Britain's Polish community celebrates independence anniversary

 More than 3,000 Polish people of all ages, with their British friends from around the UK, gathered at Westminster Cathedral on Saturday, for a special Mass to celebrate the 90th anniversary of Poland's independence. Queues had begin to form in the Piazza an hour before the Mass was due to begin, and a notice reading 'Cathedral Full' was put up at the entrance before the service started - leaving a small small crowd outside.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor welcomed the congregation, saying in Polish: " I am praying for you all". He said the Polish community had been a "great gift" to the Church in England and Wales. Mass was celebrated by Cardinal Jozef Glemp, head of the Church in Poland, with Archbishop Wesoly of Warsaw and 48 local Polish priests. The music was led by Martin Baker, Master of Music at the Cathedral, and the combined Polish choirs from South London directed by Jurek Pockert.

During his homily Cardinal Glemp said: "We are assembled here during the Eucharist to express our gratitude to Almighty God for the wonderful gift of our independence, because we believe that He is the ultimate giver of all freedom and the Lord of history.

"We have come also to pray for all our compatriots who gave their lives in the fight for Poland's freedom and independence, both in those crucial years before the victory in 1918, and after. We would like to pay homage to their courage, their vision and endurance, in gratitude for their sacrifice. On this anniversary, so great for Poland and all Poles, wherever they may live, we acknowledge the spiritual dimension of our Independence.

"Yes, 90 years ago Poland was indeed re-born through armed struggles, endeavours and the ultimate sacrifices of generations, but these were always sustained by their strong faith and the faith of the nation.

"So, inspired by our Great Pope John Paul, we praise God "for the way He works in people and through the people" and also thank Him for the strength He gave to lead us to victory."

After the Mass, led by the Polish Navy band, flag-waving veterans, schoolchildren, scouts, parents and priests paraded down Victoria Street, into Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, where prominent Poles and British VIPs took to the stage.

After the Second World War, the Polish Resettlement Act allowed around 200,000 people to remain in the UK. They were mainly Polish troops, who had fought alongside the British, and their dependents. By 2001, the census recorded just 60,680 Polish-born people living in Britain. But since Poland's accession to the EU in 2004, those numbers have grown to the 405,000 estimated by the government last year.

Speakers included Mr Richard Barnes, Deputy Mayor of London; HE Dr Ryszard Kaczorowski, last President of Polish Government in Exile; HE Barbara Tuge-Erecinska, Ambassador of the Republic of Poland and the Rt Hon Dr Denis MacShane MP for Rotherham, former Minister for Europe.

The Conservative MP for Hammersmith and Fulham Greg Hands praised the Polish migrants' contribution to London and begged them them not to go go back to Poland. In his speech the Labour MP for Rotherham, Denis MacShane pointed out that if bankers had paid attention to Pope John Paul II's teaching on economics, the current economic crisis would not have happened. There was music from the Polish Navy Band, the popular Polish singer Grzegorz Strozniak, the 'Ave Verum' Choir and the John Paul II choir from Balham.

Mr Janusz Sikora-Sikorski, Chairman of the Organising Committee said: "It is the first time this Polish anniversary is being celebrated in such a public way in the UK. Many young recently arrived Poles in this country wanted to participate in a large-scale colourful event. Consequently we saw Polish organizations from 25 different centres outside London march behind their banners with young and old marching proudly together."

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