holy Martyrs (named after the first saints of Poland) had its ethnicity reinforced by a fresh wave of immigrants after World War II, particularly in the mid-'50s when the political restrictions in Poland thawed, according to Five Holy Martyrs Bishop Alfred L. Abramowicz.

Abramowicz has known John Paul II since 1960. They have worked together on Polish causes.

"This parish is made up almost one-fifth by those who came in the '50's" he said "These were people who held to the traditions and culture of Poland. Very industrious people."

Perhaps even more than other nationalities, the staunchly Catholic Poles have relied on the church for the survival of their culture through centuries of persecution.

During the mass, the pope spoke to them of "the contributions that the sons and daughters of our first homeland, Poland, have made to the history and to the life of their second homeland across the ocean: all their toil, efforts, struggles and sufferings; all the fruits of their minds, hearts and hands; all the achievements of the individuals, families and communities.

"But also all the failures, pains and disappointment; all the nostalgia for their home, when forced by great poverty they went across the ocean, all the price of love they had to part with in order to look here anew for multiplied family, social and all human threads."

Much of the crowd's emotion was expressed inwardly.

After their visitor had come and gone, hundreds crowded into the church to pray and warm their cold toes and just sit and think about the day.

Some took advantage of the "after-mass specials" of hot food and drink advertised in nearby restaurant windows, or went home to compare their experience over Polish brunches.

Dressed in elaborately embroidered Polish highlanders' folk dress, Frank Krozel, the ofreman of a painting crew at O'Hare airport, danced with excitement.

"I shook hands with the pope," he repeated to anyone who came near him. "I was petrified. He saw me in my costume in the church and asked me where I'm from. I said 'Nowi Tang,' and he shook my hand!"