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November 22, 2004 ...

Polonia remembers Solidarity's Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko

Edward S. Wiater
Poland's Rev. Jerzy Popieluszko, the slain Solidarity chaplain, was remembered Sunday at a special afternoon Mass at St. Adalbert Basilica in Buffalo with three of Fr. Popieluszko's relatives among the more than 500 faithful and 15 area priests in attendance.
The program was enhanced by the magnificent voices of the "Quo Vadis" chorus directed by Professor Ireneusz Lukaszewski. For an added bit of class, three men of the cloth were honored for their contributions to the faith, their service to Polish veteran organizations, and their efforts to keep the memory of Fr. Popieluszko alive in Buffalo's Polonia. The trio included Canisius Professor Rev. Benjamin Fiore, SJ; Rev. Wladyslaw Rekas and Rev. Anthony Konieczny.
Fr. Popieluszko's mother, Maria Anna, was to have been here for the 20th year observance of her son's death at the hands of the communist police. She was injured in a fall, however, and was advised not to make the trip. A bouquet of flowers was placed in front of a framed photo of Fr. Popieluszko which was at the front of the altar between the flags of the United States, the Vatican and Poland.
Flowers were also presented to Fr. Popieluszko's brother Joseph; Joseph's son Marek, and Jerzy, the son of Fr. Popieluszko's youngest brother Stanislaw. The flowers were presented by Polish Heritage Dancers who were dressed in colorful dresses such as those worn by Polish women during special occasions.
In his homily, St. Adalbert pastor, Rev. Thaddeus Bocianowski, traced Fr. Popieluszko's life and support of the Solidarity movement which was backed by Pope John Paul II and Lech Walesa.
It was the early 1980s and courage was the watchword in Poland as freedom-loving Poles led by a shipyard electrician in Gdansk named Lech Walesa were battling the communist government with a union movement under the banner of Solidarnosc (Solidarity).
A young man of the cloth, Fr. Jerzy Popieluszko armed with faith and a slogan "good will triumph over evil" was a beacon of strength to Poles as chaplain of Solidarity. The brutish communists first began only harassing Father Jerzy. Then they committed the ultimate crime. They kidnapped and then with brutal clubbing murdered the young priest. The body was found trussed in a bag weighted with stones in a river.
Joseph Popieluszko, Father Jerzy's older brother by two years, was working in Germany when he learned from his wife Alfreda of the kidnap and then the murder.
"News of his death hit me hard," Joseph told this writer after the Mass of remembrance Sunday at St. Adalbert Basilica. "It hit my mother (Maria Anna) just as hard if not harder to learn of Jerzy's death."
Joseph came from Poland with nephew Jerzy, 19, to participate in the Mass arranged by St. Adalbert Basilica pastor Rev. Thaddeus Bocianowski. They were met in Buffalo by Joseph's son Marek who lives in a Chicago suburb.
Two of the killers of Fr. Popieluszko were tried and found guilty and were sentenced to prison. Poland has no death penalty. They served several years of a light sentence and were released.
All three of the men from the Popieluszko family were asked how they felt about the early release of Fr. Jerzy's killers. All three shrugged their shoulders and resigned themselves that nothing was to be gained by pursuing a life of protests in an atmosphere of seeking revenge.
They agreed with Joseph who said, "They have to live with the knowledge they killed an innocent man, a good man and will be judged by the highest authority - God."

Catholicism & Poland

Edward S. Wiater
Catholicism has been the source of courage and life for Poles during the darkest days of oppression. But, Polish Catholicism today need not only applaud its native son Pope John Paul II but listen to him.
So concluded Professor Tomasz Herzog during last week's presentation for the Polish Arts Club of Buffalo in the Amherst Community Center. Dr. Herzog is the Kosciuszko Foundation's visiting professor of Polish studies at the University of Buffalo where he is teaching a course on state-church relations in Poland. His talk was titled "Poland: European Union's Most Catholic Country?"
Dr. Herzog first traced Poland's religious position comparing it to the status of other countries in the European Union. Roughly 95 percent of Poles are Roman Catholic compared to 98 percent in Malta, 97 percent in Italy, 96 percent in Portugal and 92 percent in Ireland. Thus, it can be said Poland is among the most Catholic countries in Europe, Dr. Herzog remarked.
Dr. Herzog noted that farmers in Poland are the most "religious" group with 70 percent of them being regular church goers.
According to studies cited by Dr. Herzog, the religious obligation to go to confession at Eastertime and receive Holy Communion is observed by 76 percent of Polish Catholics. The elderly (69 years of age and over), Dr. Herzog noted, constitute the largest (87 percent) of those receiving the sacrament. Yet, he said, so do 80 percent of those in the 20 to 29 age group.
With these statistics, Dr. Herzog said sociologists predict "good prospects for the future" of the Catholic community in Poland.
Dr. Herzog said that the popularity of the young face in the church in Poland is a source of amazement to Western observers. In neighboring Germany, 82 percent of the young declare a lack of interest in God and religion. In Poland it was found 78 percent of the young declaring their faith.
Dr. Herzog credited two developments with this surge of interest by the young. One is the popularity of the youth ministry of the Dominican friar the Rev. Jan Gora who conducts youth rallies at Lake Lednica near Poznan. These retreats with the outpourings of the Christian spirit remind one of rock concerts, Dr. Herzog said.
The other phenomenon in this equation is the success of the "Jesus Freak" band Arka Noego (Noah's Ark).
While Fr. Gora's gatherings attract up to 25,000 happy youngsters wanting to have a deeper understanding of their faith in the traditional way, Arka Noego takes a different route.
Unlike Fr. Gora, Robert Friedrich of Arka Noego sports dreadlocks and tattoos and does not have the appearance of an evangelist. But, an evangelist he is, Dr. Herzog said.
Friedrich was asked and produced a song in 1999 to celebrate the pope's visit to Poland. It was a huge success. Asked by Sister Mariola of Ziarno, a children's bible program on Polish TV, to compose sing-alongs for her show, Friedrich produced the hit album "A Gu Gu," named after the jabber of newborns. The album turned out to be a huge success selling more than a half million copies in Poland, the equivalent of 3.5 million copies in the United States.
In the more "normal" vein, Dr. Herzog pointed out there are 407 schools in Poland run by Catholic institutions providing education to some 50,000 students. There are 62 male and 149 female religious orders in Poland with the former having 14,000 monks and the latter 26,000 nuns.
The Polish church shares its clergy with Catholic communities worldwide. The majority work in South America, Africa and Asia.
Dr. Herzog, citing American scholar Jose Casanova, said the fatherland of Pope John Paul II may prove it is possible to keep faith with its Catholic identity and tradition yet succeed in its European integration becoming in the process a "normal" European country.
He went on to say a modern religious, but not parochial, backward Poland could force secular Europeans to rethink their secularist assumptions and realize it is not so much Poland which is out of sync with Europe but rather secular Europe which is out of sync with the rest of the world and with global trends
Dr. Herzog concluded his talk saying, "Sometimes, it seems to me the teaching and legacy of the Polish pope concerning moral issues, civic participation, freedom and responsibility, tolerance, reconciliation wait to be rediscovered in Poland, one of the EU?s most Catholic countries."

Falls veterans dedicate Matt Urban Monument

Edward S. Wiater
In Veterans' Park at Main and Pine Sts., Niagara Falls, NY, stands a new monument to a hero of incredible proportions while plans for such a monument in Buffalo and Erie County remain on hold.
The monument is dedicated to the late Lt. Col. Matt Urban, a Buffalonian of World War II vintage, hailed as the most decorated combat veteran in United States history.
Unlike the officials in Buffalo and Erie County, with no great fanfare, members of American Polish Legion Post 198 of Niagara Falls undertook the project to honor in Niagara Falls the late Lt. Col. Urban. On Sat., Oct. 30 they unveiled the monument.
The Rev. Slawomir Siok blessed the monument in brief ceremonies, which included a dedication speech by Niagara Falls Mayor Vincenzo Anello.
Members of the Polish Legion Post 198 who organized the event are Commander Frank Doyka, 1st Vice Commander Henry Buchalski, 2nd Vice Commander Edward Piszczak and Sgt.- at-Arms Walter Bogal.
The marker is roughly 5 feet high and 5 feet wide set on a base of about 10 feet. Vice Commander Piszczak said the cost of the monument, more than $2,000, came from the post's treasury. Piszczak said the post membership has been declining because of deaths, a development in veteran posts across the country. He said it was felt the little in the treasury would be best used to erect something to the memory of a "true" American hero of Polish lineage.
As reported in last week's front page Am-Pol Eagle, a suitable monument to Lt. Col. Urban has been a topic in Buffalo and Erie County that has dragged on for years with volumes of words and promises but no action other than a dedication of a site at the Erie County Rath Building. This location was then changed to a site on Buffalo's waterfront.

November 12, 2004 ...

Bishop Edward U. Kmiec installed as 13th bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo

Steven Kroczynski
The installation of a bishop is a ceremony filled with pageantry, solemnity and great reverence. The installation of Bishop Edward U. Kmiec was all that and more. Installed as the 13th bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo on Oct. 28 by Edward Cardinal Egan, the Metropolitan of the Province of New York with a capacity invitation only congregation at St. Joseph's Cathedral, the very personable Bishop Edward Kmiec transcended all the formality of the ceremony as he reached out to the people of the diocese from the very start.
A half hour before the start of the Mass, it was evident this was going to be a once in a lifetime event. Talented musicians and choir members from 22 parishes in the Buffalo diocese filled the cathedral with beautiful song and music which was truly inspirational. The performance of the specially formed "festival choir" directed by Mark W. DiGiampaolo was flawless throughout the afternoon adding a highly glossed polish to the ceremony.
Then the procession began led by more than 250 priests and deacons, seven archbishops, 34 bishops, one cardinal and the representative of the pope to the U.S.
At the entrance to the cathedral, Cardinal Edward Egan presented Bishop Kmiec to Bishop Edward Grosz, who welcomed him on behalf of the people of the Diocese of Buffalo. "Bishop, welcome, you are now a Buffalonian and a Western New Yorker," said Bishop Grosz. He then presented Bishop Kmiec with a crucifix which he reverenced with a kiss. Msgr. James Campbell, the rector of the cathedral, then offered holy water to Bishop Kmiec who blessed himself and those who were immediately around him.
The very formal aspects of the installation ceremony followedbeautifully starting with the welcoming greeting by Bishop Edward Grosz. "This is the day the Lord has made, it is a beautiful day," said Bishop Grosz, "it was supposed to rain - as my last act as the administrator of the Diocese of Buffalo, I extend a welcome to all here for this historic occasion. And a very special welcome to our gift from the Holy Father in the form of Bishop Edward Kmiec."
In English, Latin and Polish, Bishop Grosz extended God's blessings on Bishop Kmiec for happiness, success in his endeavors, and many years in Western New York.
Following Bishop Grosz, the Most Reverend Gabriel Montalvo, the Apostolic Nuncio to the U.S., read an English translation of the letter from Pope John Paul II appointing Bishop Kmiec as the bishop of the Diocese of Buffalo.
Bishop Grosz then took the letter and showed it to the diocesan officials gathered in the sanctuary. Cardinal Egan and Archbishop Montalvo then led Bishop Kmiec to the bishop's chair, representing the bishop's teaching authority and service in the diocese. He was presented with the crozier formerly used by Bishop Ahr from Bishop Kmiec's home diocese of Stanford, New Jersey, which is carried by bishops to signify them as the shepherds of their diocese.
Bishop Kmiec was then greeted formally by various representatives from throughout the diocese, including Mayor of Buffalo Anthony Masiello, Erie County Executive Joel Giambra, Chautauqua County Executive Mark Thomas, Bishop Thaddeus Peplowski, Bishop of the Polish National Church, many other religious leaders from other religions, representatives of women and men religious, youth, clergy and the laity.
During Bishop Kmiec's homily, he used the opportunity to thank all who have welcomed him with such openness and warmth.
The Mass proceeded with Sister M. Charlene Nowak, CSSF the Vicar for Religious reading the first reading and during the reading of the petitions Richard Solecki, president of the Polish American Congress of WNY read his in Polish, as did six other representatives of various other cultures in the Diocese of Buffalo in their own native language.
After communion Edward Cardinal Egan addressed the congregation and Bishop Kmiec using the opportunity to interject some humor and sports talk, followed by Bishop Kmiec again addressing the congregation with many thanks and appreciation for all the work and effort that was put forth by all who had welcomed him.
Bishop Kmiec took the opportunity to end his comments with three letters from children who sent him farewell greetings from Nashville. First from a young boy who said "we will miss you and will keep you in our prayers. I hope you like hockey, that's all they have up there." Another young boy wrote, "take tons of clothes with you, it's cold up there." And finally, a young girl wrote "I hope you have a good time in New York, remember the people you have helped and don't forget to spread the good news. Believe in Christ."
As the installation Mass concluded, Bishop Kmiec bestowed his blessing on all as he departed the cathedral amidst an applauding congregation.

Celebrate Polonia's sesquicentennial of the first permanent Polish settlement

Msgr. Matthew Kopacz
December 1854, a sailing ship landed on the Texas Gulf Coast. From its interior came a group of tired immigrants. As they waded through the surf to set up a temporary camp on the shore, they made history. They were from Silesia, from Poland and they were about to establish the first Polish community in North America.
We look back at the beginnings of the Panna Maria settlement which marked the start of an organized Polish community in America. Although individual Poles had arrived as early as the 1600s, they put down no permanent roots and were too few to be anything more than a brief but interesting episode in American history. After 1854, however, Poles became something more than talented or heroic visitors to the New World. They began to help shape it and make it their home.
The landing at Panna Maria marks the start of something we are all a part of, that is, Polonia and the Polish American ethnic group, which today numbers some 10 million people, the ninth largest ethnic group in America.
This sesquicentennial should be a time of celebration in all Polish communities and parishes throughout the country. Also, a time for reflection on our rich history and the contributions of Poles to America.
St. Casimir's parish will observe this historic event on Sun., Dec. 5, 2004 beginning with a Mass at 11:30 a.m. The liturgy and hymns will be in English and Polish. Accompaniment will be provided by the orchestra of John Stanczyk. The church is located on Weimar Street, in "Kaisertown." Following the Mass there will be an elegant banquet in the parish center, 1833 Clinton St. - featuring a program recalling the struggles of the first settlers. A dance ensemble will also perform. Admission is by ticket. No tickets will be sold at the door.
As pastor of St. Casimir's, I (Rev. Msgr. Matthew Kopacz) extend a cordial invitation to all including any organizations that wish to participate in the procession before Mass. Tickets for the dinner are $22 and available in the rectory office, 160 Cable St., Buffalo. Limited seating. Reservation deadline is Wed., Nov. 24.

Panna Maria, TX - the first Polish colony in the U.S.

Rev. David W. Bialkowski
When most people are asked where the first Polish church was established in America, they will probably say something like Chicago because of that city's sizeable Polish-American population. However, some 13 years before the first Polish parish was organized in the Windy City, a Polish colony was established in the "Lone Star" state.
Panna Maria, TX, claims the distinction of being the oldest permanent Polish settlement in America, as well as the home of the nation's oldest Polish church and school. Established in 1854, the parish church was named "Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary." That was particularly appropriate, because in that year Pope Pius IX declared the Immaculate Conception to be an infallible dogma of the church.
It was in 1852 that a young Franciscan missionary from Silesia, Poland by the name of Father Leopold Moczygemba, arrived in Texas to minister to German parishes. After witnessing the successes of his German parishioners, he wrote to his father in Silesia and urged his fellow Poles to leave the harsh economic conditions and Prussian domination of Upper Silesia and join him in thriving Texas.
In September 1854, the first group of immigrants, which included four of Moczygemba's brothers, traveled by train to Bremen, by ship to Galveston, where they arrived on Dec. 3. They then made their way toward San Antonio by foot and rented Mexican oxcarts. Contemporary estimates place the number of original settlers at around 150. A few had died at sea, more on the landward trek, and some had dropped out as they passed through Texas communities along the way.
Three months after beginning their journey, the much-reduced party of settlers arrived at what was to be called Panna Maria, meaning "Virgin Mary." On Christmas Eve 1854 the immigrants huddled together for Pasterka (Midnight Mass of the Shepherds), under a huge oak tree that is still standing and is one of the most revered relics of the town. The Poles brought a cross with them from their parish church.
The land belonged to an Irishman, John Twohig, who was a banker in San Antonio. Twohig saw them coming and sold them land at inflated prices. Land that was selling in other parts of Karnes County for 1.50 an acre was sold to the Poles for close to 6.00 per acre. Fr. Moczygemba purchased 238 acres, set aside 25 acres for a church, and parceled out the remainder to those who could not afford to buy farms.
The settlers built a church and consecrated it on September 29, 1856. They began to replace their thatched-roof huts with stone houses, welcomed three more Polish immigrant groups, began St. Joseph's School in a barn (the first Polish school in America), and established a post office.
Snakes, malaria, grasshoppers, droughts, floods, and marauders plagued them. They had come expecting the scriptural "land of milk and honey," but found nothing but a prairie of rattlesnakes. In discouragement and anger they turned against Fr. Moczygemba; some of them even wanted to hang him. He soon left Texas and spent most of the remainder of his life in the northern United States. He died in Michigan and was buried in Detroit.
In 1974, his body had been reinterred under the same oak tree where he had said Christmas Mass in 1854. There they erected a monument honoring him as the "Patriarch of American Polonia."
In its early years, the Panna Maria community was harassed for its perceived Union sympathies, or its failure to support the Confederacy during the Civil War. The community was so isolated that strangers passing by on horseback had no idea who these people were or where they were from. Neighboring cowboys and ranchers often ridiculed the strange, non-English speaking foreigners.
The community established other villages in Texas like Cestohowa, Pawelkville and Kosciusko springing from this original settlement. As the mother colony for the Poles in America, Panna Maria has occasionally attracted visitors numbering in the thousands to its celebrations, most notably in 1966 during the Millennium of Polish Christianity and nationhood, when 10,000 people convened there for a Mass and a barbecue; President Lyndon B. Johnson's gift on the occasion was a 12,000-piece mosaic of the Virgin of Czestochowa, which was put on permanent display in the church.
Today, the older generation still speaks an antiquated Silesian dialect (difficult for modern Polish speakers to understand). Far from being a thriving metropolis, Panna Maria doesn't even have seven streets and less then 100 inhabitants. Nevertheless, it is the cradle of Polish Catholicism in America and on the occasion of its 150th anniversary, we lift up our hearts in thanksgiving for the "Mother of all Polish Parishes in the United States." We will celebrate this historic anniversary as a Polonia on Sun., Nov. 21 at 3 p.m. at St. Stanislaus Church, 123 Townsend St., Buffalo.

Funding issues shroud Urban monument

Michael Conway
Veterans day will come and go this year and there is still no monument in Western New York honoring America's most decorated combat veteran and Buffalo native, Lt. Col. Matt Urban.
Originally planned to be placed in front of Erie County Hall, those plans for the monument were scrapped due to security concerns stemming from the 9/11 attacks. Now, several years later and with another site chosen at the Buffalo Naval and Military Park, plans for a memorial dedicated to the man who was awarded 29 decorations, virtually every combat medal possible, are once again stalled.
The threat this time is not a possible terrorist attack, but rather political red tape that is preventing funds from being allocated for the project.
Darryl Jones of Wendel Duchsherer Architects and Engineers, the company that is designing the memorial, said they have completed all the designs but "the county can't figure out how to fund it."
As of July of this year, the projected cost was approximately $66,000. With $41,000 being committed from New York State, the Matt Urban Foundation, and Legislator Ray Dusza's office, another $17,000 was promised from Erie County, but has not yet been appropriated. Even if the money ends up being allocated by the county, there will still be a shortfall of $8,000.
Originally scheduled for installation on Labor Day of this year, lack of appropriated funds may mean a dedication ceremony might not be held until Memorial Day of 2005 at the earliest.
Both Legislator Dusza and Assistant County Executive Carl Calabrese were called but did not return calls for comment. The lack of definitive answers from those in charge of securing the funds for the project have left others in the dark.
"At this point I have no information at all," said John Palmeri of Erie County Dept. of Veterans' services.
"No one seems to know anything," said Mike Gomez of St. Louis Stone and Supply, the company that was commissioned to build the granite base of the monument. Gomez said a meeting was held on June 24 of this year with the parties involved. The design, price, and a May 2005 delivery date was agreed upon.
However, if St. Louis Stone and Supply doesn't receive the funds needed to construct the granite base within the next two weeks, it runs the risk of not being able to access the granite quarries, which close for the winter. "If we can't get the block in time, it's not going to be ready for the memorial," said Gomez.
Art Dembik, a local resident who grew up with Urban, has done more than his share to make Urban's name synonymous with heroism throughout the area. It took Dembik seven months to get the okay to have a portrait of Urban placed in the Veterans' Hospital, and another year and a half to convince Cornell University to build a "wall of fame" dedicated to the alumni, who was also an intercollegiate boxing champion.
Dembik, himself a veteran of World War II, who started the Matt Urban Foundation and has given more than a $1000 of his own money to help fund the project, doesn't hesitate to voice his disappointment in the government institutions that are delaying the project. "He's the most decorated combat soldier in history," Dembik said. "I just don't understand it."
This month's news on the Urban memorial is the latest in a four year tug-of-war since the creation of the memorial was announced by Buffalo Mayor Anthony Masiello and County Executive Joel Giambra in 2000.
"You don't have to go around signing any petitions for any memorial. County Executive Giambra and I have agreed on $35,000 to fund the memorial," Masiello said in November, 2000. Mayor Masiello also said during the announcement that the project will be overseen by a committee responsible for all decisions and disbursement of funds through legal procedures.
Two years later in July of 2002, Norm Skulski of the Matt Urban Foundation, was still pursuing funds to complete the project.
"Both Erie County and the City of Buffalo committed the funds needed to get the statue built, but now the city, due to its budget crisis, doesn't have the money to come up with its share," said Skulski in July of 2002. Skulski could not be reached for comment this week due to a death in the family.
In October 2002, Gov. George Pataki announced New York State would contribute $22,000 to the Urban memorial, which at that time was going to be located in front of the Rath Building.
It looked as if everything was falling into place for the Lt. Col. Matt Urban memorial, when a concrete slab outside of the Edward Rath County Building was dedicated as the foundation of the monument.
"The statue will be erected once the weather breaks in the spring," said Giambra in 2003, referring to the spring of 2004. Spring came and went, and apparently plans for the Urban memorial went with it.
Dembik, though disappointed with the bureaucracy, just wants to see the memorial built. "Maybe I won't be around, but (when it does go up), we'll have done what we wanted to do."
The renderings of the monument indicate that it will stand five feet, six inches tall and seven feet wide. It will depict Urban, armed with a bazooka, in combat in front of a large American flag.
Born to Polish immigrant parents in Buffalo, in 1919, Lt. Col. Matt Louis Urban has been recognized as the most decorated American combat soldier of World War II.
As a U.S. Army Infantry Captain, Urban was actively involved in six major campaigns in Tunisia, Sicily, France and Belgium over a 20 month period, during which he was wounded seven times and returned to combat within days of each injury. German soldiers quickly dubbed him the "Gray Ghost" for his persistence in returning to battle, and were known to aim small-arms and artillery fire at him personally and reluctantly admired him for his superior combat leadership.

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