FEATURE | APRIL 2014
Karol Wojtyła – Poland’s Greatest Son
Blessed John Paul II Ascends the Altar on April 27
by Robert Strybel
WARSAW — A survey conducted in Poland shortly after the death of Pope John Paul II showed that a majority of Poles regarded Karol Wojtyła as the greatest Poles that ever lived. He was therefore ranked ahead of Copernicus, Madam Curie, Kościuszko, prominent kings such as Casimir the Great, Jagiełło and Sobieski and internationally acclaimed composer Fryderyk Chopin and Poland’s national bards Mickiewicz, Słowacki, and Norwid. But unlike any of the above -mentioned, many Poles considered him to be a saint already during his lifetime. And not only Poles. Banners and chants of “Santo subito” were already seen and heard at his funeral in St. Peter’s Square in 2004. And it was mainly young Italians calling for his immediate canonization.
Thanks to his successor, German-born Pope Benedict XVI, those demands have been met. Pope John Paul II was beatified in May 2011 and is due to be canonized on April 27, 2014. The present Supreme Pontiff Pope Francis has added his signature to the saint-making procedure. By the standards of the Roman Catholic Church, whose mills grind slowly but surely, that is indeed fast-track sainthood. It has been far more typical for candidates to wait for many decades or even centuries before achieving canonization.
CONTINUITY, DYNAMISM, INTELLECTUAL BRILLIANCE. It is no wonder that Pope Francis decided to co-canonize John Paul II on April 27th with John XXIII. It was his Italian predecessor who launched the Second Vatican Council which helped modernize various facets of Catholic worship, and Cardinal Karol Wojtyła was among its leading contributors. The two churchmen were also both known for their people-friendly approach and never lost their common touch despite all the Vatican pomp, pageantry and celebrity treatment surrounding them. John Paul II also shared and developed the pro-ecumenical line of another predecessor, Paul VI, and he took the name of his short-lived immediate predecessor, John Paul I.
But, continuity notwithstanding, the Polish-born Pontiff created a powerful new presence at the Vatican. The handsome 58-year-old pope added a new dynamic dimension to the papacy, radiating infectious Christian joy which others were eager to become part of. The loss of all his loved ones by age 21, war-time poverty and Nazi bombardment, as well as life in an officially atheistic state were among the personal challenges which enabled him to closely identify with the world’s poor, oppressed, downtrodden and war-weary.
John Paul also overturned stereotypes eagerly peddled by left-leaning, agnostic academics and media types trying to equate religious belief with simple, superstitious peasants. But the Pope from Poland was a brilliant intellectual, a profound philosopher whose university lectures attracted throngs of students who latched onto his every word. His struggle for religious freedom against his country’s godless communist regime had helped hone both his debating skills and strategic thinking. His acting experience taught him self-discipline and how to interact with the audience. And his fluency in many different languages also facilitated his mission of spreading the Word of God.
A MAN OF FIRSTS AND SUPERLATIVES. Although he was never interested in setting any Guinness records, as pope the former Cardinal Karol Wojtyła did score a number of memorable milestones. He was the first non-Italian pope in 455 years since the reign of Dutchman Adrian VI who died in 1523. Not counting the first pope, St Peter, believed to have reigned up to 37 years, John Paul II (1978-2005) was the second longest serving pontiff who led the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics for 26 years, five months and 18 days. The longest serving was Pius XI (1846-1878) who reigned for more 31 years.
Ranked among the most influential leaders of the 20th century, John Paul II not only journeyed for Christ more than any previous pope but was also one of the most traveled world leaders. During his pontificate he visited 129 different countries, logging 725,000 miles. During those pilgrimages he was seen in person by millions – probably more than any other figure in history. The Polish Pilgrim Pope travels included eight visits to France, seven to the United State (including two stop -overs in Alaska) and five each to Spain and Mexico.
The Holy Father from Poland also spoke more languages than any of his predecessors. Besides his native Polish and Church Latin, he was fluent in English, Italian, French, German, Spanish Portuguese, Russian, Ukrainian and Slovak. He had a working knowledge of at least that many other languages and was known to extend Christmas and Easter greetings in several dozen different tongues. Wojtyła was the first pope ever to have been a Nazi slave laborer as well as an actor, playwright, poet and underground seminarian and one of the few who loved soccer, swimming, skiing, camping and kayaking.
The saint-making efforts of John Paul II were another distinguishing feature of his papacy. During his 26 years as pontiff he beatified 1,340 saintly men and women and canonized 483 saints – more than all the popes of the last five centuries combined.. Among them were his compatriots Jadwiga (Hedwig) Queen of Poland, Sister Mary Faustyna, Albert Chmielowski, Rafał Kalinowski and Father Maksymilian Kolbe. Some critics voiced misgivings over such “wholesale sanctity”, but the Holy Father patiently explained that our materialistic, de-Christianized times needed such positive role models more than ever.
ECUMENISM – THAT THEY MAY BE ONE. John Paul II once said that the world’s three great monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – were all moving towards one and the same God but along slightly different roads. He was also a major force for ecumenism – the movement to draw estranged Christians closer together.
The Holy Father did a great deal to heal the wounds of yesterday’s mutual recrimination and bridge age-old religious rifts. He took major strides to make peace with the Eastern Orthodox Church as well as Protestant denominations and even “erased” the excommunication once imposed on Bishop Franciszek Hodur, the organizer of Polonia’s own Polish National Catholic Church. John Paul also publicly apologized and asked God’s forgiveness for the harm that Christians had done over the ages to Jews and Muslims. And he was the first pope since St. Peter to visit a synagogue and the first ever to set foot in a mosque.
But in an unprecedented move that transcended the monotheistic faiths, in 1986 John Paul II held the first World Day of Prayer for Peace in Assisi, Italy. Some 160 Christian and non-Christian religious leaders from around the globe gathered for the first time in history to pray – each in his own way – for the gift of peace. Included along them were Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, Shintoists and representatives of Animist religions.
THE POPE OF LIFE. John Paul II was among the few who consistently championed life as a gift of God from conception to natural death. And simultaneously, he opposed the killing of the unborn, the death and suffering caused by war, capital punishment and euthanasia.
The taking of human life for whatever reason reflected what he called “the culture of death” which was contrary to God’s plan. Manipulating life and death in the pursuit of selfish goals violates the sanctity and dignity of the human person. He therefore defended Catholic tradition regarding family life and sexual morality, emphasizing “the whole human person” – a physical, spiritual, cultural, social and psychological entity. In the light of John Paul’s teachings, the “culture of death” went beyond the physical liquidation of those regarded by some as “undesirables.” Rampant materialism, consumerism and the unbridled “fun ethic” being forcefully promoted by the big-money powers can also destroy the human spirit if they replace all higher values.
ST JOHN PAUL II’S LEGACY. The admiration and respect he commanded was exemplified by what was probably the biggest funeral in recorded history. It was attended by crowned heads, presidents, prime ministers and other international dignitaries, nearly 3,000 Catholic churchmen, representatives of all the world’s religions and some three million faithful. Over a billion people around the world followed the requiem liturgy on television.
During his first papal homecoming in 1979, John Paul uttered prophetic words to the huge throngs packing a central Warsaw square: “May Your Spirit descend and renew the face of the earth (…) this earth.” More people all over the country turned out to welcome their “Papież Polak” than had ever greeted any Soviet or Polish communist ruler. Poles were able to stand up, be counted and realize that Catholic Poland, not the oppressive, Soviet-installed regime, was their true homeland. That realization in turn gave them the courage and self-confidence to stand up for their rights.
The pope’s unswerving moral support for Poland’s freedom and independence enabled Solidarity to survive General Jaruzelski’s martial-law crackdown and emerge triumphant in 1989. That led to the collapse of communist rule across Europe, ending arms race and the cold war.
The great following John Paul II had among young people, who flocked by the thousands to World Youth Days and wanted him declared a saint at once, prompted some to speak of a “JP2 Generation.” For many that was more than just a passing media buzz-word. The Polish Pope’s charisma and influence led to an upsurge of priestly vocations in his homeland, and many in other countries also heard God’s call. Pilgrims who received the Holy Eucharist from John Paul, or who were married or had their children baptized by him have been positively marked for life. The same holds for most of the many thousands who met him at general Vatican audiences and elsewhere. And photos with John Paul II are proud family keepsakes in homes across Poland and Polonia and around the globe.
HIGH STANDARDS OR “OUT OF SYNC”? In the purely religious sphere, John Paul II was criticized by some for upholding priestly celibacy and not allowing the ordination of women to the priesthood. The sexual abuse scandal erupted towards the end of his papacy when his health was rapidly deteriorating and it was unknown how much input his Vatican entourage provided him with. It is a fact, however, that he did order an investigation into priestly pedophilia charges and just months before his death ordered the closure of an Austrian seminary, where homosexual activity had been reported.
In the broader area of general human interaction, he was attacked for allegedly being not in tune and out of step with the modern world and its “anything goes” lifestyles. The Holy Father did not deny the existence of the sexual revolution and the counterculture of the 20th century’s final decades. But unlike those who had promoted it for financial gain and brainwashed a part of public into believing moral decay was somehow “progressive,” he saw the bitter fruits it had produced and where it was all leading.
The “modern” lifestyles created a society of confused and unhappy kids. Youngsters were and continue to be the main victims of selfish adults, youthful promiscuity, fatherless homes or otherwise dysfunctional families, not to mention easy divorce, custody battles, parental abductions and other “advancements.”
Was John Paul II “out of sync” with modern times, as some detractors contended, or did he simply remain true to the high standards he himself had always epitomized?
He saw that replacing such basic values as altruism, patience, restraint and modesty with self -indulgence, and other forms of egoism was a blueprint for disaster. If the present trend of moral unraveling continues, sooner or later many people will probably come to realize that its promoters were the ones who were “out of sync.”
Everybody’s Polish on Dyngus Day!
by Mike Pietruszka and Jennifer Pijanowski
BUFFALO, N.Y. — This year April 21 will mark one of Western New York Polonia’s most visible and enjoyable community celebrations — Dyngus Day.
For those not familiar with this holiday, Dyngus Day, which is observed on Easter Monday, celebrates the end of the sacrifices of Lent. Dyngus Day has become an opportunity to celebrate Polish American culture and heritage, while celebrating the coming of Spring and having some fun.
Tradition says that the custom goes back to the Middle Ages when men doused women with water to symbolize a renewed Baptism, but a more likely scenario involves young men who wanted to attract the attention of young ladies as the snows of Winter began to melt. The young men threw water and hit the women on the legs with pussy willows to get their attention. At modern Dyngus Day parties, it is common practice for both men and women to splash each other with water and switch each other with pussy willows equally.
The modern Dyngus Day celebration in Buffalo began with the Chopin Singing Society in 1961. Retired NYS Appellate Division Justice Ann Mikoll and her late husband Ted Mikoll hosted the first party at the Society’s clubrooms on Kosciuszko Street in Buffalo’s Historic Polonia District. This year’s Chopin’s Original Dyngus Day Party was in question, but the event will go on at the Adam’s Mark Hotel in downtown Buffalo. (More on that later).
The success of Chopin’s parties during the 1960s and 1970s led to other Dyngus observances in various taverns located on Buffalo’s East Side, which later spread across WNY.
Additional events were also added over time, including the very popular Dyngus Day Parade, which will proceed from the front of Corpus Christi Church at 5:00 p.m., through the Historic Polonia District, ending at the New York Central Terminal again this year. There is also a “Blessing of the Instruments” at the Pre-Dyngus Day Party at the Millennium Hotel in Cheektowaga on Easter Sunday evening. Also, the new Betty Crockski food truck will be officially launched on the streets of Buffalo on Dyngus Day.
Of course the big news this year is the relocation of Chopin’s Dyngus Day Party to downtown Buffalo. Hosted at the Hearthstone Manor in Depew for the last 15 years, the sudden closure of the banquet center forced Chopin’s to find a new home. The organization decided to move the party right to the center of downtown Buffalo, to the banquet hall of Adam’s Mark Hotel, 120 Church St., right at the foot of the Skyway. Music by Rare Vintage from 2:00-6:00 p.m., Special Delivery (7:30-midnight), Polka by CDS DJs Rob and Geri, and performances by the Chopin Singing Society and Toronto’s White Eagle Dancers. Doors open at 11:30. Admission is only $10 .00, and an Easter Buffet will be available from 12:00-2:30 p.m. and 4:30-7:00 p.m. for only $10.00. Smaczne! And — to top it all — you can stay at the hotel for just $89.00 by calling (716) 845-5100.
You can search the Chopin’s website (www.chopinsingingsociety.com/) or Facebook page for additional details as Dyngus Day nears.
Buffalo is the uncontested “Dyngus Day Capital of the World.” For more information on Dyngus Day and the latest WNY celebration update, check out Dyngus Day Buffalo at www.dyngusdaybuffalo.com.
Here is a listing of events available at press time. There will likely be many more, as many restaurants and bars will be running Dyngus Day specials and Polish food:
OUTSIDE WESTERN NEW YORK
Have fun, but remember to be responsible. Do not drink and drive. Jeśli pijesz, nie należy prowadzić samochodu.
© 2014 POLISH AMERICAN JOURNAL, P.O. BOX 271, NORTH BOSTON, NY 14110-0271 | (716) 312-8088 | Toll Free (800) 422-1275
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