Waiting for the President of the Republic of Poland

Boguslaw Kowalski

Things began as usual. The day before the main celebrations a special train with the war veterans, members of the Katyn Families, scouts and soldiers left Warsaw. The last two cars were occupied by the delegation of 60 MPs and senators from the parliamentary club of Law and Justice Party. The purpose of our journey was to pay homage to over 21,000 Polish prisoners of war murdered 70 years ago.
We reached Smolensk on time, at 6.00 o’clock local time. From there we took coaches towards Katyn, being escorted by a militia car. On the way we visited Gniezdowo, the site where the prisoners of war had been transported and killed. That site, known from books and films, brought reflection and silence.
Then we reached the Polish war cemetery, the site of the main commemoration ceremony. All preparations had been completed there. The altar war ready to receive celebrants. The colour guards were there. Some soldiers and scouts directed the last preparations. The choir was getting ready to perform. The journalists and cameramen were getting ready to start live broadcast. More and more people were arriving, filling up the sections. They all waited for the liturgy and speeches. It was ca. 10.30 a.m. (in Poland it was 8.30).
The plane with President Lech Kaczynski and First Lady aboard was just about to land at the airport in nearby Smolensk. We took our seats and waited for the start of the ceremony. After some time we heard about some delay because of the fog over the airport and that the plane would not land on time. A few minutes later we heard that the plane had burnt. That news made us anxious. Some journalists rushed towards the airport. And we began phoning whoever we knew in the President’s circle to get to know what happened. Unfortunately, the cell phones of those who we knew were aboard – they were silent!
Then we learnt more details from those who were in Poland and the BOR (Security) officers. Despair was mixed with unbelief. How was that possible? Such things did not happen in the world! Although we knew what had happened we could not believe it.
We began praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet. We struggled with our thoughts. Perhaps it was not so bad. How could that happen? Who else was on the plane? What would happen to Poland?
People’s reactions were different. Bewilderment and stupor, outbursts of tears and attacks of hysteria. We lost Friends, Colleagues – state and political leaders. Personal pain was mixed with feelings of horror and fear what was going to happen to Poland. People spoke about the tragedy of a second Katyn.
Spontaneous tears. All people were moved. I could see a young BOR officer. Big tears on his cheek…
Before noon Jerzy Bahr, the Polish ambassador to Russia in Moscow and Jacek Sasin, the presidential office deputy, spoke to all the gathered. The worst things were confirmed. There would be no celebrations but the priests would celebrate Mass. The parish priest from the Catholic church in Smolensk delivered a short homily. He was not prepared because it was the Field Bishop who was to preach. But the priest spoke words flowing from his heart. What he as a priest felt he should tell at such a moment. He asked about the sense of life and death. He called people to unity.
Those who flew with the President and First Lady were so different in their daily lives: different history, politics, viewpoint or religion. But the differences did not matter when they faced death that united them all.
After the Mass we returned to Poland as soon as possible. We wanted to be with our families and together mourned about the losses. The silence of the Katyn forest said good-bye.

"Niedziela" 16/2010

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl