As the cold weather began to hit Buffalo and the first snow fell, members of the Polish community of Western New York came together on Nov. 20, at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Buffalo, to celebrate the 1,050th anniversary of the introduction of Christianity to Poland. Many Polish-American Western New Yorkers joined Bishop Richard J. Malone, the principal celebrant at the Mass, in honor of both this anniversary and the Feast of Christ the King, which has been an American Catholic tradition since 1925.
"Today, as we know from our festivity here, we celebrate the 1,050 (anniversary of) baptism of Poland," Bishop Malone said, noting his secretary, Father Ryszard Biernat, who served as master of ceremonies at the Mass, is a native of Poland. He came to the United States when he was 21 and attended seminary in Michigan, as well as at Christ the King Seminary in East Aurora, and was ordained in 2009.
In addition to representatives from various Polish groups and associations, the Mass featured a closing hymn in Polish, "Boże, coś Polskę," meaning "God Save Poland." Joseph J. Macielag, who was a previous president of the Western New York Polish American Congress and assisted the diocese in arranging the Polish-inspired festivities at the cathedral, gave the second reading entirely in Polish. Members of the Polish Heritage Dancers of Western New York were present in traditional national clothing.
Father Biernat began his homily by reading the baptismal promises in Polish, to which members of the congregation responded in the same language. He then repeated them in English.
"Where do you hear these words? During baptism, correct?" Father Biernat asked. "1,050 years ago, not just this very day, but sometime this year, our leader, Mieszko I, heard these questions. Similarly to you, he answered them, 'I do. I do. I do.' ... Because of his profession of faith, because of this 'I do,' he declared Jesus, and God, as his Lord and Savior. This profession of faith of Mieszko I was very significant for two reasons: because he joined the Body of Christ, the Church, but also because as the father of the Polish nation, he transferred that profession of faith, using words of St. Paul from the second reading today, transferred the Polish nation from a 'kingdom of darkness, ruled by Satan, into the kingdom of light.'"
The baptism of Mieszko I, Poland's first head of state, in 966 AD led to all his subjects simultaneously being considered Christian from then on. Before this, Poland was a pagan country. Although people were reluctant and the conversion was a long process, this represented the symbolic start of Poland being recognized by the Holy Roman Empire as Christian and Christianity becoming its dominant religion.
St. Joseph Cathedral is the home of a hammered copper ceremonial plaque that late Buffalo-based artist Jozef Slawinski made for the 1,000-year anniversary of Christianity in Poland in 1966.
"We celebrate today our national gifts and our profession of faith, this relationship of Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Also, we celebrate the profession of faith of Poland under the rule of Christ. Today's feast day, Christ the King, is more recent. We always professed Jesus as our King, but this solemnity was established in the midst of turmoil in Europe. In the beginning of the 20th century, nation after nation began to reject Christ," Father Biernat explained, noting Europe's history included fascism, communism and nationalism that placed allegiance to nation over allegiance to Christ. Pope Pius XI wished to change this.
In 1925, Pope Pius XI established the Feast of Christ the King to remind Christians they were expected to place God and Jesus Christ first in their lives, and said this was more important than secularism. Father Biernat said he regrets that this mentality continues today. Each year, the feast day of Christ the King falls on the final Sunday of the liturgical year, which the Catholic Church had established in 1970.
James L. Lawicki II, president of the Western New York Polish American Congress, thanked Bishop Malone for his involvement in what Lawicki called a "wonderful opportunity for us to gather as a community, and to commemorate the baptism of Poland into Christianity."
"I think that to have the bishop recognize our community in that capacity is highly meaningful for our community, especially at a time when people are focused on a lot of things in their lives and not entirely, perhaps, on their faith. I encouraged a lot of our people to take that as an opportunity for renewal, because the Roman Catholic faith has been an integral part of our culture and our heritage throughout time," Lawicki said further. "I think for myself and for the community, it was a very meaningful event."
The Mass was concelebrated by Bishop Edward U. Kmiec; Msgr. David Slubecky, diocesan vicar general and moderator of the curia; and Msgr. Paul A. Litwin, diocesan chancellor, assisted by Deacon Luke Uebler. Cecilia Szumski and Macielag gave readings and Lawicki read the prayers of the faithful. The giftbearers were Manya Pawlak-Metzler and Mira Szramel. Altar servers were John Paul and Michael Haseltine, Aaron and Sean Rand, Christina and Judy Anne Spira, and Andrew Walker. Tim Socha led the St. Joseph Cathedral Choir, and Monica Stankiewicz served as the Mass' lector.