When the opportunity to take a pilgrimage to Poland with a congregation of Polish Americans arose, I was happy to take it. These parishioners were the faithful second and third generation off spring of those who founded the church over a hundred years ago. Although none of the members of the parish live in the city where the church is located, they have maintained an active parish life in a poor city that many persons living outside of the city who have their roots in the city, refuse to revisit. Not this congregation. They have managed to keep the building in repair, plant potted shrubs for all to enjoy, open a store for the community, acquire a Polish speaking priest and have the building listed on the historical register of the state! Having worked in the city for 26 years before retirement, I know of several other ethnic churches in the city that have been shuttered or consolidated. This congregation has remained faithful to its culture as well as to its Roman Catholic religion. Lead by the resident Polish priest, the congregation and a few of us non-Poles headed off to the Mother Land.
Immediately after landing in the capital city, Warsaw, we were whisked off by bus to a restaurant which provided us with ethnic music, dancing and cuisine. While the costumed dancers and the competent musicians entertained us, we ate a dinner fit for a king. The duck and all of the timings were cooked to perfection! I have had the privilege of eating in restaurants all over the world. My sister, who visited Poland about a dozen years ago, warned me that the food was nearly passable. I can say without hesitation that this meal was one of the best. To my utter amazement and joy, every other meal came very close to the perfection of the first.
Alas, it is common knowledge that Warsaw was nearly completely destroyed during WWII. Hence, the 16th century Royal Castle where the second constitution in the world was proclaimed, was mostly rebuilt. The rebuilders did a fine job, the guides pointed out the very few pieces of original furniture, but the over-all effect was depressing – at least at first. Little by little I began to admire the resilience of the Polish people. The modern era has not been kind to these people. In the last about 250 years, they have governed themselves from 1919 until 1939, then again from about 1990 until the present.
My visit to Poland continued to provide a roller coaster set of emotional experiences from the Chapel of the Black Madonna, the gas ovens of Auschwitz, the natural beauty of Pieniny National Park, the salt mines of Wieliczka, the hoards of pious pilgrims at the center of Divine Mercy and the Sanctuary of Saint John Paul II, to the lack of one piece of litter anywhere. I came away with humble admiration for the citizens of Poland and for their American cousins.