Polish gather in mourning after fatal plane crash

Parishioners leave the 10:30 a.m. Polish Mass at St. Isidore R.C. Church Sunday. Services were dedicated to the memory of 96 plane crash victims. The church pastor called the solidarity of the grief-stricken Polish people ‘remarkable.’

The American and Polish flags outside St. Isidore R.C. Church in Polish Town were lowered to half staff Saturday after news of a plane crash that claimed the life of Polish President Lech Kaczynski reached Riverhead.

The president, his wife and 95 others, including top military leaders, were aboard the doomed flight to a memorial service in Russia. Their plane went down in heavy fog in western Russia early Saturday. There were no survivors. Preliminary reports have concluded human error was at fault in the crash.

“Just such an unbelievable, tragic occurrence for the families, people and the country of Poland,” said Irene Pendzick, founding president of the Polish Town Civic Association and frequent traveler to Poland. “So many top government people are gone and it’s going to create a tremendous vacuum in their government.

“All the people in the United States hearts go out to the Polish people for their loss.”

Riverhead Town boasts one of the largest and most concentrated populations of Polish Americans on Long Island.

Found working on Monday at Euro Deli on Pulaski Street, Edyta Kanas, a 29-year-old Polish immigrant who now lives in Riverhead, said that for Poland, being a small country, the loss of top government leaders was like losing close family.

“We know all the officials,” she said Monday. “It’s not just the president. It’s his wife and all the other 100 people. Everyone sees these people their whole lives, in the TV and the papers.”

Echoing Ms. Kanas’ points, fellow worker Damian Klusek, 24, of West Babylon, explained that politicians in Poland don’t drift in and out of the mainstream spotlight as much as they might in the U.S.

“It’s very different,” he said in trying to explain what he perceived as a more intimate connection Polish people feel to their mainstay leaders, whether they agree with their policies or not. “A lot of people [in Poland] will be going to the capital, Warsaw, to pray.”

Locally, the solidarity of parishioners at St. Isidore’s church in the heart of Polish Town was on display during Sunday services, which drew much larger crowds than usual, the church’s pastor said.

“More than other times, I think people have this tendency, this need, for sharing in grief,” said the Rev. Robert Kuznik. “Like what you saw after 9-11, where people who even didn’t go to church were at church. There is a need for sharing and consoling one another. I think that happened Sunday.

“The outpouring of solidarity and grief among people; it’s astounding.”

Father Robert said he had faith in the resiliency of the Polish people, both here and in Poland, to see them through potentially tough times ahead.

“They’re going to be fine; they’ve been through a lot,” he said. “Poland geographically always finds itself at the crossroads of the wars of Europe. Whether Russia, or Germany, or the Austrian Empire. It’s the center of Europe. But that also causes a lot pain.”

As she unloaded a truck with fellow deli workers Monday, Ms. Kanas said she, too, had faith in her country’s government to recover.

“Our hope is that everything is going to be all right,” she said. “We have a good constitution, so they prepare for something like this.”

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