We will remember!
Andrzej Tarwid, in collaboration with Anna Maslana
‘You died fulfilling your duties. May you rest in peace’, Maciej Lopinski, Head of the Presidential Chancellery, said in his farewell address to the victims of the plane crash in Pilsudski Square in Warsaw.
Throughout the whole mourning week the Poles’ eyes were turned towards Warsaw. Planes transported the bodies of the victims of the crash at Smolensk for several days. People paid homage to the victims at the airport and along the streets when the hearses carried the coffins. There were countless funeral Masses and services in the intention of the victims held in the churches in Warsaw. Nobody could count the exact number of people who came to the Presidential Palace to take part in the national retreats. Over 150,000 people took part in the state-church celebrations in Pilsudski Square. In order to reach Warsaw on time some had to leave several hours earlier. ‘We left at midnight’, said one of the members of the delegation of the Municipality of Kamienna Gora. Nobody wanted to be late. And nobody wanted to be somewhere else on that day. Why? Magdalena, a student of Polish literature at the University of Warsaw, said, ‘I felt the need to be here so that I could express my mourning.’
Fr Zbigniew Rajski, who arrived at the square with a group of several dozen members of the Light-Life Movement from the Diocese of Warsaw-Praga, stressed, ‘I am deeply convinced that we will experience moments that are ones of the most important days in the history of our nation.’
The pictures of those who had lost their lives in the crash were placed on the black background on both sides of the white cross. The photos were places in three rows in the alphabetical order. ‘I like it that each photo is of the same size since we are equal at the moment of death’, Agnieszka Orlowska told us.
The photos of Lech and Maria Kaczynski were surrounded by a white-red ribbon.
‘Nobody can remember that so many outstanding people have lost their lives in one cruel moment’, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said and he declared, ‘We must carry their dreams, carry their hopes. This is the greatest thing we can do for them now. And we should remember. We will remember!’
Many of those that gathered in the square asked themselves the question whether Poland would be changed, whether our political life would be changed. ‘Soon we will have elections again and the quarrels will surely return’, Boguslawa said. Magda, a student, was more optimistic, ‘These events shook the politicians and so they might change, I do hope so.’
After the state ceremony Mass was celebrated by the members of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, presided over by Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk. The Apostolic Nuncio read the homily of the papal legate Cardinal Angelo Sodano who could not come to Warsaw because of the closed air space over Europe due to the volcanic ash cloud from Iceland. Cardinal Sodano mentioned that the best help to face trials of the present times was the book by John Paul II ‘Crossing the Threshold of Hope’. ‘In his book the Servant of God encourages us to look at Christ as the only way to reach light in the tragedies of history. (We have printed the whole text of the homily on page six.)
The final speech was delivered by Archbishop Jozef Michalik, President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. He said that the death of 96 people in the plane crash at Smolensk showed us new values of each of them. Reflecting on the sense of this simultaneous tragic death of so many representatives of the Polish state he encouraged all Christians to change their pain and reflections into conversions and beginnings of new better lives.
Archbishop Michalik stressed that both life and death of each man were a mystery and only faith in Christ could help man see something of the mystery of life after death. ‘So let us use this painful circumstance when we are experiencing the death of our dearest ones to prepare ourselves to death’, the President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference encouraged the gathered.
In the opinion of the Metropolitan of Przemysl the tragic event showed us a new face of our nation that although having vices had a big heart. ‘It is more valuable that many a time this nation has been painfully ridiculed by its sons as the nation that allegedly cannot use the teaching of Pope John Paul II and the freedom it has been given, and what is worse, the nation made the guardian of the Majesty of the Republic of Poland a man who did not match their criteria of the present day’, Archbishop Michalik said. He expressed gratitude to the Russians, including their Prime Minister, for showing compassion for our nation.
Recollecting the person of the late President of the Republic of Poland and using very cordial words Archbishop Michalik emphasised that the President had showed concern for future Poland. Lech Kaczynski loved the history of Poland and respected it; in fact he honoured the heroes of the Warsaw Uprising that had been mocked by some environments. He inscribed them into the transmission of the national history by building a museum dedicated to them.
Archbishop Michalik expressed his big appreciation for the religious attitude of the late President. He recollected a meaningful episode that had occurred two years ago, connected with the arrival of the President to the ceremony in Krasiczyn near Przemysl. ‘He called us saying that he would be 15 minutes earlier and asking to have the possibility to go to confession and receive Holy Communion. Yes, a man for whom conscience matters and who tries to discern between good and evil, becomes one of us and must evoke our trust’, he said.
‘We want to express our cordial compassion for all, especially the families who were affected most painfully by these deaths, and we embrace them in our prayers asking God to care for us all and asking him for his blessing’, the President of the Bishops’ Conference ended his speech.
The Warsaw ceremony of bidding farewell to the victims of the crash at Smolensk included ecumenical prayers. And directly after the final blessing the papal celebrant Rev. Msgr. Konrad Krajewski handed the rosaries from Pope Benedict XVI to all families of the victims.