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Photo: Dan Valenti

The Marians of the Immaculate Conception celebrated the life and heritage of Pope John Paul II Oct. 18 at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Mass.

Bearing Witness to Love

Marians, Pilgrims Celebrate Pope John Paul II and Polish Heritage Day.

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By Dan Valenti (Oct 18, 2008)
With the sun peeking and the fall foliage peaking, the Marians of the Immaculate Conception celebrated Pope John Paul II and Polish Heritage Day Saturday, Oct. 18, at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy, Stockbridge, Mass.

The chilly, windy mid-fall day brought the Holy Mass indoors, as organizers decided against having the liturgy outside at the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine. As one pilgrim quipped, "This is fitting. John Paul II preached his whole life about coming inside to the warmth of Jesus."

A Taste of Eastern Europe
The annual cultural fete is one of Eden Hill's most beloved days. The largely Polish makeup of the pilgrims, the sounds of the Polish language, and the Polish character of steadfast determination brings a taste of Eastern Europe to the Berkshire Hills. Poles are a people who have known great sorrow. They are a people who, by understanding travail and challenges in terms of God, have used hardship to forge incredible strength of character and a goodness of "cultural soul."

The Eucharistic celebration on the feast of St. Luke the Evangelist offered homilies in both Polish and English. Father Paul Nawalaniec, MIC, a Marian based in London, England, spoke in Polish of God's care for his creatures in terms of the prophets.

"Throughout the centuries, God has continued to send the prophets to us, so they may speak His words and bear witness to His love," Fr. Paul said. "Pope John Paul II was such a prophet, a prophet for our troubled times. He came to us with a message of love. Let us heed that message."

'We are a Prophetic People'
Father Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC, the Marians' director of evangelization and development, reflected on his personal meetings with Pope John Paul II.

"Anyone who met him personally immediately knew that he was a messenger of love," Fr. Kaz said. "He spent his entire papacy teaching us about of God's great mercy." Father Kaz then picked up on the "prophetic" theme of Fr. Paul: "Pope John Paul II tells us, even today, that we are a prophetic people. We are called to proclaim the message of God's mercy to our brothers and sisters and to live this message in our own lives."

The Mass was concelebrated by Fr. Andrew Gorczyca, MIC, who following the Mass offered in Polish a moving reflection on the life of Karol Wojtyla; Shrine Rector Fr. Anthony Gramlich, MIC; and Fr. Seraphim Michalenko, MIC, director of the Association of Marian Helpers. Also on the altar were Deacon Jim Sullivan of Torrington, Conn.; Br. Albin Milewski, MIC, acolyte; and Br. Leonard Kunda, MIC, who sang the responsorial Psalm.

'Wonder and Thrill'
Prior to Mass, pilgrims had a chance to view films of the life of Pope John Paul II, shown in Memorial Hall. They also enjoyed the international photographic exhibit, "John Paul II, the Holy Man: To the Ends of the Earth." The series of oversized, dramatic photos has been a fixture in recent years of Polish Heritage Day on Eden Hill.

Lila Pronczuk is the exhibit's co-director, along with her husband Andrzej. Together, they coordinate the Polish Cultural Foundation in Boston, Mass.

"We have had people here today who have never seen this exhibit," Lila said. "The first time, particularly, you can see the wonder and thrill that they get, particularly if they recognize an event they attended or a place they visited. In showing these photographs, we keep the memory of Pope John Paul II alive. Even for us as exhibitors, when we think of what John Paul did, it's amazing how one man could make such a momentous difference in the world, a difference for the good."

Pilgrims Testify
Pilgrims, too, spoke of this charismatic Pope and man, one of the great — perhaps the greatest — men of the 20th century. A prayer group of six women from Fairfield, Conn., made the pilgrimage. They spoke about the message that was so dear to Pope John Paul II.

"I learned about Divine Mercy from my parents," said Anne Marie Romano. "I pray the chaplet every day. It brings me solace and hope. Hope has been the major theme over the course of my life."

Gina Donnarummo, also a member of the Fairfield prayer group, says she sings the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy every day while driving to work: "I love the repetition of it," Gina said. "It has a calming effect on me. I went to a 'mercy school' [St. Joseph's College in West Hartford, Conn.], and so I've had mercy in my life for a while. To me, it's about a sense of peace, forgiveness, and compassion."

Other members in the group included Dolores Pace, Maureen Cardiello, Marilyn Salvatore, and Sue Constantino. All except Ann Marie were making their first visit to the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy.

A Hike by Bike
Deacon Jim Sullivan led a group of 27 pilgrims from Torrington, Conn. Twenty came by bus. Seven of them, including the deacon, pedaled bicycles for the 50-mile, one-way trip. Interviewed in the sacristy prior to Mass, Deacon Jim said the day combined two beautiful events: a tribute to Pope John Paul II and the famous Berkshire foliage.

"What continues to attract people to Pope John Paul II is the holiness of his life," Deacon Jim said. "That and his charism, his teachings, and his evident love of God — for so many, this combination is a natural attraction." Asked about why he biked up with six others, he said, "It was a pilgrimage of prayer. I announced from the pulpit that I would be biking to Stockbridge, and I invited anyone who wanted to come along. We used our pedaling as a form of praying."

In addition to Mass and the photo display, Polish Heritage Day included Eucharistic Adoration, confessions, a Rosary for Life, singing of the Chaplet of The Divine Mercy, blessing of religious articles, and blessing with a first-class relic of St. Faustina.

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