Mourners pay respects to victims

IN Cork and Dublin they came in their thousands with candles, flowers and solemn prayers.

Ireland’s Polish community gathered yesterday to remember the country’s rulers and others killed in a devastating plane crash in Russia.

As the body of their dead president was flown home to the Polish capital yesterday, a pensive crowd attended Mass at St Augustine’s Church on Washington Street in Cork city and St Audeon’s Church in Dublin.

In the Cork ceremony, there were several hundreds of the city’s sizeable Polish community packed in.

Chaplain to the Polish community in Cork and Ross Fr Piotr Galus used part of a ceremony, given mainly in his native tongue, to tell the congregation that he had received calls from Irish people offering words of sympathy to the Polish people. He said many told him they would pray for his home country.

Tomasz Kuczynski attended with his wife and child and said President Lech Kaczynski was “a small man with a big heart” who had always been a major opponent of communism.

He said the timing of the crash was especially poignant for Polish people as about this time 70 years ago 21,000 Polish intellectuals were killed by Russian forces and five years ago Pope John Paul II, who was also Polish, died.

In Dublin, Fr Jaroslaw Maskiewicz told the congregation: “This is the worst tragedy in Poland’s history since the Second World War.”

President Mary McAleese attended the ceremony, greeting the Polish ambassador with an emotional embrace on the steps of the church before the Mass. Mrs McAleese gave the first reading.

Fr Jaroslaw Maszkiewicz said: “People are very sad, it’s very difficult for them – we want to pray together and we want to be together at this time.

“We appreciate President McAleese coming, her sympathy in this situation means a lot.”

United in grief, the Polish community were told by Fr Maskiewicz that the victims of the crash, including the president, military chiefs and MPs had been “distinguished sons of our nation”.

“This is a personal tragedy that makes us cry with sorrow,” he added.

Wioleta and Jarek Lykowscy, with their daughter, Natalia, were in shock over the air tragedy.

Mr Lykowscy said: “It’s too early, too tragic. Time will show us what will happen.”

The speaker of the Polish parliament has stepped in to carry out presidential functions – in accordance with their constitution – before elections are held within the next 60 days.

Poland’s ambassador to Ireland, Dr Tadeusz Szumowski, yesterday quashed rumours of a conspiracy theory behind the air crash.

“We are still in shock. The worst is still to come tomorrow or the day after when we will really learn that so many of our best politicians, our best people are just gone... a spectrum of people from all walks of life.

“It’s too early to say anything about the crash. We know the weather was horrible and the airport was giving advice not to land. Why the decision was taken to land, we still don’t know. The [black] boxes will be opened and we’ll hear what was the conversation between the [airport] tower and the plane.”

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