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Archbishop calls for unity at slain Polish mayor’s funeral

A black hearse with the coffin of the slain mayor of the city of Gdansk Pawel Adamowicz, followed by a procession of residents, is being brought to St. Mary's Basilica for Saturday's burial, in Gdansk, Poland, on Friday, Jan. 18, 2019. Church bells tolled as tens of thousands in Poland's northern city of Gdansk walked in a procession Friday bringing the coffin of the city's slain mayor to a basilica on the eve of his burial. (AP Photo/Wojciech Strozyk)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — A Catholic archbishop and other speakers at the funeral Saturday of slain Gdansk Mayor Pawel Adamowicz urged an end to the political and social divisions in Poland, targeting some of their comments at the country’s ruling right-wing party.

Top Polish and European officials and thousands of citizens joined Adamowicz’s widow, two daughters and other family members at the Mass held at Gdansk’s vast Gothic St. Mary’s Basilica.

Adamowicz, 53, died Monday after being stabbed the night before at a charity event in the northern Polish city. The arrested suspect is an ex-convict who publicly voiced a grudge against an opposition party, Civic Platform, that Adamowicz once belonged to.

The slaying, which came as Poland faces a deep political divide over actions by the conservative ruling Law and Justice party, was a shock to the nation. It has drawn calls for greater national unity and condemnation of hate speech that has intensified in public amid political rivalries.

Adamowicz himself was the target of criticism in state media and hate messages by some far-right activists for his tolerance and openness to others regardless of their race or beliefs. He was against Poland’s refusal to accept migrants and against the government’s moves to control the judiciary. He had called Gdansk a city of “freedom and Solidarity.”

In his sermon at the funeral, Gdansk Archbishop Slawoj Leszek Glodz said Adamowicz’s death was a ringing alarm bell.

“Our homeland needs harmony” in its social life and politics, Glodz said.

Other speakers at the church drew applause, unusual for a funeral ceremony in predominantly Catholic Poland, when they denounced hostility in public and political life.

“We will not remain indifferent to the spreading poison of hatred in the streets, in the media, in the internet, in schools, in parliament and also in the church,” said Dominican friar Ludwik Wisniewski, a friend of the slain mayor.

“A person who is filled with hatred, who builds his career on a lie, cannot hold high positions in our country and we will make sure of that,” Wisniewski said, drawing long applause for an apparent reference to Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the ruling party leader, who did not attend the funeral.

Another friend, Aleksander Hall, said Adamowicz was killed by “hatred that was instigated and fueled” in Poland’s state media.

He appealed to public officials to put an end to such actions.

After the mayor’s slaying and TV reports blaming only the opposition for aggressive language, some called this week for the head of the state TVP to be fired.

It remained to be seen how appeals for unity will play out in campaigns for the European and national parliaments this year.

A very personal address by Adamowicz’s widow and daughter drew tears from many attending officials, former President Lech Walesa among them. They said his love was divided between the family and Gdansk.

Those at the funeral included European Council President Donald Tusk, a personal friend; Polish President Andrzej Duda; Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki; former German President Joachim Gauck and city mayors from The Netherlands and Germany.

Pope Francis sent rosaries to the family and assured them of his prayers. Prayers were also said by Jewish and Muslim leaders.

The black urn with the mayor’s ashes was placed before the altar, surrounded by dozens of white roses. It was later put to rest in a niche at one of the basilica’s chapels.

Crowds overflowed into the streets of this Baltic port city but were able to watch the funeral Mass on giant screens. Black-and-white photos of the popular mayor were also seen in many shops and apartment windows.

Residents told TVN24 that the mayor was a friendly person always ready to offer support, who greeted everyone with a smile.

Crowds also gathered around screens in Warsaw and other cities across Poland to see the funeral.

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This story has been corrected to show that the mayor’s first name is Pawel, not Piotr.

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