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  • May
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Polish cardinal visits Webster

Posted By May 22, 2014 | 1:02 pm | Lead Story #1

By Tanya Connor

WEBSTER – St. John Paul II’s secretary rejoiced last Tuesday that his friend is venerated at St. Joseph Basilica. And he himself left people  in awe of him and the celebration surrounding his visit.
Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow, celebrated Mass at the basilica, visited its school, St. Joseph Elementary, and dined with his countrymen. He said he served with John Paul II for 39 years; he was his secretary when the latter was archbishop of Krakow, and when he was pope.
The cardinal was on a week-long visit to the United States, said his secretary and translator, Father Tomasz Szopa. He said they planned to return to Poland May 21.
With them was Father Czeslaw Bogdal, who works at the “‘Be Not Afraid!’ John Paul II International Center” which Cardinal Dziwisz established in Krakow to preserve the pope’s legacy and promote his values.
The cardinal came to the United States in response to invitations and to raise money for the center, said Msgr. Anthony S. Czarnecki, St. Joseph’s pastor. He said they are friends, and the cardinal asked to come to St. Joseph’s. It was his first time here, he said; he had wanted to come while he was the pope’s secretary, but it never worked out.
Last week’s lunch at Point Breeze Restaurant for area business people helped raise money for the center.
At supper at the Polish-American Citizens’ Club later, Cardinal Dziwisz talked about working for the Holy Father and about the pope’s call to use one’s spirituality and culture to build society, Msgr. Czarnecki said. He also talked about the pope at Mass and his secretary translated.
“This celebration is like an echo” of St. John Paul II’s canonization, he said. He said he came because some people here could not attend it.
He brought St. Joseph’s a relic of St. John Paul II, whose memory he said is kept alive here. He said St. John Paul II was faithful in friendship and his prayers were powerful.
“He will be faithful to you, to help you, to support you,” he said. “My advice is to pray through his intercession.” He said he does that, saying, “Now it’s your turn to help me.”
“And it works,” he said, and presented the relic to Bishop McManus.
Later Bishop Reilly kissed the relic, as other clergy filed out. Concelebrants included Bishop McManus, Bishop Reilly, Benedictine Abbot Xavier Connelly of St. Benedict Abbey in Still River and priests from the Diocese and beyond.
In his homily, Cardinal Dziwisz likened St. John Paul II to St. Peter, the first pope, whom Jesus asked, “Do you love me?”
“The Holy Father said … that maybe Peter would prefer to stay as he was, a normal fisherman,” he said. But he obeyed Jesus, went to Rome, and died for his faith. Similarly, Pope John Paul II left his beloved Poland and obeyed Christ’s call to go to Rome, he said, and recounted how he showed love.
In the ambulance after an assassination attempt, Pope John Paul II forgave the man who shot him, called him “brother” and said he was grateful he could suffer for the Church, Cardinal Dziwisz said. He kissed a child with HIV whom others stood apart from. And his prayer showed his love for Christ.
The cardinal said the pope suffered, losing his family early in life, and later becoming unable to walk or speak, a man once involved in sports and drama. When he couldn’t go out on Good Friday, he embraced the cross in the chapel.
When he couldn’t celebrate Mass and speak to the people in St. Peter’s Square, he told his collaborators it was better to die, but quickly added, “Let God’s will be done,” Cardinal Dziwisz said. Then he wrote his last words, “Totus Tuus” (all yours).
He had Scripture read to him and died after the vigil Mass for Divine Mercy Sunday, the cardinal said. He had often said death is the most important moment of life, and we should prepare ourselves.
“He brought back dignity to dying, to death,” said Cardinal Dziwisz; to many, his last hours imparted his most important message. He also said not to be afraid of holiness or of being a saint.
“I wanted to make closer the person of John Paul II to you, and I ask you to keep this memory alive,” the cardinal concluded, to applause.
Bishop McManus said Poland gave the Church a great pope, who shared his friend Jesus with everyone. He told the cardinal his spiritual life must have been enhanced by being so close to holiness.
He recalled how Cardinal Dziwisz welcomed him into the pope’s chapel on a visit.
“You also are a great man of the Church,” Bishop McManus told Cardinal Dziwisz. “What you have done for the universal Church and now Poland, Your Eminence. Stolat.” He embraced the cardinal. (Stolat, or 100 years, expresses good wishes.)
“It was just beautiful,” Kathleen Sirard, of St. Joseph’s, said of the Mass.
“You wouldn’t think you were in Webster,” added her husband, Peter Sirard. “I felt like we were in Rome,” with a cardinal, bishops, priests and Knights of Columbus.
“I cried,” said Danuta Stasiewicz, of Our Lady of Czestochowa Parish in Worcester. “He was telling us about the pope – John Paul II. It was heart-touching. He was sharing the stories with us because he was so close to him.”
She said she got close to the cardinal – as he passed by she kissed his hand.
“I was so happy I was able to do that,” she said, because he was close to the pope and is a Polish cardinal and “we’re Polish.” She said her brother, a priest in Rome, knew him there.
Felician Sister Mary Valenta Akalski, kindergarten aide and religion teacher at St. Joseph’s Elementary, recalled experiences with the cardinal when she was a cook with the sisters in Rome. She said they would send the pope Polish food for his feast day.
“He thought that we forgot him” one year, she said. “It was the night before, and he had Cardinal Dziwisz call us up.”    Another time, the cardinal invited her and her fellow cook to the pope’s private Mass, she said.
“Cardinal Dziwisz is really filled with the love of God,” she said. “It just flows out of him.”
Some St. Joseph’s students said they wouldn’t wash their hands after he touched them, she said; “they felt that he was full of God.”
“Through the cardinal I sensed the spirit of John Paul II, because St. John Paul II loved the children,” said her twin, Felician Sister Jeanne Marie Akalski, fourth-grade teacher. “I’m sure John Paul is smiling from heaven.”
Cardinal Dziwisz had asked the students if they liked the sisters and they responded loudly in the affirmative.
“We knew they loved us,” Sister Jeanne Marie said. “But just to hear it – that’s the miracle of the day.”
“You could tell his love for the young people in the way he connected with them and the questions he asked them,” said Felician Sister Mary Ann Papiez, sixth-grade teacher.
The cardinal asked the students which teacher is their favorite and if they like going to school.
“The school is beautiful, but you are more beautiful,” he told them.
“Thank you,” they chorused.
The deafening response to his question about whether the boys or girls are better drew from him the observation, “I can see that there are more girls and they are louder.”
In answer to his “important question” of “How many gods are there?” they raised one finger.
“Do you love Jesus?”
More affirmative shouts.
He prayed with them, blessed them and asked them to take the blessing to their homes.
He told them there ought to be something sweet for them, and they responded, “Cake.” Students had presented him with a 75th birthday cake and flowers and had sung to him.
Cardinal Dziwisz also attracted adults who attended the lunch.
“You’re looking at a man that helped a saint do so many, many things,” said Jane Molina, of St. Mary of the Hills Parish in Boylston, who spoke at the lunch on behalf of the Polish people and John Paul II Foundation of New England.
Ursula Kokosinski of St. Joseph’s said it was wonderful having the cardinal here and she felt the same way she did when in Rome to see the pope.
Those wanting more information about the Krakow center Cardinal Dziwisz established can visit the website or contact “Friends of Saint John Paul II Be Not Afraid Center, Inc.” in Linden, N.J., at 908-862-1116. Linden also has a shrine of St. John Paul II.