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September 29, 2003 ...

Applause for Studio Arena's upcoming tribute to Polish steelworkers

NY State Assembly Majority Leader Paul Tokasz

On Fri., Sept. 18, the Theatre District in Buffalo came alive with the excitement and energy of Curtain Up! — the official start of the 2003-04 theatre season. This celebration of Buffalo’s rich diversity of theatre offerings — from the venerable Shea’s Theatre in Downtown Buffalo to the Lancaster Opera House — by more than 25 theaters has been staged for 22 years. Curtain Up! enjoys a national reputation and many other cities across the country have emulated this festival!
Studio Arena Theatre, Buffalo’s nationally recognized producing theatre, has been delighting audiences for nearly four decades. Long before the theatre was opened, Jane Keeler and Lars Potter founded the Studio Arena Theatre School in 1927. It is the oldest continually run theatre school connected to a resident theatre in the country.
Over the last decade. Studio Arena has made it a mission to produce plays — some new works, some classics — that evoke the imagination of theatregoers. In the new play category, Buffalo audiences will be treated to “Pouring the Sun” — a tribute to Polish steelworkers. Although the play is set in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, its themes can be universally applied to any community in which the steel industry played a large role. This can be said of both Buffalo and Lackawanna, two communities with a large Polish-American population.
The play beautifully recalls 50 years of industry as seen through the eyes of a Polish immigrant whose husband and sons work “the steel”. Pouring the Sun highlights the strength and dignity of steelworkers and all the laborers who built this country one girder, one beam and one rail at a time.
The play follows the happy and tragic moments of a family whose lives are interwoven with the ups and downs of the steel industry. The main character herself becomes a metaphor for the molten metal in the blast furnace that is transformed into steel — as are all the wives and mothers who support their husbands and sons in this dangerous work.
Pouring the Sun was originally commissioned by Lehigh University, which approached the storyteller and playwright — Jay O’Callahan — to write a story about Bethlehem Steel and the community. O’Callahan’s performance credits include Lincoln Center, the Winter Olympics, the National Theatre Complex in London and The Abbey theatre in Dublin. The playwright thoroughly researched his subject over the course of three years. He tells the compelling story as the main character sitting at her kitchen table during her 65th birthday party, sharing the events of her life with her family and friends.
One of the most compelling elements to this play is the equally important emphasis placed on the immigrant journey and the making of steel. It has brought audience members to tears — tears of sadness over the difficulties endured and tears of joy over the triumphs of the family.
Polish-Americans in the Buffalo area should let Studio Arena know how pleased they are that a play whose main characters are Polish has been brought to Buffalo. The best way to do that is to support Studio Arena by buying tickets to the play and attending a performance Tuesdays through Sundays from Feb. 15 - March 13, 2004. We are fortunate that Studio Arena Theatre recognizes our need to hear the story of the noble laborers — many of whom were Polish — who built this country and on whose shoulders we stand.

September 22, 2003 ...

Growing old at a terrifying pace

by Agatha Głowacki
Poland recently finished its 2002 National Census, which was conducted for the first time in 14 years. Its results were unexpected and somewhat alarming. According to its findings, the population growth rate has been negative in Poland for four years now. Much of this is due to the fact that the birth rate has decreased and life expectancy has increased. If these trends continue, statisticians predict that with every decade the number of Poles will decrease by about a million. This means that in addition to all the problems Poland is now facing, a serious demographic crisis will take place in the near future.
One major factor of declining population is the dropping fertility rate of Poles. Since 1988 the number of married couples with children has decreased by nearly 7 percent. The one-child family model has become the dominating ideal in Poland, as elsewhere in the Western world. At the same time that the birth rate is dropping, the average life expectancy is increasing. The number of senior citizens in Poland is exponentially growing. Much of this has to do with advances in technology and health that are allowing humans to live longer. This phenomenon is present in the entire Western world, including America.
Statistics show that Poland is experiencing this acutely. In the 1990s, the life expectancy increased by about four and a half years for men and by four years for women. According to the census, the number of people at retirement age has risen by about 1 million and now makes up about 15 percent of the total population. The death rate has dropped significantly since the last census in 1988.
The rapid growth of the elderly poses obvious problems. Primarily, this means that there will be large increases in vulnerable groups such as the old living alone with a high percentage of individuals living in poverty or with low incomes. There will be a larger need for elder-focused services such as health, nutrition, housing, transportation. Home care will exponentially increase. This demographic revolution will also fundamentally change Polish culture well into the 21st century, affecting politics, economics, and societal trends.
Expanding life expectancy coupled with dropping fertility rates together makes a formula for perilous consequences. There are several predictable consequences for the economy. What the future holds are potential worker shortages, which go hand in hand with possible immigration pressures. Meanwhile, the government may have to face a choice in the future between bankruptcy and radical reforms of the pension program in order to afford to care for the growing number of elderly.
Experts point out other problems that will result. For example, some gerontologists warn that in the future there might not be enough able people to care for the mounting number of elderly. As the era of the fragmented family dawns, many may be left alone when they grow old and frail. The trend of divorce, cohabitation, and singlehood that are now becoming popular in Poland all weaken the concept of the traditional family. The feelings of obligation towards elderly parents that goes along with the traditional family concept will also dangerously weaken.
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. Furthermore, this issue will only advance. The dynamic state of science and accelerated scientific breakthroughs support the assumption that longevity will only increase as population health improves overall. Therefore, there will be more and more elderly. There is a growing group of medical experts who feel that within the next two or three decades the human life span will increase to such a degree that it will become normal for people to live to 100, with some reaching 120 and up! Meanwhile, all trends point that birth rates will continue to fall.
Before the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, people over 65 never comprised more than two or three percent of the population. Today, they make up 14 percent in the developed world. This is quickly becoming an issue not only for Poland, but for the entire world.

PNA re-elects Moskal

Delegates of the Polish National Alliance, the largest ethnic fraternal organization in the U.S., re-elected Edward Moskal as president on Sept. 9 during the 44th Quadrennial Convention in Denver.
Moskal, the controversial leader of the PNA and the Polish American Congress due to his bluntness, has been president for 15 years. He turned back a challenge from Stanley M. Jendzejec, a former mayor of Coventry, RI.
Although Jendzejec campaigned on a platform of more unity and less confrontation, Moskal's margin of victory was quite strong, 179-88.
Moskal backers contend that he is a powerful spokesman for Polonia and has strengthened the PNA's bottom line.
The Chicago-based PNA is the main member of the Polish-American Congress, and the two groups function largely as the voice of Polish Americans.

Solidarity demands are deemed a world treasure

The demands of Poland's Solidarity trade union, handwritten on two wooden boards and attached to the shipyard gates in Gdansk, where they remain today, are now classified as a world treasure.
Twenty-three years after the "21 postulates" were posted in August 1980, a UNESCO panel met in the Baltic port where Solidarity was born and agreed on August 30 to add the Solidarity manifesto to the register of documents of particular historical and heritage value.
The Solidarity demands join the Declaration of Human Rights, documents from the French Revolution, manuscript scores by Brahms, Chopin, and Beethoven and the Gutenberg Bible as historic documents in UNESCO’s “memory of the world” catalog.
The Polish Committee of Memory of the World Programme was under the chairmanship of Associate Professor Daria Nalecz, the head of Polish State Archives and co-chairman Associate Professor Krzysztof Zamorski, the head of Jagiellonska Library in Krakow.
The 21 demands are the demands made by the Strike Committee in August 1980, which led to the creation of Solidarity, the first free trade union within the communist block. In the course of the strike it was decided to make demands of a political nature, which was revolutionary and dangerous in a communist controlled country.
The demands included free trade unions be established, censorship be abolished, and political prisoners be released.
Even though the government tried to wipe out Solidarity by imposing martial law and jailing thousands of activists over the course of the next 12 months, the birth of the union prefigured the collapse of communism in eastern Europe in 1989.
Lech Walesa, the Gdansk shipyard electrician who shook the Soviet bloc by leading Solidarity to victory told Britian's Guardian newspaper “I didn’t foresee this. I fought for success but I certainly did not think so far ahead.”

September 05, 2003 ...

New photo exhibit of pope inspires

Washington, DC–Pope John Paul II is the inspiring subject of a series of four exclusive exhibits of Vatican photographs opening September 10 at the museums at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center. The first exhibit, which runs through January 25, 2004, launches a year-long celebration of the 25th anniversary of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.
The exhibit series, At the Altar of the World, takes its title and theme from Pope John Paul II’s latest encyclical, Ecclesia de Eucharistia, illustrating the Holy Father’s devotion to the Eucharist.
In his encyclical, Pope John Paul II refers to the cosmic character of the Eucharist: “I have been able to celebrate Holy Mass in chapels built along mountain paths, on lakeshores and seacoasts; I have celebrated it on altars built in stadiums and in city squares. …This varied scenario of celebrations of the Eucharist has given me a powerful experience of its universal and, so to speak, cosmic character. Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. It unites heaven and earth. It embraces and permeates all creation.”
While the Eucharist is celebrated on the altar of the world, the Cultural Center’s exhibit series honors Pope John Paul II and his extraordinary 25 years of ministry of celebrating the Eucharist at the altar of the world as bishop of Rome and shepherd of the Church. The images bring to life the Holy Father’s words and his pastoral ministry; at the same time they present a stunning panorama of his extraordinary pontificate.
The photographs, many of which have never been seen before, were selected from the archives of L’Osservatore Romano, the Vatican’s official newspaper.
The first exhibit, At the Altar of the World: Faith’s Great Mystery, looks at the entire encyclical and gives a broad view of the pope’s, and in turn, the Church’s teaching about the Holy Eucharist. The Catholic Church teaches that the Eucharistic sacrifice, the memorial of the death and resurrection of the Lord, is the summit and source of all worship and Christian life. This lasting memorial was instituted by Christ on Holy Thursday, the eve of his passion and death.
Each image in the exhibit relates to a particular section of the encyclical while at the same time it carries its own, historical and intriguing story.
For example, one of the first photos shows the Holy Father at an outdoor altar in Portugal in 1982. While the photograph is of the Holy Father incensing an altar during mass before an immense crowd it recalls a very personal pilgrimage for Pope John Paul II. He was shot in 1981 on the anniversary of the first vision of Mary to the children in Fatima. One year after the assassination attempt, John Paul II went to Fatima to give thanks to Our Lady of Fatima as he believed that Mary protected him during the assassination attempt. The bullet is now in the crown of the statue of our Lady of Fatima.
Other photographs that make insightful connections to Pope John Paul II’s thoughts on the Eucharist while relating an actual event include:
• A sea of colorful confetti showers the Holy Father in his pope-mobile in Brazil, 1980. In this photo the pope joyously greets the people of Belo Horizante where he received a rapturous welcome. At the time of his visit, half of the population of Brazil was under the age of 25. The pope has always looked to youth as the future of the church. When he offered a Mass for the youth of Brazil, he encouraged them to be filled with hope and “to construct a just, free and prosperous society in which one and all will be able to enjoy the benefits of progress.”
In the encyclical, the Holy Father expresses how faith shapes culture: “In my numerous pastoral visits I have seen, throughout the world, the great vitality which the celebration of the Eucharist can have when marked by the forms, styles and sensibilities of different cultures. By adaptation to the changing conditions of time and place, the Eucharist offers sustenance not only to individuals but to entire peoples, and it shapes cultures inspired by Christianity.”
• The Holy Father prays in the wilderness of Canada, 1984. In this photo we see Pope John Paul II praying the rosary in the wilderness of Canada. The photo highlights two important themes of the pope’s life: devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary and taking time to pray.
In the encyclical, the pope relates the Eucharist to Mary in this way: “At the Annunciation, Mary conceived the Son of God in the physical reality of his body and blood, thus anticipating within herself what to some degree happens sacramentally in every believer who receives, under the signs of bread and wine, the Lord's body and blood.”
• The Holy Father views fireworks during celebrations to mark the beginning of the Third Millennium. While reflecting on the hopes and dreams which the dawn of the Third Millennium inspired in the hearts of people, we recall Pope John Paul II’s words about the hope which the Eucharist imparts. “The Eucharist is a straining towards the goal, a foretaste of the fullness of joy promised by Christ; it is in some way the anticipation of heaven, the ‘pledge of future glory.’”
• The Holy Father gazes out from the top of Mount Sinai during his historic trip to the Holy Land in 2000. Pope John Paul II’s trip to the Holy Land was yet another important and very personal pilgrimage for him. The image of Mount Sinai recalls the covenant between Yahweh and his people Israel.
In his letter, the pope relates the Covenant of Mount Sinai to the Last Supper and the new messianic community. “By offering them his body and his blood as food, Christ mysteriously involved [the Apostles] in the sacrifice which would be completed later on Calvary. By analogy with the Covenant of Mount Sinai … Jesus at the Last Supper laid the foundations of the new messianic community, the People of the New Covenant.”
Three additional exhibits will further illustrate Pope John Paul II’s encyclical on the Eucharist; each exhibit will take on a specific theme of the encyclical and show how the Holy Father has lived the teaching in the encyclical.
The photo exhibits, which will run through November 7, 2004, are the centerpiece of several events sponsored by the Cultural Center to celebrate the pope’s silver jubilee. An upcoming book from the Cultural Center also entitled At the Altar of the World will be published in November 2003. Other planned events include lectures, a music concert, and the dedication of a Children’s International Peace Garden.
Admission to the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center is by donation and group fee. For more information call 202-635-5400 or visit
The museums at the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center provide a dynamic environment in which visitors of all ages and denominations engage in an intriguing exploration of faith and culture. Through technology, art exhibitions, and cultural programs, visitors explore spirituality and culture, learn about the faith of others, and engage in inspirational activities designed to put their faith into action in their everyday lives.

Okoniewski helps police apprehend robbery suspect

by Glenn Gramigna
When Jason Strzewzynski came running by the Unilock company’s location at 510 Smith St., Buffalo, claiming that a second man he was chasing had just robbed a bank last week, shipping manager Rob Okoniewski didn’t hesitate. Armed with nothing more than a three foot piece of wood, Okoniewski chased the alleged perpetrator, Lawrence Bagg, 24, first on a fork lift and later on foot.
The result was that Okoniewski single handedly captured the thief, winning praise not only from the Buffalo Police and neighborhood residents but also from the FBI. Local FBI spokesperson Maureen Dempsey released a statement calling the actions of both Okoniewski and Strzewzynski “brave and heroic” while promising that the Bureau would send them “a letter of commendation.” Dempsey added that the FBI recommends that citizens call 911 in such situations rather than trying to capture suspects themselves.
Bagg stands accused by federal law enforcement officials of having robbed the HSBC branch at 738 Seneca St. of an undetermined amount of money on the afternoon of Wed., Aug. 27. Large amounts of cash were found in his pocket when he was arrested.
Meanwhile, political observers were speculating on the electoral implications of the event since Okoniewski is on the Sept. 9 primary ballot as a candidate for Lovejoy District Councilman. Rob’s father, Richard served as a Common Council member during the 70s.
“When I heard the guy saying this other guy had robbed a bank, I started chasing the robber on my forklift, which can go about 15 miles per hour,” Okoniewski recalls. “I started gaining on him. When he crossed Smith St. I got off the forklift and started chasing him carrying a three foot piece of wood that had been sitting on the forklift. I chased him to Fillmore where I confronted him.”
At that point, Okoniewski realized that Bagg was carrying a foot long screwdriver that looked more like a shank.
“I saw the screwdriver in his hand and asked him to drop it,” he recalls. “He was not in an aggressive position. His body language was defensive. He kept saying, ‘I didn’t did nothing. I didn’t did nothing.’ Anyway, he put the screwdriver in his pocket. I knew I needed to subdue him so I did a leg sweep on him which involves hitting him across the left shoulder with my right hand and at the same time taking out both his ankles with my left leg. It’s something an ex-marine once taught me. After that he was helpless. So I got on his back and waited for the police who came in about a minute.”
No stranger to dangerous pursuits, the 31-year-old Okoniewski is also a jet skier and motorcycle rider who has parachuted 10,000 feet out of an airplane and bungee jumped 171 feet in Las Vegas.
“My wife says I never cease to amaze her,” notes this father of a young son. “I’m the kind of person who believes that if you aren’t trying new things, if you aren’t extending yourself, then you’re not totally living." But, concerning the incident that happened, "No I never thought about the possibility that he might have a gun. I just wanted to do the right thing for the neighborhood.”
Okoniewski explains that he is running for the Lovejoy Council seat currently held by Rich Fontana because he believes that the incumbent has not been active and visible enough in the district.
“What’s happened to our senior centers, Machnica and Schiller Park is a shame,” he contends. “We need to organize volunteers. We need to have some real leadership that gets out there and is seen in every neighborhood and we don’t have that right now.”

Mother General comments on parental anxiety as children return to school

by Edward S. Wiater
Parents of high school or college students who are away from home understandably have great concern for their children who are exposed to evils from all sides.
But, a cool-headed chief operating officer, an export from Buffalo to Rome no less, tells parents that while their fears are justified, they need not fret to death if...and, it's a big and important if ...if, the children have had a solid home life steeped in Christian values.
The CEO is Sister Mary Raymond (Kasprzak) Mother General of the 2,100 member Felician community. Her office is in the Eternal City, Rome.
Sister Mary Raymond, who seems to always have a compassionate gleam in her eyes, is not a Pollyanna who will simply try to pacify you with cheerfulness. Cheer she has in abundance but her feet are solidly on the ground and she is fully aware of the dangers that lurk in song, music, film, dress, television and literature in this ever more permissive climate in which we live.
"Certainly parents must be concerned about their children," Sister Mary Raymond says. "What kind of parents would they be if they weren't concerned? But, their worries can be greatly minimized and their child's opposition to evil influences will be fortified if they have had a good, solid religious foundation growing up at home. That foundation involves the behavior of parents as well because children look to parents as role models. In other words, practice what you preach.
"The young will be faced with crisis frequently just as we adults were tested. It will come down to choices. And, it is the family that provides the base for making good choices. It's not a one-way street designed for the young. The adults must provide the foundation. The kind of foundation children get will provide them with knowledge and courage when the road splits and a choice must be made as to the direction the child will take."
Sister Mary Raymond is fully aware that the culture of today works against a daily relationship with God.
"The young today are often beset by a sense of restlessness," the Felician Mother General said. "It's a sense of restlessness in themselves. Restlessness will not be satisfied by what the material world is offering. If what they are doing is not bringing them satisfaction, they look to another life. Many find that religion offers the choice. Many find that God is calling. And, again they are faced with a choice.
"It's a paradox. The more God comes into the young people's life, the more freedom comes into their life because they know that no matter what happens, God loves them."
Sister Mary Raymond is well known in the Buffalo area as well as in North Tonawanda. She taught at the former Bishop Gibbons High School in the Lumber City.
She was educated by Felician nuns at St. John Gualbert's elementary school and is a graduate of Villa Maria High School.
Asked if she ever dreamed of becoming Mother General of the Community of St. Felix, Sister Raymond laughed and said, "When I decided to become a nun, I didn't even know such a position existed. I just wanted to be a Felician nun."
Today, Sister Mary Raymond looks over an order of roughly 2,100 nuns spread over 12 countries; 12 lucky countries. This is one CEO of which the Buffalo area and all Americans with Polish roots can be really proud.
It was 99.9 degrees in Rome when Mother General Mary Raymond gave this interview. Although this writer was soaked in perspiration, Sr. Mary Raymond did not show a drop of sweat on her face despite the fact that she wore her habit.
She is indeed a cool customer; one to which it is worth listening.

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