Shared grief

The condolences of the Pope and the European Churches

Benedict XVI expressed his “deep condolence” for the tragic air accident in the approach to Smolensk Airport (Russia), in which the President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, his wife and other 95 Polish representatives lost their lives. The high-ranking Polish delegation had flown to Russia for an official commemoration of the Katyn massacre.Peace and reconciliation. On Saturday 10 April, speaking in a special news bulletin on channel one of Polish State TV, the President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Jozef Michalik of Przemysl, underlined the parallel between the air disaster in which the Polish President had been killed and the death of John Paul II five years earlier, it too on the vigil of the Sunday of Divine Mercy. Pointing out the symbolic value of the tragedy, he declared: “Today this sacrifice has been made in the name of the highest values of the Polish people, the inalienable values both for the élites of the past and for those of the present, the values of freedom and love of country”. The Apostolic Nuncio in Warsaw, Mgr. Jozef Kowalczyk, celebrating the liturgy offered for the souls of the victims, expressed the hope that their death “might bear the fruits of solidarity, mutual respect and love in the life of society as a whole”. Cardinal Jozef Glemp, primate emeritus of Poland, during the same celebration, declared: “From this trial we must emerge victors! We need the solidarity of the whole nation”. This tragedy “must be seen in the light of the faith”, stressed Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz celebrating a solemn mass for the souls of the victims of the disaster in Krakow’s Wawel Cathedral on Saturday evening. “We trust – said the cardinal – that these deaths shall bring peace and reconciliation for all Poles”. Europe in mourning. “Our sincere condolences and our spiritual closeness, in this difficult time for the Polish nation, and the assurance of our prayers for the souls of the victims and for the Polish people” were expressed, on behalf of the Bishops’ Conferences of Europe (CCEE), by the Archbishop of Esztergom-Budapest and president of the CCEE, Cardinal Peter Erdo, in a message sent to Archbishop Józef Michalik, President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference. Archbishop Robert Zollitsch, President of the German Bishops’ Conference, sent a letter of condolence to the Polish Primate, Archbishop Henryk Muszynski of Gniezno. “We are close to you in mourning; we are united with you in prayer. We wish our prayer to embrace the entire Polish nation and unite the victims of the air disaster and their families”. Archbishop Jan Graubner of Olomouc, President of the Czech Bishops’ Conference, wrote to the President of the Polish Bishops’ Conference to express his condolences: “Prayers for the victims of the plane crash, for their families and for the whole Polish nation spontaneously succeeded each other during the masses celebrated in the whole of the Czech Republic”. In a telegram sent to the President of the Polish Bishops, Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco and Monsignor Mariano Crociata, respectively President and Secretary of the Italian Bishops’ Conference, expressed, on behalf of the Italian Church, their deep condolences for the tragedy: “In response to this disaster, the result of human error, we bow our heads to the mystery of this terrible death. We are recalled to silence and give utterance only to the prayer invoking comfort for the whole nation, for each of its members and, in particular, for the victims’ families”. Archbishop Ioan Robu, President of the Romanian Bishops’ Conference, personally went to the Polish Embassy in Bucharest on Saturday 10 April to deliver a letter of condolences. A mass for the souls of the victims, officiated by Archbishop Robu himself, was celebrated in St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Bucharest on Sunday 11 April. Archbishop Robu has also sent a telegram of condolence to his Polish counterpart, Archbishop Michalik.Everyone in prayer. Liturgies for the souls of the victims were also celebrated in the Orthodox and Protestant churches of Poland on Saturday and Sunday. Mufti Tomasz Miskiewicz, head of the Muslim Religious Community in Poland, also expressed his condolences. The Patriarch of all the Russias Kirill and the Patriarch of Alexandria Fiodor, in a joint statement, also mourned the victims of the catastrophe, and expressed the hope “that God would give strength to the families of the public figures who had died in the plane crash”. A letter of condolence to Archbishop Michalik was sent by the Metropolitan of Minsk and Mohylew (Belarus) Tadeusz Kondrusiewicz, and by the Metropolitan of the Catholic archdiocese of the Mother of God in Moscow, Archbishop Paolo Pezzi. Russia, Lithuania and Estonia, and other countries such as Brazil, all expressed their solidarity with the Polish people at this time of grief and also proclaimed national mourning in the days ahead. Monday 12 April was declared a day of mourning at EU headquarters in Brussels: all debates and discussions were preceded by a two-minute silence. “Even if there were those who were not in agreement with President Lech Kaczynski, it was impossible to accuse him of dishonesty or double-dealing”, said the president of the Union of Polish Jewish communities Piotr Kadlcik recalling a recent visit of the Polish President to the synagogue in Warsaw. Poland’s head rabbi Michael Schudrich, speaking in the synagogue, described the late President and his wife as “his friends”.

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