Mass held in Krakow for Poland's President Kaczynski

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An elaborate state funeral for Poland's President Lech Kaczynski and his wife, Maria, began on Sunday bereft of many world leaders whose travel plans were paralyzed by the plume of volcanic ash that has covered Europe.
By Edward Cody
Washington Post Foreign Service
Monday, April 19, 2010

KRAKOW, POLAND -- A solemn Mass was celebrated in the city's main cathedral Sunday for President Lech Kaczynski, an unyielding Polish nationalist who died along with his wife, Maria, and 94 others in a plane crash in western Russia.

The memorial ceremonies, including burial in a crypt at the Wawel Castle reserved for Polish monarchs and national heroes, were conducted without the presence of President Obama and many other world leaders, who were unable to fly in because a giant cloud of ash from an Icelandic volcano drifted in the skies over Western Europe.

President Dmitry Medvedev was on hand at the head of a large Russian delegation that traveled from Moscow. Also present were several leaders from neighboring nations, who arrived in helicopters, trains and automobile convoys.

The Krakow services were designed to draw an official close to an extraordinary outpouring of grief and patriotism touched off by Kaczynski's death on April 10. They followed similar ceremonies Saturday in Warsaw, where thousands of people lined up in front of the presidential palace for the eighth day in a row to pray and light votive candles for the deceased president.

"We have been sad for the entire week," said Henryk Zimba, 59, a retired farmer who drove in from the countryside to attend the memorial. "There is this mood of mourning. It's all anybody's talking about."

In the nearby square, tens of thousands of people listened to memorial speeches by government leaders and bowed in prayer during services presided over by the papal nuncio, Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk, and the head of the Polish episcopate, Archbishop Jozef Michalia. Caskets containing the bodies of Kaczynski and his wife were carried in a solemn procession to the Warsaw Cathedral for a funeral Mass.

"There are certain moments in the life of a nation, when we know we are together, that our feelings and our emotions are one," Parliament speaker Bronislaw Komorowski, who is acting president, told the Warsaw crowd. "The catastrophe of that airplane was one of them."

Kaczynski, accompanied by senior government and military officials, was on his way to a ceremony commemorating the massacre in Katyn, Russia, of about 20,000 Polish military officers and professional leaders by Soviet secret police in 1940, at the outset of World War II.

In his funeral address, Komorowski saluted the compassion displayed by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials. In particular, Polish people have been impressed by a decision attributed to Putin to show a documentary on the Katyn killings for the first time on a Russian television channel.

During the Soviet era, the Katyn massacre was rarely discussed. Kaczynski had been at the forefront of those demanding it be recognized in Russia and openly discussed around the world as an example of Poland's long struggle against foreign domination.

It was in pursuit of such truths that Kaczynski was on his way to Katyn, Komorowski said, adding: "Today the truth about Katyn is shared by the entire world."


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