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Pope tells European leaders to push Christian unity

June 3, 1997 GMT

GNIEZNO, Poland (AP) _ European integration will fail unless all former communist bloc countries are invited to join, and unless the jobless and poor are provided for, Pope John Paul II told the presidents of seven nations today.

``Europeans must take it upon themselves to cooperate more fruitfully, to strengthen peace among themselves and surrounding them,″ the pontiff told the presidents of Poland, Germany, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Lithuania and Ukraine.

Without specifically mentioning NATO or European Union expansion, he stressed that ``no country, not even the poorest, can be left out of the communities that are now being created.″

At a news conference after their 20-minute audience with the pope, the presidents described the meeting as extraordinary.

``The fact that seven presidents met today with the pope proves that we are searching for paths to peace and cooperation on the continent,″ said President Algirdas Brazauskas of Lithuania.

While Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary are expected to be invited to join NATO this year, other former Warsaw Pact members worry they won’t be welcome. EU expansion is proceeding at an even slower pace.

During a Mass in Gniezno earlier today, the pope warned that the Iron Curtain has been replaced by a new ``invisible wall″ of intolerance and ``political and economic selfishness.″ He cited the breakup of Yugoslavia and this year’s tumult in Albania.

Returning to the theme of his first trip home as pope in 1979, when he challenged the communist regime to open up, John Paul told the leaders that Europe would never achieve ``authentic unity″ if its Christian roots are ignored.

``The recovery of the right to self-determination and the growth of political and economic freedom is not sufficient to rebuild European unity,″ he said. ``A new openness is needed.″

Having played a key role in defeating communism, the pope has tried to rekindle Christianity in Eastern Europe and keep its young democracies from falling into what he sees as the excesses of capitalism and Western materialism.

Since beginning his 11-day trip to Poland on Saturday, he has bluntly called on the Polish government _ led by former communists _ to correct what he called the ``shortcomings of social life″ in his homeland today: high unemployment, increasing poverty and a drift from traditional values.

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The Mass before some 250,000 pilgrims took place outside the Gothic cathedral in Gniezno, Poland’s first capital. The pope chose the city because its cathedral houses the relics of St. Adalbert, an advocate of European unity who was killed on a missionary trip 1,000 years ago.

Despite a busy schedule, the 77-year-old pope seemed invigorated by his pilgrimage home, his seventh and what many Poles fear may be his last.

At a prayer service Monday night in Gorzow attended by nearly 400,000 people, the pope asked his countrymen to pray for him so that he can lead the Roman Catholic Church into 2000.

The pope, who has been slowed by a series of ailments, said that his mentor, the late Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski, told him he would be the one to take the church into the third millennium of Christianity.

``I’m growing in years,″ he said. ``I ask you to beg God, on your knees, so that I will be able to fulfill this task.″

The crowd responded with ``we will help, we will help,″ echoing a chant used by Poles in the early 1970s, during the former communist regime.

John Paul wiped his eyes, smiling. ``I know this chant,″ he said. ``This time I hope it’s more effective.″