Thoughts and Prayers
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We’d like to hear from you on how the teachings and papacy of John Paul II have changed your life.

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A Tireless Worker for Catholicism
by Benjamin Fiore, S.J.
Buffalo, New York

John Paul II had a vision for the Catholic faith in Europe and worked tirelessly to see it become a reality. After the collapse of the political divide through the center of Europe, he named Ss. Cyril & Methodius co-patrons of Europe along with the traditional patrons Ss. Benedict and Catherine. He thus brought recognition to the Catholics in the Slavic countries. The church finally was able to “breathe with two lungs,” to use his image. And he went further in his tireless efforts to heal the divisions between Roman Catholicism and the Orthodox Churches, which divides the Slavic Christians.

He visited every Orthodox country except Russia and developed remarkable and unprecedented good relations with their hierarchies. John Paul’s apology for the crusaders’ sack of Constantinople startled the Greek Orthodox and won him warm ties with the Patriarch of Constantinople. His persistent overtures even led to the establishment of ongoing, serious dialog with the Russian Orthodox Church, despite their public resistance.

He found common ground with believing Christians throughout Europe, including the Russians, in challenging the secular West Europeans to recognize the Christian roots of Europe in the European Union Constitution and in their own lives.

John Paul strongly resisted the drift among theologians away from the official teachings of the church and restored a discipline and fidelity among those who claimed to teach for the Church. His practice of grounding his teachings in scripture helped raise the study of scripture among Catholics to new levels, while also fostering theological discussion with bible-oriented Protestants. While he maintained the tradition of an all-male clergy despite vocal protests, he encouraged the participation of women not only in their usual roles as teachers and social workers, but also as officials in diocesan chanceries, national and international Catholic organizations, and even in Vatican commissions. His “conservative” teachings on marriage and sexuality, rooted in the dignity of the human person, offered an alternative to the permissiveness that has made more prevalent abuse, disease, infidelity, and the dehumanization of love.

John Paul’s unabashed love of and devotion to Mary, and his proclamation of faith in Christ and his cross, have encouraged many Catholics, especially the young, to declare and live their faith openly. The public display of his weakness from disease and age, and carrying on his duties despite these, gave witness to the value of all life, even at its most fragile state.

Benjamin Fiore is Religion Editor for the Polish American Journal, chair of the Religious Studies Department at Canisius College, and a translator of Polish theological works.

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The Awesome Power of One Magnificent Life
By Dr. Jan P. Muczyk
Dayton, Ohio

On this sad occasion, the civilized word will recognize the legacy of Pope John Paul II. People of Polish descent will also mourn this uncommon man because he made them so proud. The many eulogies across the globe will acknowledge the role Pope John Paul II played in the demise of the communist order through leveraging the power of transcendent ideas, especially when visiting the land of his birth; thereby confirming Victor Hugo’s observation that: “Nothing else in the world…not all the armies … is so powerful as an idea whose time has come.” In his native Poland, he and his mentor, Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski, will be remembered for courageously protecting the Church during the 45-year communist reign.

No doubt, he will be honored for his advocacy on behalf of the poor, the innocent, and the helpless. In many quarters, he will be celebrated for defending so eloquently the culture of life and the God-given dignity of every human being. He will be credited for energizing the missionary zeal of the Catholic Church through his many trips to distant lands where this remarkable individual addressed the multitudes in their native tongues. He will be lauded for advocating: the separation of church and state by renouncing “liberation theology;” the inalienable right to worship in accordance with one’s conscience; and the right to unfettered selection of representative governments. Some will applaud his academic achievements as a first-rate philosopher, as an estimable author, and as an accomplished poet. But his greatest achievement, I believe, will have been the preservation of traditional Catholic beliefs and values, and perhaps the Church as we know it: a task that many consider to be the primary responsibility of a pontiff.

John Paul II let the faithful know time and again that the Catholic faith was based on divine revelation, the decrees of Church councils, and papal encyclicals. It was not a product of the democratic process, whereby the most convenient and popular positions of the time replace the revealed word and Church tradition. Clearly this was not a welcomed position in some quarters, but this holy man was not running a popularity contest. Had he adopted the democratic model, the incorporation of current fashion into Catholic dogma would have caused the kind of splintering of the Church that we find taking place among some of the liberal Protestant denominations that have done just that.

Pope John Paul II assured the preservation of traditional Catholic positions not only through his unequivocal stand on matters of faith and morals, but also through his appointments of likeminded bishops and cardinals over his 26 year pontificate—the second longest in the history of the Catholic Church. Had he not appointed leaders of the church who shared his convictions, his positions could have been overturned by his successors and the Church hierarchy, which is so instrumental in implementing Church teachings and enforcing Church dogma and traditions.

In addition to the aforementioned achievements, the life of John Paul II is an inspirational example to us all by illustrating so vividly the awesome power of one life lived to its full potential. I am convinced that Pope John Paul II will not only continue guiding the Church through his legacy for a long, long time, but also will continue to make persons of Polish descent as proud as when he was still among us.

Jan Muczyk was born in Poland and spent his childhood in the middle of World War II. He received in June 1947 first communion and confirmation at the same time from a young bishop of Lublin by the name of Stefan Wyszynski, later to become Primate of Poland and mentor of Karol Wojtyla, who became Pope John Paul II. He is a professor emeritus of management at Cleveland State University and at the Graduate School of Engineering and Management, Air Force Institute of Technology.

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He Will Always Be With Us
By Joe Brozeski
Oil City, Pennsylvania

What a trying day … in one way we have lost our pope, but in another, he will always be with us. I find it ironic that with all the coverage of religious events in the United States, I’ve yet to hear one Polish hymn, whether in English or Polish. Now that John Paul has passed, I hope that the heritage won’t suffer.

I find it hypocritical that those who we not really that supportive of John Paul while he was alive are now beating their breast and throwing out the accolades.

It was really interesting that earlier today one of the reporters mentioned that during a soccer game in Poland—when news of the pope’s passing was announced—the crowd, along with the teams, sang the Polish National Anthem and canceled the game.

Joe Brozeski is director of the Polish Heritage Project, an audio documentary of Polish hymns and prayers.

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“His will and determination showed the
world how precious life is.”
By Bishop Edward U. Kmiec
Buffalo, New York

Although we knew this day would come, it is still a very difficult time for the Catholic Church as we mourn the loss of our father, our spiritual leader, the man who poured his entire being into the papacy. As a result, our Church has been strengthened and remains committed to the values that the Holy Father so clearly articulated during the 26 years in which he guided us.

Pope John Paul II led the Catholic Church through important and challenging times, and despite the many challenges he and the Church faced, he always remained true to his convictions. He was truly a pope of the people, taking more than 100 foreign trips during his papacy. We will remember him as a heroic figure of deep faith as he worked to build the Kingdom of God on earth.

The pope was at the forefront of the most important issues of the day. He led the pro-life movement with a clear and strong voice, showing the world the path to a culture of life. He was an advocate for human rights around the world, calling out abuses and pressing government leaders for change. His comfort and prayerful support for the sick and dying was another hallmark of his papacy, especially for those afflicted with HIV/AIDS. He set a high standard for all who minister.

We will always remember the major role he played in the fall of communism. His actions helped millions in Eastern Europe to enjoy the freedoms many of us take for granted. And even in his dying days, he was a strong advocate for peace, urging world leaders to look for other ways to bring an end to armed conflicts, or to avoid them altogether.

His very public suffering in the final years of his life was wonderful testimony to the sanctity of life. His will and determination showed the world how precious life is.

On a personal level, I am deeply saddened by the passing of our Holy Father. He appointed me as auxiliary bishop of Trenton in 1982, as bishop of Nashville in 1992, and as bishop of Buffalo last August. I hold each of these papal appointments close to my heart and it is my hope that I have been worthy of the confidence he placed in me. I will miss him very much.

The Pope touched so many lives in so many ways. From his special connection to the youth of the world, to his love and respect for women religious, deacons and the laity, to his unbreakable bond with his brother priests, Pope John Paul II was indeed a shining example of what one can do with the gifts we are all given from God. He truly was a light for the world.

I ask the faithful to join me in praying for the repose of the soul of Pope John Paul II. We know that God will welcome him into heaven. May he rest in peace.

Bishop Kmiec’s comments were released upon learning of the passing of the Holy Father, and were published in the Western New York Catholic.

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“Well done, good and faithful servant”
by Cardinal Adam Maida
Detroit, Michigan

Our beloved Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has been called home to God. To his dying breath, he has served God and the Church with unwavering love and his own steadfast faith in Jesus Christ. His tireless energy for the Gospel of Life has touched almost every person on this earth and leaves behind a legacy of hope and a path of solidarity and service for us to follow.

While it is almost impossible to think of our Church without our beloved shepherd, such is the sad reality of life and death in this world. Even as we mourn this great loss for our Church and our world, our reference point remains our belief in Christ's Resurrection for the dead and the promise of eternal life, the very beliefs, which were the anchor and compass of our pope’s life and ministry.

Without question, our Holy Father, Pope John Paul II, has been embraced and greeted by the Lord: “Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of eternal life!” Thanks be to God for such a good and holy priest and chief shepherd; may his soul and the souls of all our faithful departed rest in peace.”

Adam Cardinal Maida is Archbishop of Detroit and a personal friend of Pope John Paul II. He was coordinator of fund. He serves on the Roman Curia and United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.

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We Were Brothers
by Dave Kotcher (Kaczorowski)

We were brothers, in Polish, braczisko.

In 1991, my daughter and I and a young priest from Krakow searched the parish records of St. Mary’s Church in Wadowice, Poland, the Pope’s birthplace. I had suspected that somehow he was a distant relative. In fact I had a litany of reasons for my conclusion, most of which I don’t remember. Two stood out: his mother’s maiden name was Kaczorowski, the same as my original family name, and my father strongly resembled him.

As we looked through large pages of yellowed church records, finding a thread here and another there, it began to be clear that there was some sort of relationship, however remote. As we got closer, the parish pastor came into the room and gruffly reminded the young priest that he was there to help him, not to do a genealogical search.

Everything stopped. My daughter and I visited the pope’s church and walked around the soccer field where, in his youth he had been goalie. I felt proud. I had been within minutes of finding a direct relationship with one of the most important and revered people in the world. I wondered what would be the next step to get the definite proof.

Then it occurred to me. Why? What good would it do? What would it prove? It would result in a few seconds of fame, maybe an interview here or there and some bragging rights.

It was not about me. It was about him. I had no right to infringe on his experiences or to be a part of his life vicariously. After all, we shared so much already. Church documents wouldn’t make us brothers. We already were. I had nothing to prove.

This brotherhood was not exclusive. It included a billion Roman Catholics throughout the world, 40 million Poles, nine million Polish Americans, and people from every country in the world who shared John Paul’s Polish roots.

But I’m sure he didn’t see it only that way. His brotherhood was extended to everyone. Religion, ethnicity, place of birth wouldn’t make much difference to him. We all shared common aspirations, experiences and hopes. To call it the “Brotherhood of Man” is not poetic enough and trite. He showed us the importance of all our lives with our petty problems and minor successes. He understood us because he was one of us.

I was working in Pittsburgh in 1978 when Karol Wojtyla became pope. I was in my office when someone burst through the door and screamed, “The new pope is Polish.” My first thought was, “Yeah, right. Another Polish joke.” As the day went on, it was clear, the world had a Polish pope. The first one who wasn’t a Vatican insider in over 450 years.

His name was unfamiliar. Almost everyone had heard of Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski so at first I assumed the College of Cardinals had elected him. I thought he was a good choice, but he was well over 70 years old. Then I heard the name “Wojtyla.” It didn’t even sound Polish. Over the next few days, his profile emerged. He was archbishop of Krakow, a revolutionary who was an activist as a seminarian during World War II and a close friend of Wyszynski. It started to make sense. Wyszynski was too old and fragile, so the College chose a protégé.

Wojtyla was from Galicia, a strangely configured part of the world that incorporated most of southern Poland and parts of Ukraine and Slovakia. Galicia was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and is important only to historians of the obscure. My grandparents who came to the United States in the early 20th century were Galician-Poles, and as obscure as their geography.

Wojtyla had been a quiet part of the resistance movement during the War and went to the Underground Seminary in preparation for the priesthood. But all these are just facts that others have researched and vetted time and again. One point that most journalists and scholars missed was that to be Polish was to be rooted in ignored heroism and amazing resiliency. These were the foundations of the new pope.

In the following years, I was fortunate to live in Poland and see for myself all the required tourists sites honoring both Wyszynski and Wojtyla. But even more importantly, I was able to feel the real fabric of the pope—in German concentration camps, in quiet monuments to unknown patriots killed in the country’s many wars, in churches with side altars memorializing victim of the Katyn Massacre. In one instance, my office was in a small building that had a plaque honoring 217 Polish students and teachers killed less than a month after the beginning of World War II.

Several years ago, I was shopping in a warehouse store in central Poland. Suddenly, all the store clerks stopped what they were doing and one turned on a television. The pope had just landed in Krakow. Bent over from infirmities, he slowly descended the airplane stairs. When he reached the ground it looked like a bolt of lightening hit him. He stood almost upright. He was in his beloved Poland. He was young again.

All these defined the pope. His reverence for life was not theoretical. His oneness with all of us was not book-learned. He was not a rock star, or a celebrity or even the direct voice of God. He was one of us, with his eyes toward heaven in wonderment asking God, “What’s next?”

Do widzenia, braczisko. Until we meet again, brother.

Dr. Kotcher is executive vice president of PGI International, Inc. He has been a professor of Law and Business at several universities in both North America and Europe. He has worked in Central and Eastern Europe (Poland, Russia, Ukraine and Slovakia) since 1990 and has written three books about the region. Kotcher is also chairman of the Boardman Group, Inc., and serves on the boards of several U.S. companies. He has doctorates in both Business and Law and has professional certification in Human Resources Management.

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Reflections on Pope John Paul II
by Dr. Ann Hetzel Gunkel
Chicago, Illinois

It is easy for American political and media discourse to miscategorize a religious figure such as Pope John Paul II into a stereotypical box. But the conventional categories of American cultural politics don't apply so neatly to someone who personifies a paradigm that predates the Enlightenment, republicanism, and other "modern" inventions. Yes, Pope John Paul II was a "conservative." But this doesn't mean what we usually think. How can the leader of the Catholic Church be anything but? Dogma doesn't upend itself and the Vatican isn't about to announce free love. (Nor should it.) A doctrinal conservative is not a political conservative.

The Holy Father was a revolutionary. He took the "conservative" Catholic church squarely into world politics to speak truth to power, bringing the radical nature of the Gospel message to the world's poor and marginalized.

As a feminist progressive, I learned all my values from the nuns and priests who educated me, including the Holy Father, "our" Pope. While I would view the ordination of women very differently than the Pontiff, I am so grateful for a moral and spiritual leader who:

—led and personified a massive nonviolent worker's revolution in Poland, that changed global politics. A man of peace changed the face of the planet.

—created enormous progress in inter religious dialogue, with a profound respect for Jews, Muslims, and Orthodox Christians. Simply summarized, the Holy Father made it impossible for those on the world stage to use "religious truth" as a rationale for violence.

—confronted the first world powers on numerous issues of human diginity, including clear opposition to the Iraq war, the battle for forgiving third world debt, and the discrepenacy between first world energy consumption and the poverty of the rest of the world

—provided the only non-politicized coherent philosophy of life in the world arena, creating the notion of the seamless garment of life. This makes it morally problematic if not impossible for western political conservatives to be coopt the rhetoric of "life" claiming to be both "pro-life" and pro-death penalty, "pro-life" and pro-war. While the social politics of reproduction rights are profoundly difficult and complex--esp. for a first world feminist Catholic such as myself--I find the ONLY coherent moral message on the world stage is the Holy Father's.

—reaffirmed the radical nature of the Gospel message, uplifiting the dignity of the poor and marginalized.

This legacy is a stunning achievement of one man's devotion and selfnessness in serving others. As a Polish American, I could name many more repercussions of the Pope's life and work, as they profoundly affected our Polish and Polish American cultures. I, personally, was fortunate to serve as an usher at the 1979 Papal Mass in Chicago's Grant Park, where the Pontiff greeted over a million faithful.

Eternal rest grant unto him O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him.

Dr. Ann Hetzel Gunkel is professor of Humanties and Cultural Studies at Columbia University, Chicago. A former Fulbright scholar, she is currently on-line editions editor for the Polish American Historical Association.

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Two Heroes of Poland
Ken Locke
Warsaw, Indiana

Poland has given us two heroes, similar in many ways.

The first is General Thaddeus Kosciuszko, 18th Century Champion of Liberty. The second is Karol Wojtyla, the late Pope John Paul II, 20th Century Hero of Freedom.

They stood for liberation of their native Poland. Both saw their nation oppressed by tyranny. Kosciuszko fought against the Russians but never saw independence. Pope John Paul II saw the scourge of German Nazism and then Communism grip his native land. He was able to see the freedom of Poland that Kosciuszko could only dream of.

Lech Walesa, leader of Poland's Solidarity movement that won power after a decade of struggle and hastened the collapse of the Soviet bloc, said Polish-born John Paul II inspired the drive to end communism in Eastern Europe. "[Without him] there would be no end of communism, or at least much later and the end would have been bloody," Walesa said.

They believed in liberty and dignity for all mankind. Kosciuszko had such passion for autonomy that he came to America and joined the revolution against England. He hated slavery in our country and the treatment of the “peasants” in Poland. In his will he left directions that the property he had been given in Ohio was sold to free and educate slaves. Pope John Paul II stood for deliverance as well. He was unswerving in his belief of the sanctity of life and treatment of others. Who can forget the scene of John Paul II standing at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem praying for forgiveness for the unacceptable history of the treatment of Jews? He was quoted as saying, “Once again, through myself, the Church, in the words of the well-known declaration Nostra Aetate, "deplores the hatred, persecutions and displays of anti-Semitism directed against the Jews at any time and by anyone." I repeat, "By anyone."

They both almost died for their cause. Kosciuszko on the field of battle in October 1794, wounded and captured by the Russians. Pope John Paul II in 1981 at the hand of an assassin. He later met personally with the man to forgive him. One carried the sword. The other carried the gospel of peace. Both sought God for their strength and direction and put their lives on the line.

They now belong to the ages. Kosciuszko was called the “purest Son of Liberty” by Thomas Jefferson. President George W. Bush honored Pope John Paul II by saying that he was, “a person who stood for freedom and human dignity.” Many are calling him a “Pope for the Ages.”

I recently came across something that could have been written about both men; A Polish Blessing—

“May your heart be as patient as the earth,
Your love as warm as harvest gold.
May your days be full, as the city is full,
Our nights as joyful as dancers.
May your arms be as welcoming as home.
May your faith be as enduring as God's love,
Your spirit as valiant as your heritage.
May your hand be as sure as a friend,
Your dreams as hopeful as a child.
May your soul be as brave as your people,
AND MAY YOU BE BLESSED.

When John Paul II was welcomed into heaven I believe that Thaddeus was there to greet him. More importantly, Jesus was there to say, “Well done good and faithful servant…enter into the joy of your Lord.”

Both great Poles have received the ultimate emancipation, eternal life. Honor is due to them for their hearts that beat for liberation, not only in Poland, but around the world.

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“We have a Polish pope!”
Sharon Petroski Yasneski

I remember when John Paul II was elected Pope and how excited we were when we heard the news. I worked for a Dr. Kulbaski and I remember running into his office shouting "Doctor! Doctor! We have a Polish pope!" What a great man he turned out to be and we Poles are all so proud of him. I remember also reading about him having no family living and how sad I was for him. God knew what he was doing, he gave John Paul II the entire world as his family. He will live in our hearts forever.

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