Polish celebration of Divine Mercy Sunday a taste of home for some

COLUMBIA — Long before Pope John Paul II authorized a plenary indulgence to Catholics who participated in the Divine Mercy Sunday devotion, Teresa Greaney and Elizabeth Byra, were planning a Divine Mercy Celebration at their church.

The two parishioners from Our Lady of the Hills Church wanted to bring together the growing Polish community in the Columbia area and their non-Polish friends.

On April 27, nearly 200 people came to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, go to confession and attend Mass in Polish celebrated by Father Adam Kasela from Krakow, Poland , a priest incardinated into the Diocese of Savannah, Ga.

It was the second event for these Midland Poles, and these gatherings are growing in popularity. Following the Mass, the community enjoyed a potluck dinner with a variety of Polish foods such as pierogi, babka, stuffed cabbage and kielbasa.

“We are thankful to be able to get together once in a while, so we (and our children) do not forget where we have come from and see how important our faith and Polish culture are to who we are,” said Byra. “I want my children to see the importance of their heritage and understand the meaning behind our beautiful traditions.”

Grazyna and her daughter Ana Witkowski came from St. Anthony Church in Florence. Grazyna, who is originally from Krakow, was happy to be able to celebrate the message of mercy. Thirteen-year-old Anna said the Polish Mass brought back memories of her recent trip to Krakow.

“I am proud of being Polish, and it was nice to be able to get together,” said the bilingual youth.

Anna Riser, a Lutheran from Batesville, came with her Polish friend.

“My husband was in the military, and we traveled all over the world. I enjoy these types of cultural events,” she said.

For a homesick college student like Agata Szczeszak, the event was just the right medicine for being away from her family during Easter. The University of South Carolina scholar is studying for a doctorate in English and probably has a keener sense of the language barriers.

“Mass in Polish has a deeper meaning for me because I know how to pray it, how to speak to God,” said the articulate young woman. “It is impossible to speak together with people in English. I am just so thankful for being given the opportunity.”

Josh Brewer, a friend of Agata, enjoyed the event even though he is neither Polish nor Catholic.

“I look at the day as an interesting cultural exchange. I was glad to take Agata because I know how much it meant to her,” he said.

Marius Fuks, a seminarian originally from Krakow, assisted with the Mass. Now living in Georgia, he commented that opportunities like this one in Columbia are rare and one might have to travel to Chicago or New York to be able to hear a Polish Mass.

“It is important for me to be a part of the liturgical celebration, because in Poland, our faith is everything,” said Fuks.

Divine Mercy Sunday was a most appropriate time for a Polish gathering since the ancient message of Divine Mercy was given to a humble Polish nun and Jesus commissioned her to spread the message. The fact that churches throughout the world recognized the Sunday after Easter as Divine Mercy Sunday speaks of the success of one who listens and follows the will of God.