Local Polish community finds strength at church

April 11, 2010 8:31:16 PM PDT
Besides mourning the loss of the Polish president and other government officials, the Polish community in Chicago was remembering well-known artist Wojciech Seweryn Sunday.For many Polish-Americans, it has been difficult not being in their home country during this time. So, the Catholic Church has become the place to gather and mourn, and signs of Polish pride are much on display.

With black bunting attached, Polish flags fly outside bungalow houses on Chicago Northwest Side, and just about every car in one neighborhood has a small flag attached to it. It is a community brought together to mourn one of Poland's worst tragedies.

"It's really hard. We don't what is going to be of the Polish government," said Justina Poplawska.

"We cannot do anything about it; it has already happened. What we can do is pray," Kazimierz Kosek said.

The church has been the place for comfort over the weekend. Sunday night, several leaders in Chicago's Polish community and hundreds more gathered at St. Ferdinand's church to pray for Polish President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria, as well as the 95 others who died in Saturday's plane crash.

Earlier Sunday, dozens marched from a park to St. Hyacinth Basilica for a symbolic funeral Mass.

"We will survive, and Poland actually survived many tragic situations, tragic moments," said Zygmunt Matynia, Chicago consul general of Poland.

One tragic moment is the Katyn massacre where 22,000 Polish officers and others were killed by the Soviets in 1940. When his plane crashed, President Kacynski was on his way to a ceremony to commemorate the massacre's 70th anniversary.

Well-known Chicago sculptor Wojciech Seweryn was also one of the passengers. His father was victim in the Katyn massacre.

Seweryn designed the Katyn monument that now resides in Niles, Ill. Chicago's consul general of Poland says, if anything, Saturday's plane crash is giving the world a history lesson about Katyn.

And many people in Poland learned of the massacre for the first time 20 years ago when communism fell.

Under Soviet rule, the Katyn massacre was erased from the Polish history books, which is why it was so important for the Polish president and other top government officials to be at the 70th anniversary ceremony.

In the mean time, Chicagoans had been looking forward to the president's visit next month for the Polish Constitution Day Parade.

The victims of the plane crash were remembered at several churches across the Chicago area Sunday.

In suburban Lombard, worshippers gathered Sunday morning at Divine Mercy Polish Mission. The church is a place where immigrants who want to hold on to their national traditions can do so. During one service over the weekend, parishioners were urged to stay together as a nation, as people, as Catholics and Christians to face the tragedy together.

Other memorial services were held at St. Constance Church, Holy Trinity Polish Church and St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish.

In Niles, hundreds arrived at a largely Polish suburban Chicago cemetery to honor the victims. St. Adalbert Cemetery is home to a memorial by sculptor Wojciech Seweryn. The display honors the Katyn massacre.

The sculpture was covered Sunday with hundreds of candles, flowers and Polish flags. Two journals at the base of the sculpture were filled with entries reflecting regrets and sorrow. One read simply: "Never Forgotten."

In Italy, Pope Benedict offered his condolences, adding that he would pray for the victims. He also welcomed Polish pilgrims who gathered to hear him speak at his summer home outside Rome. In St. Peter's Square, some mourners attached black ribbons to flags and shirts in memory of those who died.