A Controversial decision of Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz
President Kaczynski to be Honored by Burial at Cracow’s National Sanctuary
Comments | Print friendly | Subscribe | Email Us
Warsaw, Poland-About 80 heads of states and governments are expected to participate in the funeral of the late President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria on Sunday, April 18, in Poland. In their number will be the U.S. President Barack Obama and the President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev. They all will fly to Cracow, where the Presidential Couple will be laid for eternal rest at Wawel, the Castle of Polish Kings, in the Wawel Cathedral, near the tomb of Jozef Pilsudski, the 1st Marshal of Poland, the founder of the modern Polish state (1918) and its Supreme Leader.
This decision, announced by His Eminency, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, stirred public protests and controversy among the Polish people, though some parts of the Polish society approved it.
The National Sanctuary Wawel
Polish national heroes: i.a. Duke Jozef Poniatowski, Tadeusz Kosciuszko and General Wladysław Sikorski, were buried next to the royal graves in the Romanesque Crypt of St Leonard, the earliest part of Wawel Cathedral. In 1936, the Mausoleum for the 1st Marshal of the Reborn Polish Republic, the Supreme Leader of the Polish State, Jozef Pilsudski (died 1935), was arranged in the crypt situated at the lowest level of the Tower of Silver Bells. In front of his crypt there is a niche which contains an urn with the soil from Katyn, the place where Polish officers were murdered by the NKVD in 1940.
Maybe the presence of some blood-soaked soil from Katyn Forest, at the Marshal Pilsudski Mausoleum under the Tower of Silver Bells, inspired the former longtime secretary of pope John Paul II – now Cardinal & Archishop of Cracow – Monsignore Stanislaw Dziwisz to bury President Lech Kaczynski and his Spouse next to the founder of the reborn Poland and the victor of the Polish-Soviet war in 1920. Wawel Cathedral is a Polish National Sanctuary, holding the remains of several kings and members of the royal families, but also the bodies of national heroes (like Poniatowski and Kosciuszko) and of famous Polish poets (Mickiewicz, Słowacki). In 1993, the solemn sepulture of General Wladyslaw Sikorski, the Commander-in-Chief of the Polish Armed Forces in the West, and the Prime Minister of the Polish Government-in-Exile in London, took place at Wawel Cathedral, to where his remains were moved from Newark-on-Trent graveyard in England.
Both the death of General Sikorski and of President Kaczynski is linked to the mass murder of Polish officers and of thousands of other prominent citizens, ordered by Josef Stalin in 1940. General Sikorski—whose death in the so called “Gibraltar Catastrophe” in 1943, was still not fully explained and investigated—was about to inform the governments of the Western Alliance about the terrible executions carried out by their war-time ally, the Soviet Russia. He paid for that with his life. President Kaczynski and 95 other prominent representatives of the contemporary Third Polish Republic were to commemorate the Katyn victims on Saturday, April 10, 2010, on the site of the mass murders, now Katyn Memorial Cementary, and suddenly and tragically died in the presidential plane crash near Smolensk, in Russia.
Cardinal Dziwisz, when explaining the motives of his consent to bury the Kaczynski Couple in Pilsudski’s Crypt at Wawel Cathedral, argued that President Kaczynski had died as a “national hero,” when attempting to mourn and commemorate the 22,000 Poles murdered at Katyn and other mass-murder sites. He also added that his decision was aimed at “uniting the Polish people” for the benefit of the Republic, to end political quarrels and to build a national consent. When asked by journalists, who wanted President Kaczynski to be laid to rest at Wawel Castle, he named the family and the unspecified “Polish authorities.”
Protests in Cracow and the media
Over 400 people gathered in front of the Archbishops Seat in Cracow (the building from where John Paul II spoke before) to voice their protest against, as they called it, “a controversial decision” made by His Eminence Cardinal Dziwisz. These people, mainly students of higher schools but also older citizens, argued that the late President Kaczynski couldn’t be ranked equal to the national heroes and the Polish kings buried at Wawel Cathedral, in the National Sanctuary. Placing of his dead body near to that of Marshal Pilsudski could be a “disgrace” to the memory of the founder of the Polish Second Republic, lowering the prestige of the Sanctuary. The mass protests in Cracow, shown on TV, evoked a lively discussion of journalists, politicians, historians, and even clergymen.
Many people told the Polish media that no other Presidents of Poland were ever buried at Wawel Castle, which remained a historical National Sanctuary and the last prominent person buried there was General Sikorski (1993).
Some argued that President Lech Kaczynski was only a one-term and “controversial” head of state, whose achievements still have to be judged by history. Cardinal Dziwisz responded by reminding them that several other national heroes were also “controversial,” including the First Marshal of Poland, Jozef Pilsudski. The burial of Marshal Jozef Pilsudski in 1935 and later moving of his dead body to the Mausoleum in 1937 caused many protests. On May 12, 1935, Pilsudski died of liver cancer at Warsaw’s Belweder Palace. Ceremonies, holy masses and an enormous funeral were held; a funeral train toured Poland. The Polish mint issued a silver 10-złoty commemorative coin featuring the Marshal’s profile. A series of postcards, stamps and postmarks was also released. After a two-year display at St. Leonard’s Crypt in Cracow’s Wawel Cathedral, Piłsudski’s body was laid to rest in the Cathedral’s Crypt Under the Silver Bells, except for his brain, which he had willed for study to Stefan Batory University in Vilnius, and his heart, which was interred in his mother’s grave at Vilnius’ Rasos Cemetery, where it remains. The 1937 relocation of his remains, made by his long-standing adversary Adam Sapieha, then Archbishop of Krakow, incited widespread protests that included calls for Sapieha’s removal. Pilsudski was a former socialist revolutionary and an Evangelic, who abandoned the Catholic Church to marry his second wife. That’s why the leadership of the Polish Catholic Church was not happy about honoring him by a Mausoleum in the Wawel Cathedral. But, fortunately, his tomb remains there and the Poles visit it with piety. Should Marshal Jozef Pilsudski share his Crypt with new “neighbors” – the Kaczynski Couple now?
Why not in Warsaw?
The whole life of the late President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, was linked to Warsaw. His loyalty to the capital of Poland is unquestionable and he has built a “monument” to himself in this city: The Museum of the Warsaw Uprising 1944. As the Royal Castle of Warsaw wouldn’t be reconstructed after the war without a wise decision of Edward Gierek, the then communist leader of Poland, probably no Museum of the Warsaw Uprising’44 could be erected without the decisive help of the then Mayor of Warsaw, Professor Lech Kaczynski.
Warsaw has at least three honored burial sites for prominent people: The Powazki Cementary, the oldest historical graveyard, where many known people lay; the Underground of the Warsaw St.John’s Cathedral, where the tombs of the last King of Poland, Stanislaw Poniatowski, and of the first President of the 2d Republic, Gabriel Narutowicz (murdered in 1922) are situated; and also a new, monumental Church of God’s Providence, which is being built in the Wilanow Quarter now. This church will become a National Pantheon, housing tombs of Polish presidents and other prominent people. According to recent information, the last President of Poland-in-Exile, Ryszard Kaczorowski (91), who also died with President Kaczynski and with many other prominent Polish leaders in the April 10, 2010 airplane crash near Smolensk, will be buried in the National Pantheon of Church of God’s Providence. Why not President Kaczynski and the First Lady?
Presidential election nearing
Some critics of Cardinal Dziwisz’s decision to bury the Presidential Couple in the Wawel Cathedral of Cracow next Sunday argue that his consent might have been imposed by an “election committee” of the PiS (Law and Justice) party, whose members wanted to use the national mourning and the burial of President Lech Kaczynski to promote his twin brother, the party’s Chairman, Mr. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, for the next President of Poland.
In fact, there is no formal election committee yet for the earlier elections stipulated by the Constitution before June 20, 2010. But, in fact, there were some talks of PiS Chairman Kaczynski, with cardinal Dziwisz about the place of the burial of his brother. But this might not be the only consideration. There is a serious rivalry in the Polish Catholic Church between its too strongest centers: Warsaw and Cracow. Cardinal Dziwisz is a very influential “Prince of the Church” and a custodian not only of Wawel Cathedral but also of the legacy of the late Polish pope, John Paul II. He is currently building a new, monumental John Paul II Center in Cracow.
The vital interests of some conservative Polish political groups, and also of the Cracow Church, could be convergent. Most probably, the over eighty foreign heads of state and governments, who will come to Poland this coming Sunday, April 18, will go to Cracow and will mourn the late President of Poland in a sepulchral ceremony in front of St Mary’s Church on Cracow Marketplace, and will follow him to the tomb at Wawel Cathedral.
When the national mourning in Poland will end, and President Lech Kaczynski and The First Lady, Maria, will be laid for rest in Cracow’s Wawel Cathedral, Polish people might accept the accomplished fact. No matter whether they agree to this, or not.