Locals grieve with Poland

04/15/2010 12:00 AM |

Parishioners leave the 10:30 a.m. Polish Mass at St. Isidore R.C. Church in Riverhead Sunday. Services were dedicated to the memory of 96 plane crash victims. The church pastor called the solidarity of the grief-stricken Polish people ‘remarkable.’

The pain and sense of loss remains.

The Rev. Marian Bicz, pastor of Our Lady of Ostrabrama R.C. Church in Cutchogue, held a special Mass on Sunday for the people of Poland, who are still reeling from the shocking death of their president, Lech Kaczynski, and 96 others.

The president, his wife and 95 others including top military leaders were headed to a memorial service in Russia at the site of a Polish massacre during World War II. Their plane crashed in heavy fog in western Russia early Saturday, killing everyone on board.

“It’s the biggest tragedy for the Polish people and the Polish nation,” said Father Marian.

Father Marian, who is originally from the south of Poland, also participated in a televised Mass for the people of Poland at St. Agnes Cathedral in Rockville Centre on Tuesday.

In Riverhead, home to one of the largest and most concentrated populations of Polish Americans on Long Island, the American and Polish flags outside St. Isidore R.C. Church in Polish Town were lowered to half staff Saturday after news of the plane crash reached the town.

“Just such an unbelievable, tragic occurrence for the families, people and the country of Poland,” said Irene Pendzick, founding president of the Polish Town Civic Association and frequent traveler to Poland. “So many top government people are gone and it’s going to create a tremendous vacuum in their government. All the people in the United States hearts go out to the Polish people for their loss.”

Southold resident Zbigniew Kozlowski, a 49-year-old native of the northeast of Poland who visited the country only two months ago, said that words cannot express the sadness felt upon hearing the news.

“There were a lot of people in that plane,” he said. “Whether you liked them or did not like them, you cannot help but feel sadness.”

Mr. Kozlowski moved to Southold in 1991 to start his masonry business. But he still remembers when communism collapsed in his native country in the late 1980s.

“It was a change for the better, but with freedom comes corruption,” he said.

With many of his friends and relatives still living in Poland, Mr. Kozlowski said he can only think to compare a tragedy like this to what Americans experienced after 9/11.

“They are probably more emotional than me, with what’s happened, but they are probably feeling much the same feeling as we did during 9/11,” he said. “Even though this was an accident, it’s still a tragedy.”

The Rev. Robert Kuznik, pastor of St. Isidore’s in Riverhead, said he had faith in the resiliency of the Polish people, both here and in Poland, to see them through any potentially hard times ahead.

“They’re going to be fine; they’ve been through a lot,” he said. “Poland geographically always finds itself at the crossroads of the wars of Europe. Whether Russia, or Germany, or the Austrian Empire. It’s the center of Europe. But it also causes a lot pain.”

Michael White and Barbaraellen Koch contributed to the reporting of this article.

[email protected]