Sunday marked exactly 18 years since Pope John Paul II died after a pontificate lasting more than 26 years.
A variety of events were held throughout the country to commemorate the late pontiff, who led the Roman Catholic Church from 1978 to 2005.
Events marking the anniversary of his death included religious services in churches and prayer vigils attended by crowds, in addition to remembrance marches combined with reflections on John Paul II’s teachings.
In the capital Warsaw, a Papal March was held through the main streets of the city to defend the good name of the late pope in response to claims that he concealed cases of child abuse in the Polish Catholic Church in the 1960s and 1970s, state news agency PAP reported.
In the southern city of Kraków, around 10,000 people took part in a similar march despite torrential rain, public broadcaster Polish Radio’s IAR news agency reported.
Polish FM condemns statue vandalism
Meanwhile, in the central city of Łódź, someone vandalized a statue of John Paul II in front of the local cathedral, splashing red and yellow paint on it and writing the words "maxima culpa" on its pedestal, state broadcaster TVP Info said.
Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau condemned the incident as "an element of hybrid warfare" and an "attempt to divide the public along the most fundamental lines of our identity," according to a Twitter post by spokesman Łukasz Jasina.
Seventy percent of respondents to a recent Polish survey said the late pontiff remained a moral authority for them.
John Paul II, who visited 129 countries during his long pontificate, served as pope from October 16, 1978 until his death on April 2, 2005.
He was the third longest-serving pontiff in history and was declared a saint in 2014.
The pope was a strong supporter of Poland's anti-communist Solidarity movement and is recognised as a key influence in helping to end communist rule in Poland in 1989.
Documents unearthed several years ago show that Pope John Paul II was seen as the main enemy of Poland’s communist-era rulers, according to a report.
Polish lawmakers last month adopted a resolution to condemn a "disgraceful media smear campaign against St. John Paul II," and called the late pope “the greatest Pole in history.”
In early March, private broadcaster TVN24 aired a documentary detailing accusations of child sex abuse levelled against three Polish priests in the 1960s and 1970s, alleging that the then Archbishop of Kraków, Karol Wojtyła, who in 1978 became Pope John Paul II, knew about the wrongdoing.
The documentary, which included comments from Dutch journalist Ekke Overbeek, the author of a book entitled Maxima Culpa, stirred a heated debate in Poland.
'I am standing up to defend our pope': Polish PM
Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said last month that, contrary to claims, there was "no proof that the Polish pope ignored evildoing" in the Catholic Church.
Morawiecki added: “I’m standing up to defend our pope because I know that as a nation, we owe a lot to John Paul II. Maybe we owe him everything.”
Morawiecki also said at the time that "the list of John Paul II’s contributions, both for the world and for Poland, is endless."
He argued that "there is abundant evidence that John Paul II sought to combat evildoing, including within the Church; meanwhile, there is no or only very dubious evidence that he willfully ignored such acts.”
The Polish Catholic Church has urged people to respect the late pope's memory, saying that a review of its archives did not confirm the accusations against high-ranking church officials, the Reuters news agency reported.
Source: IAR, PAP, Reuters, pap.pl/polskieradio24.pl