By Deacon Joseph Baniukiewicz
Polonia, people of Polish heritage living outside of Poland, celebrated St. John Paul II Day in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, Oct. 17. Many people from various states attended this special day with their pastors in the recently established national shrine dedicated to St. John Paul II. The Knights of Columbus sponsors the shrine.
A busload of people from the Polish parishes in the Diocese of Worcester made the pilgrimage to pray to God through the intercession of St. John Paul II. The trip was sponsored by the St. John Paul II Foundation of New England.
This special day was preceded by a ceremony in the Polish Embassy in Washington, where Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson received the highest honor of the Republic of Poland, granted by the new president of Poland, Andrzej Duda. The ceremony Friday evening was attended by leaders of many regional Polish national organizations of Polonia of the United States. The ceremony began with the national anthems of Poland and the United States performed by the renowned opera singer Malgorzata Kellis from New York City.
In introducing Mr. Anderson, Msgr. Anthony S. Czarnecki, pastor of St. Joseph Basilica in Webster, said, “John Paul II used to say that courage, supported by prayer and wisdom, can shake unmovable things.”
Mr. Anderson not only reflects the Pope’s words but he also had “a vision” which guided his planning and determination to establish such an enormous and world-renowned museum in honor of St. John Paul II.
Maciej Pisarski, chargé d’affaires, conveyed a message to Mr. Anderson from Polish Ambassador Ryszard Schnepf. He said, “On behalf of the people of Poland and Polonia of the United States, I want to express my gratitude to you and the Knights of Columbus for establishing the state-of-art, museum and national shrine dedicated to Saint John Paul II…. After walking through this magnificent shrine and experiencing the profound message that this museum emanates, I was greatly impressed by the magnificence of this landmark of Washington, D.C. Therefore, I am pleased to present you the highest prestigious distinction – the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland, for your outstanding contribution to promote the legacy of St. John Paul II.
“Under your dedicated leadership the Knights of Columbus established in Washington, D.C., a living monument dedicated to the life of the Pope, who although came from an unknown town in Southern Poland, was able to change the world.…
“It is my wish and hope that the spirit of friendship and cooperation with the Knights of Columbus and Polonia of this country, will continue to inspire the people to visit this unique, holy site of faith and culture where values could be rediscovered and life transformed.”
Mr. Anderson’s acceptance speech was very personal and meaningful and indicated a vast knowledge of Polish history. He said, “I am most grateful to Poland – that throughout a long and difficult history, Poland has remained true to herself. I mean by this the Poland of Sobieski and Kosciuszko; the Poland of Chopin and Sienkiewicz, of Mickiewicz and Górecki; of Anders and Sikorski. And, of course, the Poland of St. John Paul II and so many other Polish saints. Because Poland has remained Poland, the lives of all of us have been enriched.”
After the official part of the ceremony there was a reception and camaraderie.
Saturday was dedicated to St. John Paul II. All the participants visited an exhibit at the shrine, “A Gift of Love: The Life of Saint John Paul II.” The museum part of the shrine was the very first encounter dedicated to the great Pope John Paul II. The exposition depicted his life in a very realistic way using the background of history: the German invasion, the Soviet occupation, the Communist regime. It portrayed the life, activities and the pastoral mission of Karol Wojtyla as a student, priest and bishop. The participant is caught up in an animated impression of the time in which Karol Wojtyla lived, amplified by modern technology, panoramic pictures, moving images and the voice of St. John Paul II on various occasions in his life. The exhibit makes a lasting impression on everyone regardless of his faith, cultural origin or religious denomination.
The Knights of Columbus, which purchased the former John Paul II Cultural Center, rebuilt the inside of the first floor and established a 570-seat church embellished by mosaics representing images of the Pope’s life based on the Gospel. The altar was consecrated in Oct. 2 by the Archbishop of Washington Cardinal Donald Wuerl and Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, former secretary of John Paul II, and now archbishop of Krakow.
The entrance to the church is very traditional, original and innovative, with the mosaic inscription “Redemptor Hominis” (“Redeemer of Man”). Likewise, the chapel of St. John Paul II with its magnificent artwork, contains his relics and is a place for devotion. This day the chapel was crowded with pilgrims who participated in a devotion by praying the Chaplet to Divine Mercy.
Also, during the day visitors took part in interesting lectures and presentations, including: “St. John Paul II, Apostle of God’s Mercy” (Bishop Janusz Stepnowski), “John Paul II, Statesman and Pastor of the World” (Honorable Ryszard Schnepf), “The Cross and Freedom: Why Young People Love John Paul II” (Father Jonathan Kalisch), “St. John Paul II and His Message to Polonia” (Professor Thaddeus Radzilowski).
The highlight of the day was the concelebrated Mass with Bishop Edward Grosz from Buffalo, N.Y., as the main celebrant and homilist, with Bishop Janusz Stepnowski from Lomza, Poland and participating clergy.
The music for the Mass was arranged for vocal ensemble and trumpets by organist, Mira Cieslak who came with the group from St. Joseph Basilica. Very impressive was the prelude of the “Gaude Mater Polonia” in harmonization made by Teofil Klonowski. The “8th Gregorian Mass de Angelis” was chosen for the Ordinarium Missae. Responsorial psalm was sung by Patrycja Jarosz. Touching pieces, “Panis Agnelicus” by César Franck in arrangement for soprano solo and choir and “Ave Maria” by Franz Schubert were performed by Malgorzata Kellis.
– The St. John Paul II Foundation of New England is accepting new members. Its purpose is to perpetuate the legacy of St. John Paul II. For information, contact executive director, Barbara Pysk: (508) 459-0008.