Local Polish community must share countryman Lack of visit disappoints, but people 'overjoyed'

October 04, 1995|By RAFAEL ALVAREZ | RAFAEL ALVAREZ,SUN STAFF

ALL THEY WANTED was five minutes of the Holy Father's time, just long enough for Pope John Paul II to zip down Chester Street into the heart of Polish Baltimore and bless Holy Rosary Church.

The pontiff, after all, is a blood brother.

"I'm related to the pope - he's Polish and I'm Polish!" says 82-year-old Walter Krajewski, who has been selling $2 pictures of Pope John Paul to East Baltimore Catholics to put in their windows. "I don't want to get a big head about it, but it's a good feeling to have a Polish pope."

And it would feel even better if Pope John Paul - the first non-Italian pope in 455 years - paid a visit to Baltimore's premier Polish church in the old waterfront neighborhood of Canton. He did it on Aug. 9, 1976, as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, the archbishop of Krakow, and local Poles were eager to roll out the red carpet at the 108-year-old parish again.

But carving out a few minutes of the pope's schedule was nixed, leaving the 820 families of Holy Rosary and the rest of Baltimore's Polish community to make due sharing their kinsman.

To show their pride, local Poles are putting flags of Poland and the Vatican in their windows; holding vigils in honor of Polish saints; delivering prayers in Polish at the papal Mass; dancing with other ethnic troupes before the Mass; and sending their sons and daughters in folk costumes and Boy Scout uniforms to march with the Polish flag held high as the pope parades down Pratt Street.

They also persuaded Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke to present Pope John Paul with a model of a planned waterfront monument to 15,000 Polish army officers slaughtered by the Soviets in 1940.

"I'm overjoyed to tears to be a part of it," said Radomira Sawaryn, who, in the Prayer of the Faithful at the papal Mass, will ask in Polish: "For the peace and well being of the whole world as we approach the third millennium."

"I hope I can do it right; it's only five seconds but still, it's the thrill of my life," said the 69-year-old, who toiled in German labor camps during World War II before landing in Baltimore in 1950. For the past 40 years, she has lived across from Holy Rosary on Gough Street and plays the organ at the weekly Polish Mass there.

"I have picked up on what is good in my culture and combined it with what's good in America, but as a Pole, I feel like a kinsman to the pope - it's like family coming because he is one of us," said Ms. Sawaryn. "He thinks like we do - not just the same background, but the same generation. We were brought up in Poland with the motto 'God, country and honor,' and believe me, we lived by it."

Three days before Pope John Paul arrives, a daylong celebration, prayer vigil and Mass in his honor will be held at Holy Rosary on the feast day of M. Faustina Kowalska, a Polish nun beatified by DTC the pontiff and known to devotees as "Blessed Faustina."

Oct. 5, the day of the vigil, is the day Faustina died at age 33 in 1938. The young nun initiated devotions to the "Divine Mercy" of Christ after keeping detailed diaries saying that Jesus appeared to her. It was through Sister Faustina that Timonium's Dottie Olszewski returned to her East Baltimore roots.

"I got an inspiration at a Divine Mercy celebration in 1991 that I was to return to my heritage and so I went back to Holy Rosary where I was baptized. Within two minutes, I knew I was home," said Ms. Olszewski, who helped erect a Holy Rosary shrine to Faustina near a plaque commemorating Pope John Paul's visit there.

In her 90 years, Linwood Avenue's Eva Barczak has been in the pope's presence "at least six times, maybe more" and has a medal from the Vatican in honor of her work and devotion to the church.

The first time Mrs. Barczak met Karol Wojtyla was on a 1967 trip to Poland. She remembers telling him: " 'I only have a Kodak Instamatic and it doesn't take good pictures inside, but it takes real good pictures outside. Would you mind?' We went outside and he called a seminarian over to take a picture of us together."

She has attended papal Masses around the world - from Rome to Nairobi - and especially cherishes a moment in Detroit when she didn't even get inside the cathedral. "They set up bleachers for us outside. You know how he puts his hands out when he meets people? I grabbed his hands and kissed both of them and said: 'Ojcze Swiety.' That means 'Holy Father' in Polish."

Yolanta Obrebski, who belongs to Holy Rosary although she no longer lives in the city, was set to sing in the papal choir until cataract surgery made it impossible for her to attend rehearsals. She and her family will be at the Mass.

"Those of us who are believers, real believers, would feel an affinity for any pope who comes to the States," said Mrs. Obrebski. "But being a Catholic and a believer and a Pole, one feels a sense that is almost Pentecostal."

As for not being able to embrace the pope in their own back yard, Walter Krajewski spoke for many of Baltimore's Polish-Americans when he said: "I'm just glad he's coming to Baltimore. You don't want to get greedy."

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