Wednesday, April 12, 2006

How I worshiped with Lech Walesa

10 years ago today

4/12/96 – In which we attend morning mass at Our Lady of Czestochowa and meet Lech Walesa. It doesn’t count as a travel tale, officially, but it suits this [journal] better than others, and makes for a travelogue of sorts of a 3-hour visit to a little piece of Poland, congregated as one nation in the pews of Dorchester.

Our Lady is an urban neighborhood church of the finest European Catholic variety, with high muraled ceilings and an altar guarded not by an imposing crucifix, but by an icon of the Black Madonna herself. Jesus hangs to one side, and to the other, the flickering candles of those who ask for prayers.
The mass, in Polish, was an interesting sociological experience – not because everyone else knew what to do and say…. But because I did not. I had only the cadence, tone, and resonance to tell me of the mood. I was disappointed that the high soprano voice in the choir behind us was not a boy’s, but the music was beautiful – sometimes chanting, sometimes celebratory, and one song for the Madonna was private and prayerful, even when sung by 200 worshippers.

Later in the school hall, President Walesa made some welcoming remarks, accepted flowers from the youth, and invited dialogue with the crowd. As Poles will do, they debated immediately, with people asking challenging questions which the crowd recognizes as controversial. Walesa answered in impatient and defensive tones, gesturing, making lists, questioning back. Like peers in Parliament, the crowd would ripple and murmer – support for the questioner, discouragement of the question, reinforcement for Walesa…

A woman next to me took me into her confidence, nudging and commenting snidely. We traded winks and nods, but not ideals, because I had no idea what she was saying. A snatch of English occurred when an Albanian began to tell of his own strife, and his admiration for the Polish spirit, and his hope that Poland could inspire Albania. If he expected to be welcomed into the fold, he must have been surprised to be politely applauded, then shouted down. Walesa himself instructed the man to speak in Polish, then, if he admired them so much.

The priests and nuns took the first row of seats. A line of black and starched white, they were expressionless through the entire speech. Until it appears in the papers, I won’t be completely convinced that we did it.

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