'Polish Day' Offers Words of Mercy

"Nie rozumiem."

A friend taught me this Polish expression for "I don't understand." Today I needed it a few times when meeting pilgrims at Polish Day, an annual event at the National Shrine of The Divine Mercy in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Both St. Faustina and St. John Paul II, the Great Mercy Pope, came from Poland. Another Polish saint, dear to the Marian Fathers and Marian Helpers, is St. Stanislaus Papczynski (1631-1701) - the founder of the Marians.

Many of the pilgrims on the Eden Hill shrine grounds today had devotion to one or all of these saints and were here to pray through their intercession, as well enjoy fellowship with other Polish speakers.

Two such pilgrims were Zophia and Josef Gasior of Chicopee, Massachusetts. I told them that I work for the Marian Fathers. They responded, "Ah! Marianie!" They made it clear that they have come to Polish Day "many many" times. I gestured to my camera and asked if I could take their photo. They agreed. I showed them their photo and thanked them. "Bóg zap?a?" came the reply.

Translation: "God bless you."

It seemed everyone at Polish Day was friendly, but I struggled to find someone who could be interviewed. Most of the pilgrims spoke Polish as their primary language. Which makes sense, because every part of Polish Day is in Polish.

Still, working with the Marian Fathers has taught me something: How to say "Jesus, I trust in You" in several languages.

When some pilgrims from New Britain, Connecticut, agreed to let me take a group shot, I told them, "Say, 'Jezu, ufam Tobie.' " They cheered, "Jezu, ufam Tobie." Then they smiled and chuckled. (I told myself the reaction was because of their devotion, not because of my American accent.)

Throughout the morning, I looked for pilgrims who might know more conversational English. "Hello," I'd nod to guests walking up the path to the shrine. "He-llo," they'd answer tentatively with a nod back to me.

Mary Ann Dagostino from Chicopee was the first person who replied, "Hello," loud and clear with no trace of a Polish accent. "My older sister knows more Polish," she said. Mary Ann was there with her sister Florence Szela, who was recently diagnosed with cancer. Their friend Liz Bonatakis of Springfield, Massachusetts, was recovering from brain surgery she'd had three weeks ago. All three were here to pray through the intercession of St. Faustina.

As they were talking, the Very Rev. Fr. Kazimierz Chwalek, MIC (provincial superior for the Marian Fathers in the United States and Argentina), was nearby. I asked if he would give these women a blessing. Which he did. But first, he prayed with them and offered words of comfort. The women were clearly grateful for his kindness.

Over at the enrollments and gifts area, staff from the Marian Helpers Center assisted pilgrims. Language was less of a barrier there, thanks to staff member Kathy Szpak, who was born in Poland and is fluent in English and Polish. "There are so many stories," Kathy said. "People are coming here for prayer. There are so many needs."

The Polish Day pilgrims were very generous, too. "They love the Marians," the staff agreed.

Kathy was joined by Melissa Govoni, Catherine Shirley, and Mary Flournoy. As Mary finished helping someone fill out an intention form, she tried out a Polish word she had learned. "Dobrze," she said. "Good!"

I walked back down the field to the Mother of Mercy Outdoor Shrine to film parts of the Mass. Before the altar was an image of Our Lady of Czestochowa with red and white flowers all around it.

During the Gospel reading, I recognized another Polish word: Matka. Mother.

Although I only understood a few words in all of Polish Day, you have to admit: They were choice.

The Holy Mass in Polish was celebrated at 1 p.m., with a homily by special guest Bishop Witold Mrozeiwski, Auxiliary Bishop to the Diocese of Brooklyn. Watch Bishop Mrozeiwski's homily in Polish below.


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