16 April 2010
Homily notes of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at Solemn Mass to commend to God’s mercy the 96 victims of the Smolensk air crash
This is a solemn public occasion. But it is obvious to all that this is not simply a protocol event. All our hearts are filled with genuine sadness, which goes way beyond any official character of our presence here this morning.
How could that not be? 96 people lost their lives in the fatal air crash at Smolensk: the President of Poland and his wife and a broad representation of Polish political life, in government or in opposition, representatives of the Polish judiciary and military, the church and civil society. We come to mourn the loss of distinguished representatives of a generation of figures, who worked to build and who continued to consolidate, a new democratic Europe-oriented Poland and who were wiped away in one incident.
How could we not grieve when we think of so many families who have been struck suddenly by this event? We think of the family of President Kaczynski and his wife, but also of all the relatives and friends of the other victims. Such a tragic event could not but leave all of us taken aback.
We are shocked also because what was to be a most significant event of reconciliation on the anniversary of the Katyn massacre, a traumatic event in the history of Poland was overtaken by another tragedy, just as an historical wound in the history of the Polish people was being healed through the patient effort dialogue between Poland and Russia.
But our grief is deeper. It goes beyond what would be a natural human reaction to a tragedy. Our grief is greater by the fact that the relationship between Ireland and Poland has taken on truly new dimensions in recent years. Ireland and Poland belong to a European family and our grief has taken on a family dimension. This tragedy has revealed to us just how much relationships within the people of Europe have changed. We have moved the cumbersome mechanisms of inter-governmental cooperation, however necessary they may be, to one which is becoming a true relationship of friendship between peoples. The sincerity of our grief reminds just how much democratic progress, open trade and cultural interchange have brought not just nations and economies together but have really borne fruit in relationships between our peoples.
We often affirm that the European ideal has brought peace to Europe. But peace is more than the absence of war. The real basis of peace in Europe is that new relationship which is emerging among our peoples.
Some will refer to Poland as one of the new member States of the European Union. That may be true if we choose only to examine of the dates of the accession treaties. But those treaties really mark a moment in which Poland fully regained the place that it legitimately plays as a bridge builder in Europe. Emerging from various periods of European history encircled by the wars and rivalries of others, Poland has always managed to maintain its traditions and culture intact.
The journey of President Kaczynski to Katyn was to be an indication of the ability of the Polish people to draw out of the historical wounds of its past the ability slowly to build up new relationships with its neighbours. The celebrations at Katyn were to consolidate a new embrace of friendship between Poland and Russia and for both sides to give Europe another sign of a common hope for a peaceful future. Our grief is great because the disaster struck a nation which is part of our new European family.
Our grief is greater still here in Ireland because Poland and Polish people are an established part of our own family in this land. How many among us do not have Polish friends? Who among us has not had the possibility to observe how the sons and daughters of the Polish nation have many similarities with the Irish? In cities, town and villages all over Ireland we have learned respect for the contribution that Polish people bring to our society, to our economy and to our community life. We already have more than one generation of young people who are Polish-Irish and Irish-Poles. We grieve therefore with a neighbour nation, but we also grief with our Polish next-door neighbours stunned by such a tragedy.
We have come to grieve and we have come to pray. We pray that those who worked in fragile political situations for enduring peace will today enjoy the eternal peace of the Lord. We pray for those who mourn. We pray that the work of reconciliation of which the Katyn celebrations were to be an important symbol will be taken forwards and deepened today and by the generations of future Europeans.
Jesus tells us not to let our hearts be troubled: “There are many dwelling places in my Father’s house”. The biblical and popular traditions of the time of Jesus would have held the afterlife consisted in a dispersed kingdom, depending on how we live in this life. Jesus teaches that the afterlife of those who identify with his teaching would not be dispersed, but would mean their lives coming to fulfilment in him. Our daily life and our afterlife are united. Indeed Jesus would return to take them a place of fulfilment. For Jesus there is no geography of heaven: “I am the way”. Solidarity with Jesus in the here and now is the guarantee to being with him in the future.
Following of Jesus is not a question of rules and norms. The relationship with Jesus is one of recognising and following the love of God revelled in his way, a love so strong that if we live it our lives cannot be destroyed by any other power. Even tragedy can be vanquished if we are driven by that love. Even tragedy cannot come between us and the good that we do. For us today, we can say that even tragedy cannot come between us and what we wish to be the future for our Europe, if that future is based on truth, justice and love.
In faith we know that the Lord will recognise and recompense those who died in the Smolensk disaster as they journeyed to an event of reconciliation based on truth and integrity. We know that the fruits of their efforts will not be annihilated by tragedy.
Notes to editors
- Archbishop Martin concelebrated Mass in St Audeon’s Church in High Street, Dublin, with Fr Jaroslaw Maszkiewicz, Head of the Polish Chaplaincy in Ireland and Fr Gerry Kane, Co-ordinator of care for Foregin National Priests in the Archdiocese of Dublin.
- The Mass was attended by An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, Emer Costello, the Polish Ambassador, Tadeusz Szumowski and members of the diplomatic corps.