Published May 13, 2010
The Polish Catholic community in Atlanta shares the terrible loss experienced in their homeland as they reflect on the deaths of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife, Maria, and 94 other Polish civilian and military leaders in a plane crash April 10 at a remote airfield near Katyn, Russia.
The Polish leaders were planning to attend a 70th anniversary commemorative service for the thousands of Poles executed in Katyn by the Soviets during World War II. The 1940 killings were not acknowledged at all by Russian leaders until 1990 and still are a source of anguish for Poles who believe the historical events have not been fully confronted or documented.
The plane crash in this same place deeply connects the tragedy of the past with the tragedy of the present.
Father Marek Ciesla, SChr., who has been ministering to the Polish Catholic Apostolate in the Archdiocese of Atlanta for about a year, gathered the community for Mass that same evening on April 10 at St. Marguerite d’Youville Church in Lawrenceville where the apostolate is based.
President Kaczynski and the other 95 people on the plane represented the Polish government, parliament, the Catholic Church, Father Ciesla said.
“Poland lost many of her best people. Among them was the president who represented strong Catholic moral values and care for the people,” he said. “It is a national tragedy.”
“The Polish community in metro Atlanta felt a terrible loss as well. The same day of the tragedy, Saturday evening, at 7 p.m., wearing black, they came to St. Marguerite d’Youville Church … and offered Mass for those who had perished in the crash. We prayed for our homeland.”
“Our hearts were heavy. Lots of questions were coming to our minds. There were no answers; but our faith and trust in God helped us to get through,” Father Ciesla said. “We know that even from the worst, God can bring good things. And we hope and pray that our terrible loss of today will make the tragedy of 70 years ago known to the world, not to seek revenge, but to hope that knowing the truth may built a better future—a future with understanding and friendship between Russia and Poland and the strengthening of peace and stability among the nations all over the world.”
Condolences from Father James Harrison, pastor of St. Marguerite, from Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory and others in the American Catholic community have been a “great consolation,” he said.
It was striking to them that this tragedy occurred on the vigil of Divine Mercy Sunday. “Is God pointing out to us how important it is to trust His mercy?” the priest asked.
A book of condolences signed at the Mass was given to a visiting Polish consul to take back with him.
On the first Sunday of June, Corpus Christi, they will have a Eucharistic procession.
“It will be geared toward connecting us with the future of the country, that God will bring good out of all of this. We will pray for a good election,” Father Ciesla said.
Poland has a democratic system of government. The chief of parliament has temporarily stepped in as president and an election of a new president is to take place on June 20.
“People are still devastated,” the priest said. “They are deeply sad and they try to speculate what happened, how it happened. They trust God. We trust the Lord and we try to do our best. There is a sadness, but there is no giving up.”
Elizabeth Gurtler-Krawczynska of the Polish community said the deaths are terribly symbolic.
“Again we lost prominent, educated people, who offered their lives to expose the truth,” she said. “They died in service of the country to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the brutal murder.”