NEW BRITAIN – For decades, Catholics in New Britain have had a special affinity for Pope John Paul II, who as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla visited the Holy Cross community. The relationship was reflected in ceremonies that coincided with the canonizations of popes John Paul II and John XXIII.
Hundreds gathered at the parish on April 27 for celebrations that began at Holy Cross Church with a Mass celebrated in Polish, Pope John Paul’s native language. There was standing-room-only for the Mass, which was followed by a choral concert. Adult and children chorus members were dressed in colorful traditional Polish costumes.
After the concert, parishioners, parents, students and residents of surrounding communities gathered across the street at the school. Father Dariusz Gosciniak, pastor of Holy Cross, blessed and rededicated St. John Paul II School. Five white doves were released as part of the rich, colorful and symbolic event.
“It was a historic day for the Catholic Church and for all Christianity,” said Father Gosciniak. “In the presence of two popes, Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI, we witnessed in St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican, the canonization of two great leaders of the Catholic Church.
“We are very proud and thankful to God for these two holy saint popes, Saint John XXIII and Saint John Paul II,” he said.
“Saint John the XXIII, was only pope for five years but he did so much for the Catholic Church. He called the very important Second Vatican Council. Thanks to him, I think the church has made so many changes and I think it opened the door for the whole world and for all people to come and to pray to the Lord Jesus Christ.
“As a native of Poland, I’m so proud that Saint John Paul II was [also] canonized. We knew that this moment of canonization would come sooner or later. People who met him, who witnessed him as he was pope for 27 years, knew that he was a very holy man, said Father Gosciniak. “He showed everyone how to love Jesus and how to love others.
“He was the first [pope] who visited the Jewish synagogue in Rome and invited Jewish people to pray with him for peace around the world. Thanks to his prayers [and] thanks to his involvement, Poland and Eastern Europe, we were able to abolish the Communist regime,” he said.
Saint John Paul II visited the Holy Cross community in 1969 and made a lasting impression and provided decades of inspiration. His visit heightened the ethnic connection between the pope and area residents. New Britain has the largest concentration of ethnically Polish people in Connecticut.
The late Msgr. John Paul Wodarski, who was pastor at Holy Cross Church back then, invited his friend Cardinal Wojtyla to visit,” said Barbara Misko, who at the time was secretary at Holy Cross Church and school.
Over the years, Msgr. Wodarski and the cardinal who became pope, exchanged letters and holiday greetings, she said.
When Pope John Paul II was elected pope, there was great excitement, in the rectory and throughout the church, school and community, said Mrs. Misko.
The Pope John Paul II School was established when St. Francis, St. Joseph and Holy Cross schools in New Britain merged in 2006, the year after Pope John Paul II died.
“There are plaques throughout the school and church that mark where Cardinal Wojtyla spoke to parishioners and students,” said Bo Cuprak, principal of St. John Paul II School.
Anna Guzda, a second-grade student, proudly described the sign in the school cafeteria, which reads, “Pope John Paul II ate here.”
The unique connection, canonization and corresponding celebrations made the occasion even more exciting for many. The release of doves added a distinctive and symbolic elegance.
“Doves are symbolic of the baptism of Jesus Christ; they are also symbolic of the Holy Spirit coming down. Doves are symbolic of the time of Noah when they were released three times. Doves are also a sign of peace,” said Mr. Cuprak.
The day of the historic canonizations, Divine Mercy Sunday, was established by Pope John Paul II during the canonization of the Polish nun, Faustina Kowalska, in 2000, said Father Gosciniak.
The events of this day, Divine Mercy Sunday “will forever be in our hearts, in our memories, and I think it will be a very special day for ages to come,” he said.