Katyń and Smoleńsk, the 2012 Commemoration Mass at Our Lady of Częstochowa
By Frank J. Dmuchowski
During this time of April we particularly remember those 20,000 + Polish officers and others who were executed at Katyń seventy two years ago. In addition we also remember the victims of the Smoleńsk tragedy of April 10, 2010 because their mission was to go to Katyń and to remember the fallen. There have been many memorial services throughout the world, especially in Poland. Every memorial service is important, even if it is as simple as lighting a candle or having a memorial mass said for a relative who was murdered at Katyń, as my wife did.
One such memorial service was conducted at Our Lady of Częstochowa Church in Sterling Heights on Tuesday April 10, 2012. It was a mass concelebrated by 10 priests. The principal celebrant was Cardinal Edmund C. Szoka the archbishop emeritus of Detroit. The moving homily was given by the Vice Superior General of the Society of Christ, Wikarius Generalny Ks. Krzystof Grzelak. Most of the concelebrants along with the pastor of Our Lady of Częstochowa, Father Sławek Murawka, were from the Society of Christ. The church was filled nearly to capacity.
During the mass I was seated next to Emil Kornacki, the last living survivor of the Katyń Massacre in the United States and possibly North America. I saw his eyes glisten as he discreetly tried to hide his tears during the homily. No doubt he was remembering his fallen comrades. It was obvious that the memory, the pain and the suffering does not go away and is not lessened even with the passage of 72 years.
At the end of the mass the entire congregation in one voice sang the great Polish religious and patriotic hymn, “Boże, coś Polskę.” It was at this moment that one felt a great sense of community with all of the other attendees. Afterwards Mariusz Szajnert, President of the Polish American Congress, which sponsored the mass, said a few appropriate words to those in attendance.
In the sacristy, after the mass, Emil Kornacki, who besides being a Katyń survivor is also the recipient of Poland’s highest military honor the Virtuti Militari (equivalent to our Congressional Medal of Honor) and the Krzyż Walecznych, was enthusiastically received by all of the priests. Each wanted to spend a few private minutes with Emil and to gratefully touch him, to hear his voice and to comfort him as they understood the memory and his unspoken responsibility to “never let us forget about Katyń”. It was very heartening to see a number of these same priests, after they had spoken to Emil, come back to him and with a feeling of “gratitude and respect” stand by his side yet again.
It was particularly moving to see Cardinal Szoka take Emil aside and with his arm over Emil’s shoulder engage in him a very deep and private conversation. Surely, one of the characteristics that drew the Cardinal and the priests to him, is that he is a very soft spoken and modest person. Also Emil Kornacki has the unique ability to treat each person that he speaks with feel as they are the most special person in the world at that moment —and to him they are. You see Emil Kornacki is for all of us a cherished reminder that we must always remember Katyń.
On Friday April 13th at the Café Provincja on the parish grounds there was a multimedia presentation and singing of patriotic songs and ballads tied to the Katyń Massacre and the Smoleńsk Disaster by Patryk Roczon. This event was attended by close to 100 individuals.
I would like to close with a few words from the message that the then President of Poland Lech Kaczyński never had the opportunity to deliver at Katyń on April 10, 2010. He said:
“There was a time when people paid a high price for remembering the truth about Katyń. But people close to the victims and other brave souls remained faithful to their memory. They defended it and passed it on to following generations of Poles. They preserved it through the times of Communist rule and entrusted it to their compatriots in a free, independent Poland. That is why we owe them all, and especially the Katyń families, respect and gratitude. In the name of the Polish republic I give you profound thanks for preserving such an important aspect of Polish consciousness and identity, even as you defended the memory of your loved ones.”