Flowers were laid at the gates of the shipyard in Gdansk yesterday, as thousands attended an open-air Mass to mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the Solidarity trade union - which played a key role in the collapse of Communism. Within months of its establishment on 31 August 1980, Solidarity became a national political movement, claiming ten million members. When the authorities staged a clampdown on the union, the Catholic Church supported members by organising food aid and medical help. Fr Jerzy Popieluszko, who celebrated weekly Masses for shipyard workers was murdered on the orders of the government in 1984. Five years' later, Solidarity leaders negotiated the end of communism and a few months after that, the Berlin Wall fell. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the movement had launched an "irreversible process" towards freedom in eastern Europe. Deputy prime Minister John Prescott praised the bravery of the strikers who changed the world. A key speaker was Solidarity founding leader Lech Walesa, who went on to become the country's president. The Mass was celebrated by the Archbishop of Krakow, Stanislaw Dziwisz. He read a letter In a letter from Pope Benedict XVI, praising Solidarity as a "breath of a new spirit" that changed Europe. "I know how much it warmed the heart of my great predecessor, God's servant John Paul II, that this act of historic justice happened and that Europe was able to breathe with two lungs - an eastern one and a western one," the letter said.
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