Poles in the USA do remember

Alicja Pozywio

We think about the plane crash at Smolensk as a disaster that concerns our own families - we remember where we were then and what we were doing when we heard the news about this tragedy, and recollecting it evokes old and news emotions. And because of that the Polish American community decided to celebrate the first anniversary of this dramatic event as we do it in our homes: prayer, reflection and recollections. The celebrations included events that many people wanted to organise themselves. 'We have managed to combine these events and arrange them throughout the week. Following the initiative of parish priest Zdzislaw Torba all those who were interested in the organisation gathered in St Ferdinand Church,' said Slawek Budzik, a member of the organising committee during the press conference on 15 March. Fr Kazimierz Garbacz, the director of the Office for European Catholics of the Archdiocese of Chicago, was elected the president of the organising committee and the honorary patrons became Cardinal Francis George of Chicago and the daughter of the deceased presidential couple Marta Kaczynska.

Unity through music

The celebrations were not meant to be political but aimed at building unity through common experience of mourning. That's why prayer and music dominated the weekly programme because as the organisers stressed 'people of various political options come to church and concert halls.' The celebrations started with 'Stabat Mater' by Pergolesi and 'Requiem' by Wolfgang A. Mozart performed by the International Chamber Artists conducted by Patrick Godon in the Church of St Mary of the Angels. The over-three-hour concert gathered many outstanding guests, including Cardinal Francis George and the family members of the Smolensk victims: Beata Gosiewska with her son Milosz and daughter Karolina, Zuzanna Kurtyka with her son Pawel, Maria Seweryn and Anna Wojtowicz - wife and daughter of the late Wojciech Seweryn, a US citizen who designed the Katyn Memorial in Chicago. 'My dad believed in huge possibilities of our country. He wanted Poland to be sovereign, strong and proud, confident of her rights and speaking about them openly […] My mum loved music, the theatre, the cinema and she cared very much that Polish art was appreciated also abroad,' Marta Kaczynska wrote in her letter to the participants of the celebrations. All the names of the Smolensk plane crash were read during the ceremony.

Common prayer

The next day in the Holy Trinity Church a Mass presided over by Archbishop Jozef Michalik was celebrated. Cardinal Francis George was present at the Mass concelebrated by 18 priests from the Polish parishes. 'This death shows the value of sacrifice for homeland in a new light. […] This death revealed the heart of our nation that built its unity in compassion, mourning and responsibility for this flight. […] The death of those people revealed the surprisingly painful fears of the power of the dead. Suddenly some countrymen began fearing the dead more than the living. That shows that the truth, solidarity and love of family cannot be excluded. That catastrophe also revealed fear of the truth. Constant lack of courage to reveal ordinary events. […] Today we learn about the hidden details. One mustn't build respect for oneself on that. One needn't fear the truth and one need not fear the dead,' Archbishop Michalik said in his homily. Cardinal Francis George spoke at the end of the Mass. He assured the gathered people of his prayers in the intention of the tragically deceased and of the family members of the victims. 'That tragedy touched the lives of the victims' families, touched the lives of Poles in Poland and Poles living here, in Chicago,' Cardinal George said. He recollected the creator of the Katyn Memorial who had been well known in Chicago, the late Wojciech Seweryn. The next days brought new impressions. There were three shows of the films 'Solidarni 2010' and 'Krzyz' accompanied by vivid reactions of large audiences. After the shows there were meetings with Ewa Stankiewicz, Jan Pospieszalski and the families of the Smolensk victims. Two concerts of 'Piesn o Bogu ukrytym' [A Song of Hidden God] by Marcin Styczen enjoyed great interest. The weekly celebrations ended with a solemn Mass in St Hyacinth Basilica in Chicago, celebrated by the Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Tadeusz Jakubowski.

First impressions

Almost all events of the week 'Smolenk 2010 - Week of National Remembrance' gathered crowds. 'I had the occasion to get to know the presidential couple and thus they became close to me. Participating in the events I embrace them with prayer and remembrance,' said Fr Waclaw Lech, the parish priest of St Camillus Church in Chicago. For Fr Michal Osuch, the parish priest of St Hyacinth these celebrations are an occasion to show solidarity with those who mourn, 'The one that lost someone knows how painful it is and knows that the pain cannot end within some short time,' he said. In the opinion of the superior of the Polish Jesuits Fr Stanislaw Czarnecki it was good that the celebrations lasted for a week and were held in several places. 'The idea of the week was not to divide but to seek what unites us. I think we have succeeded because we have organised events in several places,' he added.
The guests from Poland were astonished to see that their sorrow was so important to their fellow countrymen living so far from their homeland. 'It was worth flying here. I am glad that Poles living in Chicago have been involved in celebrating this plane crash so much. It is very encouraging to us and gives us strength,' Beata Gosiewska confessed.

"Niedziela" 17/2011

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl