Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
April 19, 2010
Plane crash rocks Edmonton's large Polish community
Polish Canadians shaken as tragedy wipes out many leaders in homeland
WESTERN CATHOLIC REPORTER
EDMONTON - Born in Canada of Polish parents, Konrad Lehmann calls the death of Poland's president Lech Kaczynski "a tragedy.
"Lech Kaczynski was a compassionate man and he made Poland a great place. And I hope the next president and Polish elite follow in his footsteps."
The 14-year-old St. Basil School student and 400 other students of St. Basil's Jan Pawel II Polish bilingual program were to hold a memorial service Friday in honour of the president who died with his wife Maria and 94 others in a plane crash April 9.
The Polish national anthem was to be sung, reflections said, candles lit, a video clip of the dramatic crash shown.
The tragedy reverberated throughout Edmonton, since it has the second largest Polish community in Canada outside of Toronto, with 170,000 Albertans claiming Polish descent, including Premier Ed Stelmach's wife Marie.
"Everyone is quiet with suffering in our hearts," said Father Roman Majek. The pastor of the Holy Rosary Parish (Polish) said, "We can't help in any real way but we share the sadness with the nation and we pray for them.
"It is a tragedy that came out of the blue sky," said Majek. "Nobody would expect it, especially in the context of the event."
The priest was alluding to the fact the delegation was journeying to Russia to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Forest massacre when Soviet secret police slaughtered 22,000 Polish officers, priests, rabbis, writers, doctors.
"It was only 20 km away from that plane crash," said an emotion-filled Majek. "They were going for just that event."
The priest was touched by the community's response, saying, "People are calling, bringing flowers, giving condolences."
In Poland, 20 monks rang the Zygmunt bell at Krakow's Wawel Cathedral - the burial spot of Polish kings - a tolling reserved for times of profound grief or importance.
The outpouring of support is spreading throughout Europe, said Majek.
"It's a time of solidarity with Poland. Many nations in Europe, even those not close to Poland - even Russia - they are so close now, co-operating nicely with authorities to find some answer to the questions.
"This will help. Some goodness will grow out of it. It is too early to say what kind of goodness but we believe so. A great offering was made."
The Catholic bishop killed in the crash was Tadeusz Ploski of the military ordinariate. Orthodox Archbishop Miron Chodakowski, the Orthodox chaplain to the Polish military brigadier general and bishop of Hajnówka was also killed.
In addition, four priests, Father Jan Osiński, field chaplain; Father Bronisaw Gostomski, Father Jósef Joniec, Father Zdzisaw Król and Father Andrzej Kwaonik, all lost their lives.
Majek left Poland more than 20 years ago, yet he said, "It is one of the biggest tragedies in my life. It is touching every Polish person around the world. There are questions we cannot find answers for in this kind of situation."
There are two Polish parishes in Edmonton, Holy Rosary and Our Lady Queen of Poland. Special Masses have been held at both churches.
"That's what we can do - pray," said Our Lady Queen of Poland pastor Father Slawomir Oblak. "It was such a shocker. They were going to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Katyn and they became part of it themselves.
GOOD MAY ARISE
"Politically for Poland it is a very difficult situation. We have to pray that it will bring some good out of it."
One of Oblak's parishioners had been married by one of the priests killed in the crash.
"So she was very emotional when she came to church," said Oblak.
The priest said, "My heart goes to the family (of the president). It is such a tragedy. The daughter lost both parents unexpectedly. I pray a lot for those people and I encourage our community to do the same."
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