Pope Benedict XVI praised Poland's Solidarity movement Wednesday as a "breath of a new spirit" that changed Europe as he marked the trade union's 25th anniversary by sending out a special prayer for all those who work for social justice and workers' rights.
Benedict referred to Solidarity's anniversary in comments in Polish to the tens of thousands of tourists and faithful gathered in St. Peter's Square for his weekly general audience.
Benedict's predecessor, the Polish-born Pope John Paul II, was a firm backer of Solidarity and has been credited with helping inspire the movement, the AP reminds.
"I thank Divine Providence for the breath of a new spirit that this movement brought to the events of contemporary Europe," Benedict said. "May God bless all those who are committed to promoting social justice and the good of workers."
On Aug. 31, 1980, 18 days of strikes at the Lenin Shipyards of Gdansk, Poland, and elsewhere culminated with the communist regime making unprecedented concessions to the workers, including allowing the Soviet bloc's first free trade union.
Solidarity went on to negotiate a peaceful end of communism in Poland in 1989, which in turn helped hasten the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.
World dignitaries and communist-era dissidents were gathering in Gdansk on Wednesday for a day of festivities and a Mass honoring John Paul.