They Perished as They Went to Remember: Reflections and Prayers amidst the Tragedy in Poland

We awoke on a Saturday morning in April to read about the tragic death of the President of Poland, his wife and a veritable Who’s Who of the highest officials in Polish government. The government: all gone, all perished, all dead. The anguished words of horrified journalist are stunning:

”I never thought I’d be writing anything like this, ever. The Polish president and a long list of top Polish officials died in an airplane crash near Smolensk in western Russia. This is a turning point in Poland’s history, one of its biggest tragedies.”[1]

The plane crashed near Smolensk, as it was en route to take President and Mrs. Kaczynski to mark the 70th anniversary of the Kathyn massacre where Soviet troops killed 21, 768 souls by order of Joseph Stalin.

As a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, my heart is overflowing with pain for the Polish people all over the world. You have been through so much. How I wish that I could, in the name of our Savior, hold at least one of you close to me and assure you of His love in the midst of this devastating moment. I pray that you will know His love and know that incarnationally the world sends her support to you and our prayers to God. But I offer the Gospel of Jesus, who wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus, and we weep with you at this moment.

At such times, I think of those who came from you, who wrote about you, who loved you and who also bore the pain of Poland’s tragedies. I think, of course, of the late Czeslaw Milosz, whose poetry is filled with the sensitive, soul-wrenching struggles of one who held reconciling hopes of a new world in his time with the reality of the brutal pain of Communism. He wrote hopefully about the time “when everything was fine / And the notion of sin had vanished,” and also wrote these lines, in his second poem, Poem for the End of a Century:[2]

Alas, my memory
Does not want to leave me
And in it, live beings
Each with its own pain,
Each with its own dying,
Its own trepidation.

The list of those who died, the place of the tragedy, so near the first one, the dark irony of it all, in a time when international relations have again seemed to overlook the plight of Poland’s place near unforgiving Russian borders, amidst the Obama administration’s retreat from ostensible support and defense of this freedom-loving people, prompts me all the more to lift my prayers for the suffering Polish people who again must make sense, like Milosz, over the darkness descending upon their ancient and fair land.

The last line in the Wall Street Journal report on April 11 is an appropriate ending to a time line of a Saturday that reminds us all again of the brevity of life, the need to turn to Jesus Christ and His mercy, and the need to stand up for the weak, and to weep with those who weep:

1151 GMT: The Sigismund Bell rings on Wawel Castle in Krakow. Now the bell rings forever after such a devastating blow to the Polish people. Now we all over the world will remember.

[1] Macin Sobczyk, “The Polish President Is Dead,” The Wall Street Journal, Online edition 2010. See

[2] Czeslaw Milosz, “Poem for the End of a Century,” .


Milosz, Czeslaw. “Poem for the End of a Century.”

Sobczyk, Macin. “The Polish President Is Dead.” The Wall Street Journal, Online edition 2010.

About Michael A. Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D., MPA (University of Wales; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author.
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