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More Than 1,000 Mourners Attend Mass In New Britain To Remember Polish President And Others

By CHRISTOPHER KEATING

April 11, 2010

NEW BRITAIN

More than 1,000 people packed into Sacred Heart Catholic Church on Sunday afternoon to mourn the death of Poland's president and other top government officials in a plane crash.

The standing-room-only crowd sang hymns in Polish and prayed for those who died Saturday at a fog-covered airport in western Russia as they were on their way to mark the 70th anniversary of the massacre of more than 20,000 Polish prisoners during World War II. Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 others died in the crash that left no survivors.

Monsignor Daniel J. Plocharczyk spoke during the Mass about the crash in the context of the recent commemorations of Good Friday and Easter Sunday only one week ago.

"Another tragedy took place over 2,000 years ago," Plocharczyk said during the homily. "An innocent, holy person was nailed to a cross and put to death for each one of us. ... Yesterday, once again, we see that a tragedy has taken place."

But he told the parishioners that he knew they would remain strong in the face of tragedy because they would rely on the "faith that so many of you received in Poland and that you continue to live out here in America. ... That's why we have come together today because we can truly say from the bottom of our heart: My Lord, and my God, it is you who will bring us through all these tragedies in life because our faith is strong, and we do believe."

Plocharczyk told the crowd that he received a telephone call at the parish rectory from Archbishop Henry Mansell of the Archdiocese of Hartford. He said Mansell told him that "the Polish people are strong and vibrant people ... and he knows that our faith will bring us through this."

As the sun shone brightly outside, dozens of parishioners stood in the back of the church and others stood on either side. The crowd included Polish war veterans who walked from the veterans hall next to the church all wearing gray pants and blue blazers. About 25 members of the ladies auxiliary all wearing white dresses and blue capes marched to the church in a quiet procession.

The news of two Masses at 3 p.m. in New Britain and another at 4 p.m. in Hartford spread quickly among the close-knit Polish community. On short notice, there was no time to announce the Masses in church bulletins, which had already been printed. Still, the crowds were huge.

"This is all word of mouth no preparation," said state Rep. Peter Tercyak, a New Britain Democrat. "There's no phone tree in these churches. Pretty impressive."

The effect of the crash on the Polish people, he said, was profound. Among those killed were the deputy foreign minister, the deputy speaker of the parliament, the chief of staff for the Army, the civil rights commissioner and the head of the national security bureau.

"It's not just the president dying. It's a whole swatch of the government gone," Tercyak said. "The layers of tragedy here go on and on. ... This is losing the whole family at the wedding celebration. The context is so much bigger than a plane crash with almost 100 lives lost."

He added, "It's as if we lost 80 politicians in America. ... It's the biggest deal since our pope died."

New Britain is the epicenter of the Polish community in Connecticut.

At least 20 percent of the residents in the city are Polish, Tercyak said. Some said the number is likely closer to 30 percent or 40 percent. When Poles were thinking of coming to the United States, Tercyak said, they knew three places: Chicago, New York and New Britain.

"My whole life I've gone down Broad Street, and it's never seemed unusual to see signs in the stores that don't have a word of English," said Tercyak, whose late father was also a legislator from the city.

Another legislator from New Britain, Democrat John Geragosian, said the Broad Street area is known for its concentration of Polish people.

"The area has Polish restaurants and delis and markets and social clubs. It's like little Poland," said Geragosian, who is of Greek and Armenian descent. "If you walk into those delis, they talk to you in Polish."

Some of those attending the Mass said they were hard-pressed to think of another country that lost so many high-ranking officials in a single event.

"Never. This is the first time it's happened, and I hope it's the last," said Jane Prokop, president of the ladies auxiliary at the Polish veterans hall next to Sacred Heart Church on Broad Street. "We were all born and raised there, and we all feel the same pain."

Chester Plawski, 85, talked to his brother, who still lives in Poland, for more news of the crash.

The travelers had been heading to the site of the massacre in Katyn, and the trip was a breakthrough in relations between two countries that have clashed sharply through the years.

"This is the first time that Putin said something about Stalin about killing his own people," Plawski said. "The Russians said the Germans killed them. But Putin admitted that Stalin killed all these people."

Plawski said he fought in World War II at age 17. His future wife, he said, was 4 years old when she was sent to Siberia and placed in a labor camp.

"I was in the underground army in Poland, and I fought against Germany and Russia," he said. "It was a top-secret organization."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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