Poland put the finishing touches on preparations for the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, as people in the overwhelmingly Catholic country focused on their spiritual readiness to welcome the German pontiff.
Millions are expected to flock to see Pope Benedict XVI in Poland
"We no longer need to worry about logistics. Now we need to get ready for what will be of utmost importance during his pilgrimage: we must be strong in the faith," Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said after meeting with Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the primate of Poland, on the eve of the papal visit.
"Be strong in the faith" is the slogan of the visit of Benedict XVI.
"We need peace and quiet, to reflect on all that is happening within us and around us," said Marcinkiewicz, alluding to the political turmoil and social unrest that have dogged his government since he took office late last year.
Marcinkiewicz will be among the state and church officials, including President Lech Kaczynski and the Apostolic Nuncio to Poland, Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk, who will welcome Benedict to Warsaw when his Alitalia flight from Rome arrives Thursday morning.
But before the official ceremony to welcome Benedict to the land of his hugely popular predecessor, Polish-born John Paul II, the Okecie airport employees' choir will greet the pope in song.
"We've rehearsed hymns in Polish, English, French -- we're prepared for all the languages!" said Father Slawomir Kawecki, the airport chaplain.
"This ceremony will be different to others, because it isn't a mass, but a welcome to the pope from the people, even before the official welcoming ceremony," Kawecki said.
Monks at the Marian shrine in Lichen, central Poland, will ring Poland's biggest bell, the 14-tonne "Mary Mother of God", along with the 11 other bells to welcome Benedict.
More than a million pilgrims expected for mass
Some followers are getting their seats early
The streets of Warsaw, where city officials expect more than a million people to gather in central Pilsudski Square for a mass led by the pontiff on Friday, have been festooned for weeks with posters calling German-born Benedict "our pope" -- an endearment long reserved for John Paul II.
A bookshop on a main thoroughfare in the capital has replaced books by and about John Paul II that long had pride of place in its window display with tomes about Benedict.
A huge altar with a 25-metre tall cross, built for the huge open-air mass in Pilsudski Square, was finished early this week and will be lit up every evening until Sunday, the last day of Benedict's visit.
The structure's design is based on the altar from which John Paul II addressed his fellow Poles in Pilsudski Square in 1979, urging them to "not be afraid" and calling on the "spirit to come down and renew the face of this land".
That call was interpreted by many Poles as an exhortation to stand up to communism.
Benedict to visit predecessor's home
As Cardinal Ratzinger, the pope was close to his predecessor
In Wadowice, families have been reciting the rosary together to prepare for Benedict's visit to the birthplace of his predecessor on Saturday.
Wadowice's faithful have also gathered on the second day of each month outside the house where John Paul II was born to sing "Barka", one of John Paul II's favorite hymns, and listen to a bugler's solemn call at 9:37 pm.
John Paul II died in Rome on April 2 last year at 9:37 pm.
"Families are a home church on which so much depends. It is on the maturity of families that the maturity of the Church rests. There is great power in the families of Wadowice. We wish to show this to the Holy Father," Wadowice parish priest, Monsignor Jakub Gil, was quoted as saying by Poland's Catholic news agency, KAI.
Pope urges Poland to remember John Paul's guidance
Pope John Paul was an inspiration to his people
At his weekly general audience on Wednesday in St Peter's Square, Benedict said he was traveling to John Paul II's homeland to pray for "a Spring of renewal of the faith and civil progress in the entire country, forever keeping alive the memory of my great predecessor".
Speaking in Polish, he said: "Remain strong in the faith. This is an important message for all the Church."