Archbishop Szczepan Wesoly, Chairman of the Pope John Paul II Foundation in Rome, was the principal concelebrant and preacher at a special Mass to mark the 60th anniversary of the Birmingham Polish Parish based at St Michael's Church, near the Bull Ring shopping centre in Birmingham, on Sunday 21st October. Archbishop Wesoly was born in Katowice in Southern Poland on 16 October 1926, exactly 52 years to the day on which Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, Pope John Paul, was elected as Bishop of Rome in 1978. For more than 30 years Archbishop Wesoly, who lives at St Stanislaus, the Polish Church in Rome, was responsible for looking after the Polish Catholic Communities in the first and third worlds. "For much of the time the communists were in power in the second world, including Poland," he said after Mass. Before the final blessing, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, thanked the Polish Catholic Community for the tremendous contribution that they had made throughout the Archdiocese of Birmingham. "We live in very interesting times when lots of Polish people are coming from Poland to live in this country. These people contribute to our wellbeing. They work hard, they are honest and reliable. Many of them are talented and energetic. "In particular, the young people who come over here from Poland need to be drawn into our Church community. They need to know that they are welcome in our parishes and in our Catholic schools, where their children will receive free education," emphasised the Archbishop of Birmingham. "We live in a society that is indifferent and at times hostile to our Catholic Faith. We must be strong and stand together," he urged the Polish CatholicCommunity. Archbishop Nichols added: "Today there is a General Election in Poland, a country newly involved with the EU. May Poland grow in good values, respect for life and for democracy," he said, to loud applause from the congregation. At the start of Mass, Mgr Tadeusz Kukla, Vicar Delegate for Poles in England and Wales, thanked Archbishop Vincent Nichols for the respect for Polish culture and traditions, that had been shown to the Polish Catholic Community in the Archdiocese of Birmingham since the post war years. Mgr Kukla said: "This tragic generation of Poles, who were forced to settle in Britain after the communist regime was imposed on Poland, at the end of the Second World War, desperately wanted to uphold their culture and traditions including religious traditions and spirituality. "Throughout all these years all your illustrious predecessors helped and encouraged the existence of Polish ministry interwoven into the rich tapestry of the diocesan pastoral care. This understanding and support of the Polish Catholic Communities helped the first generation of Poles to uphold their faith. "Although the second and third generations of Poles who have born here are fully integrated into British society, contributing to its wellbeing in a variety of ways, they still cherish and greatly value their roots." He concluded: "In the last few years Polish Catholic Communities have become a spiritual harbour and natural refuge for new Polish migrants seeking their fortune in Britain." Mgr Kukla emphasised: "Polish Catholic Communities do not see themselves as isolated islands. They are an integral part of the Diocesan and Universal Church, enriching it with different forms of piety and religiousness; and as such are a source of apostolate in our secularized society." Before Mass three old Polish soldiers - members of the ex-combatants Association, who fought with the British 8th Army during the Second World War - proudly brought in the Association flag. Archbishop Wesoly wore a white chasuble with a beautiful intricately-woven picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa, the Queen of Poland, on a red background. At the Offertory the gifts were brought up by young Polish girls dressed in national costume, while during Mass the evocative Polish singing, led by the Polish choir, filled the city centre church, packed to overflowing for the joyful and memorable occasion.
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