Over five thousand people gathered yesterday at St. Maximilian Kolbe in Mississauga (just outside of Toronto) to celebrate mass honouring the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski, his wife, and the 94 other dignitaries that perished in last Saturday’s place crash. They came from all directions, some walked several kilometers, as police had closed off street access to cars. Many waved Polish flags while others came with flowers, pictures and candles. It was a sober but important occasion and everyone wanted to play a small part. Prior to the mass a makeshift shrine was set up under a large wooden cross in the parking lot. It grew larger minute by minute as the crowds continued to flood in. Those who arrived early enough (two to three hours before the mass) were lucky to get inside, the remainder were joined by priests outside and listened to the proceedings on loudspeakers.
Among the dignitaries in attendance were Prime Minister of Canada Stephen Harper, leader of the Liberal Party of Canada Michael Ignatieff , leader of the New democratic Party Jack Layton , Ambassador of Poland to Canada Zenon Kosiniak-Kamysz , the Consul General of the Republic of Poland Marek Ciesielczuk, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario David Onley and the President and Acting President of the Canadian Polish Congress, Wladyslaw Lizon and Jerzy Barycki. Many other dignitaries lined the pews of the packed church. More than a dozen priests, led by Archbishop of Toronto Thomas Collins, participated in the mass. Polish scouts were mobilized to provide logistical support and did so with enthusiastic efficiency and professionalism.
The mass was touching. Especially moving was the opening hymn which was sung during the arrival of the Archbishop, throngs of priests and alter servers that preceded him. For a few minutes the entire church shook under the voices of those in attendance. It seemed as though the hymn provided the perfect outlet for grief stricken Polish-Canadians to release their emotions. And they did. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper received a standing ovation and delivered a few fitting words about his fondest memories of President Kaczynski as well as the resilience of the Polish people. There were more speeches of course, all heartfelt and moving.
It was a terrific gesture of solidarity by dignitaries of both nations and it was touching to see such overwhelming support from so many important people. No doubt, millions will tune in to watch the burial of Poland’s President this Sunday but till then, the mass at St. Maximilian Kolbe provided the perfect outlet for people here to pay their respects and perhaps get a bit of closure.