WARSAW, Poland, April 5 (UPI) -- Hundreds of thousands of Poles gathered in central Warsaw Tuesday for a mass to celebrate the life and work of Pope John Paul II.
Up to 300,000 came to Pilsudski Square, the site of an inspirational papal mass during John Paul's first visit as pope to his homeland in 1979.
Activists from the anti-communist Solidarity trade union movement say that visit was a turning point in Polish history, inspiring millions to join the protest movement that played a key role in ending communist rule in Poland and the rest of central and eastern Europe.
President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Prime Minister Marek Belka joined the crowds for a gathering filled with sadness at the loss of a national icon.
Poland will remain in an official state of mourning until the pope's funeral in Rome Friday.