Saint John Paul II cast as poster-boy for Polish unity

A decade after John Paul II`s death, dozens of controversial posters have gone up in his native Poland, showing the canonised pope sporting a suit and tie urging "togetherness" in an election year.

"Karol Wojtyla, your candidate in your daily choices. Always together, never against each other," reads the slogan, referring to the saint using his Polish birth name.

The slogan accompanies a picture of the smiling pontiff, who headed the Catholic Church for 26 years and was hugely popular among his followers, wearing his white papal beanie to match an ivory-coloured tie.

The Warsaw Centre for Thought of John Paul II that launched the campaign insists it is apolitical.

It also says the messages urging togetherness are not linked to President Bronislaw Komorowski`s "unity and security" election campaign slogan.

Analysts say that through his slogan, Komorowski is seeking to rally Poles to unity in order to bolster national security as tensions with historical foe Russia soar in the wake of its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

"Obviously this poster fits within the framework of the election campaign, but this is a very different candidate and the choices we are talking about are not political ones," Tomasz Kempski, a spokesman for the centre told AFP on Monday.

"His business suit symbolises the fact that his sainthood was forged by the everyday choices he made in his job," Kempski said.

The centre is affiliated with Warsaw city hall, which has been run for the last eight years by the ruling Civic Platform (PO) party. It must also win an October parliamentary election to stay in power nationally.

Previously affiliated with the party, President Komorowski is expected to easily win a second term in a May 10 national vote.

Some insist that despite the claims to the contrary, the papal posters have everything to do with courting voters.

"It`s unacceptable to use the image of the saint to promote slogans that clearly bring to mind the election campaign," said Father Jan Kabzinski of the John Paul II Centre, a Catholic Church-related group based in the southern city of Krakow.

John Paul II is revered among his countrymen, who believe he fostered the social bonds that contributed to the bloodless demise in 1989 of communist rule in Poland.

He died on April 2, 2005 in Rome after a landmark papacy as the first Polish pontiff. He was declared a saint last year.

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