Archbishop Bernard Longley has expressed the profound sorrow and condolences of the priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful of the Archdiocese of Birmingham at the devastating loss sustained by the Polish nation in the air crash at Smolensk, Russia, on Saturday 10 April.
The message from the Archbishop of Birmingham was read on his behalf by Canon Patrick Browne, Administrator of the Metropolitan Cathedral and Basilica of St Chad, at the start of a poignant and emotional special Mass for the Dead, solemnly celebrated in Birmingham on the evening of Wednesday 14 April.
The ceremony was at St Michael’s Church, Moor Street, situated near the world famous Birmingham Bull Ring. This church has been used by generations of Poles in the Midlands since the end of the Second World War and it was packed to overflowing for the 90-minute sung Mass.
The message from Archbishop Longley was then read in Polish by Fr Marcin Kordel CLR (Canons Regular of the Lateran) who presided at the Mass, celebrated in Polish, for the repose of the souls of President Lech Kaczynski and all those, including his wife, who were tragically killed when the presidential plane crashed in western Russia. There were no survivors when the aircraft, which was carrying many senior government, military figures and churchmen as well as the Polish President, crashed after hitting trees as it approached Smolensk airport in thick fog.
Together with Past President Ryszard Kaczarowski there also perished several leading figures from the Polish Communities in England who represented many Polish organisations in the UK. Their loss will be felt particularly by the older generation of Poles who settled here after the War.
In his message Archbishop Bernard Longley said: “On behalf of the Auxiliary Bishops – Bishop David McGough, Bishop William Kenney CP, and retired Bishop Philip Pargeter – and all the priests, deacons, religious and lay faithful of the diocese, please accept from me this expression of sorrow at the great loss that has been sustained by the Polish nation. We pray for the repose of the souls of the President of Poland and all those who died with him on Saturday, and we remember especially in our prayers their relatives and friends as they mourn the loss of their loved ones.
“Over recent days we have shared in the enormous sadness that has shaken Polish people all over the world. I want you to know that you are held in prayer by all our parish communities as we express our communion in faith with you in these very demanding days. Please be assured that we will continue to pray for the Polish Catholic communities in this diocese and for the priests who serve you.”
Archbishop Longley continued: “As we pray we should remember the witness of Pope John Paul II whom the Lord took to himself on Easter Saturday, 2 April, five years ago – his prayers will surely be a comfort today to all those affected by this tragic accident on the eve of Divine Mercy Sunday.”
The Archbishop added: “Together we shall also ask the Lord to comfort and strengthen those who have lost their relatives and friends and to guide the Polish people and their leaders, together with the Church in Poland, over the coming days. We ask Our Lady’s prayers especially for all of you, priests and people of the Polish Catholic community in our diocese, that your faith in the Resurrection of her Son may always sustain you.”
Fr John O’Brien, Parish Priest of St Michael’s Moor Street, and Fr Dawid Piskorz, an Assistant Priest at SS Mary and John, Wolverhampton, concelebrated the Mass with Fr Kordel, Parish Priest for the Polish community at St Michael’s, Moor Street, who also gave the homily.
Within the sanctuary area were set two red and white Polish flags, decorated with beautiful white lilies but draped also with black ribbons. The singing was led by the Polish Parish Choir who were engulfed in their gallery by people overflowing from the body of the church. The music captured the solemn and sombre mood of the hour, in particular the evocative singing of the traditional Polish hymn “Bożę Coś Polskę” at the end of Mass.
How appropriate it was that young Polish scouts and guides were present and took part in the service because for many years President Ryszard Kaczarowski, the last President of the Polish Government in Exile, who was also killed in the plane disaster, had for many years been President of the Polish Scouts and Guides Association outside of Poland.
Before the final blessing representatives of several of the communities in Birmingham gave short messages of support, affirmation and assurance of prayers. Among those who spoke were Councillor Alan Rudge, Birmingham City Council, and Mr Richard Weber, Chairman of the Polish Catholic Association in Birmingham who thanked them for their words of comfort and support.
Earlier they had walked side by side from Victoria Square in front of Birmingham Council House to St Michael’s church as a sign of their solidarity with the Polish community many of whom were still in shock in the aftermath of the overwhelming tragedy that had befallen their nation just five days earlier.
After Mass mourners young and old from Birmingham’s Polish community paused for a few moments in silent prayer in front of the photograph of the late Polish President and his wife that had been placed near to the lighted Pascal Candle. They placed floral tributes on the sanctuary steps, enhancing the magnificent red and white carnations set before the picture as a mark of respectful commemoration.
It was a privilege to have been present with the Polish community at this special Mass in Birmingham for their President and all those leaders from across their nation killed in the calamity with him. It was as if a little bit of Poland had been transported to central Birmingham and it reminded me achingly of the emotions I experienced during the Mass celebrated by Pope John Paul II in Warsaw, under Martial Law, in June 1983 during the Second Pastoral Visit he made to his homeland.
Archbishop Bernard Longley concluded his message with a warm invitation to members of the Polish Catholic community to attend a special Mass that he would celebrate in St Chad’s Cathedral, at 4.30pm on Saturday 17 April, for the repose of the souls of the President and of all those who died with him.
A moment during the special Solemn Requiem celebrated at St Michal’s Church, Moor Street, Birmingham, Birmingham, used by generations of Poles since the Second World War.
© Peter Jennings