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The Pope From Poland

The 1978 election of Cardinal Wojtyla ended
a long tradition, one that no one ever expected.

BUFFALO 1969. Archbishop Karol Wojtyla of Krakow visited Western New York in 1969 and again in 1976. He is shown here meeting children of the Millennium School at the Peace Bridge. Providing the Guard of Honor is Karol Tomaszewski, commander of Post 33, Polish Veterans of World War II

photo courtesy of Stan Biernacik

by Stan Z. Biernacik

In 1978, more than 250,000 pilgrims from every part of the world, stood in St. Peters Square in Rome to celebrate the election and to be witnesses of the installation of the newly-elected leader of the Christian world, Pope John Paul II.

The great excitement caused by the election and the solemnity of the occasion provided added strength to all those, who for more than three hours stood in front of the St. Peters Basilica, to be part of this historic event.

Every incident, every act, and most of all, the man himself and those around him, were now making world news, and writing new pages of human history. The 110 cardinals, the princes of the Catholic Church, representing many continents and a variety of countries throughout the world, have just elected a new pope. They chose a cardinal from Poland to be their leader, and made him the successor to the Throne of St. Peter, Their act broke an almost 500-year-old-precedent, and ended a long tradition, which until now no one would have expected to fall.

The announcement by Cardinal. Pericle Felici that: “Lord Karol Cardinal Wojtyla” has been chosen by his fellow cardinals as the 264th successor of St. Peter, the first Bishop of Rome, surprised and astonished even those who were well versed in the workings of the College of Cardinals, as well as those who had personal knowledge of the leading men of the Catholic Church.

Everyone seemed to wonder and to ask the question “What kind of person is this man?”, a cardinal from a distant land, who commanded so much trust, and such great respect from the other princes of the Church that they now elected him as their leader, and entrusted into his hands the fate of the entire Catholic Church.

“He is no ordinary man, this pope,” remarked a native Roman, while he listened to the words of the new pontiff, and the Bishop of Rome, who now addressed his parishioners in their native tongue. “He is like a knife, he goes straight to the heart” adds an old lady deeply impressed by the new leader. A Polish visitor, who stood nearby agreed readily, “He certainly is not an ordinary man ... he is a Pole!” The pilgrim from Poland, whose remark found its way to the press, was one of the group of thousands elated and mesmerized Polish visitors to the inauguration. The joy of the occasion and the strong sense of national pride seemed to have prevailed over this good man’s modesty, but he was certainly not alone in his feeling among thousand of his fellow countrymen.

His simple exclamation expressed well the mood and the feelings of millions of Poles all over the world. They were all now united by the great event! The pilgrims from “home,” who stood for many hours in front of St. Peter’s Basilica, shared with everyone around their extreme joy, and their great sense of fulfillment. The millions of men and women from every part of the world, whose roots are still in the land of their forefathers, joined in spirit the throngs of their compatriots in their native land, who were ringing church bells allover the land to proclaim The Good News. People from all walks of life left their work and their homes, to give thanks to the Lord, through whose mercy the one “who was our own” was chosen to be the spiritual leader of the entire Christian world!

Though saddened by the loss of their cardinal, who no longer could limit his pastoral activities to his flock in the city of Kraków, and who had to leave his native land to minister to all those who see in him the Vicar of Christ on earth and the true successor of the Apostle Peter, the people of Kraków and the entire Poland parted with him with the conviction that the fact of his election was a great recognition and the well deserved reward, which came straight from heaven for their faithful adherence to the Church and the See of Rome.

The Catholic Church, established in Poland in 966, had for over a thousand years spiritually guided the nation and through many upheavals remained faithful to the Roman pontiff. During the middle ages when many schisms divided the Christian world and later in the early 16th century when the reformation split the entire Christian world into two hostile camps, Poland remained semper fidelis, always faithful. Faithful to the “Faith of our Fathers” and to those who represented Christ to her people.

When the Turks at the Siege of Vienna threatened the Christian world and the entire western civilization, King John Sobieski, in 1683, led the Polish armies to Austria defeating the Turks in a brilliant attack, which ended Kara Mustapha’s aspirations to conquer Europe.

In the following centuries the Poles and their leaders were always ready to defend Christianity even to the extent of shedding their blood to protect their Church. In more recent times, when the Bolshevik armies, were ready to capture Warsaw in the War of 1920, the Poles inspired by Father Skorupka defeated the invader, who at the time posed a serious threat to the rest of Europe.

The “Miracle of Warsaw”—as this event was later described in the Polish history—was attributed to the intercession of Virgin Mary, “Our Lady of Czestochowa,” who in the 17th Century was proclaimed by King John Casimir the “Patrona Poloniase.”

The most recent events, those of World War II and the great cataclysm which followed, the loss of some six million lives, the almost total destruction of many Polish cities, did not destroy the faith. The people of Poland persevered and remained staunchly attached to the religion which guided their nation’s destiny for over a thousand years and which, at times, was the only beacon in the sea of darkness. When everything seemed lost as during the 17th Century Swedish invasion, a time when only a monastery at Częstochowa remained free and refused to surrender, and gave the inspiration to the rest of the nation to overthrow the invaders.

The 1939, Hitler’s invasion seemed like an end to everything: the nation, the people and the Church, and yet Poland survived. And now 90% of the people of this country of 35 million profess their faith in God and the Catholic Church “like our Fathers used to do.” The Poles now believe that the election of Cardinal Wojtyla was a true act of God, a recognition from heaven for a thousand years of faithful service to the Church to the See of Rome and to the entire Christian World. No nation has served the Church better and no people suffered more during the course of history for their principles and their religious beliefs. The people of Poland and the entire nation which has often been called “The Christ among the Nations” truly deserve the recognition among the Christian Nations, brought by the election of Cardinal Woytyla ... a recognition which was long overdue, but who knows what guides the hand of Providence!

The late Stan Biernacik served in the Polish Free Army as an officer throughout World War II, coming to the United States in 1953. He was active in Polish veteran groups, and the Knights of Columbus.

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