On Sunday, President Lech Kaczyński and his wife Maria were laid to rest in the Wawel. The family and friends of the deceased, as well as the representatives of the highest authorities and 18 foreign delegations, took part in the funeral ceremony. About 150,000 people gathered in the Market Square of Cracow, in the adjacent streets, in the Błonia Park and near the Sanctuary in Łagiewniki.
The invited foreign guests that attended the ceremony included: the presidents of Russia Dmitry Medvedev, Germany, Horst Koehler, Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, the Czech Republic, Vaclav Klaus, Latvia, Valdis Zatlers, and Lithuania, Dalia Grybauskaite as well as the prime Minister of Estonia Andrus Ansip. According to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, delegations of 18 countries took part in the funeral ceremonies. The head of the European Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, also arrived at the Basilica.
In St. Mary’s Basilica, the coffins were placed on catafalques in front of the main altar by Veit Stoss, with a guard of honour beside them. The church was decorated with national flags and flowers. At 2 p.m. the mass began, in which the official delegations took part. The emissary of Pope Benedict XVI, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, had been expected to celebrate the mass. However, due to the closed airspace, he was unable to arrive in Cracow on Sunday. He was replaced by the papal nuncio in Poland, Archbishop Józef Kowalczyk, who read out the homily prepared by Cardinal Sodano.
“70 years ago Katyń made two nations grow apart and attempts at concealing the truth of the innocent blood spilt there prevented painful wounds from healing. The tragedy that happened eight days ago has brought out the good in people and nations. The compassion and support that we were offered in those days from our Russian brothers revives our hopes for rapprochement and reconciliation between our two Slavonic nations,” said Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz while beginning the ceremonial service.
“I direct these words to the President of Russia,” said the metropolitan bishop of Cracow, turning to Dmitry Medvedev, present at the mass. He added that the reconciliation was a task for our generation. “Let us accept it with magnanimity,” he appealed. He reminded those gathered that this was also the wish of the deceased president and the speech that he never managed to give in Katyń included the following words: “we ought to walk the road that brings our nations closer together, without stopping and without moving backwards.”
In his homily, Cardinal Sodano wrote that Poles have always been able to “properly respond to times of trial” and to “find a way to better social coexistence and to great national unity.” “Nations do not perish, as successive popes have repeated on various occasions,” wrote Sodano. He appealed for the “bonds of friendship and collaboration between nations” in Europe and all over the world to be strengthened.
“The sacrifice of those who died tragically in the Smoleńsk disaster cannot be in vain and it ought to encourage reconciliation within the Polish people and between Poles and Russians,” said the speaker of the Polish Sejm, Bronisław Komorowski, in his speech at the end of the Sunday mass. He emphasised that the sound of the Royal Sigismund Bell in Cracow asked everyone not to let the deaths of the 96 Poles to be a “futile sacrifice” and it urged that “the sense of community, the community that is mourning the pilgrims of the Polish cause who died tragically, bear good fruit.”
He added that the Sigismund Bell appeals to “the mourners to stay together by the side of freedom, solidarity and truth.” “It calls for our good will and kindness to outlast the time of mourning. It appeals for reconciliation within the Poles,” said Komorowski. According to him, this should also lead to reconciliation with the Russian nation “in the name of overcoming the tragedy of Katyń.”
The speaker of the Sejm stated that Lech Kaczyński had intended to say important words in Katyń, words reminding us of the tragedy of 1940: “Katyń has been a painful wound in Polish history and for long decades it has been poisoning relations between Poles and Russians.” He added that the president had not managed to express his wish for the “wound of Katyń to finally be able to heal.” “This last will (...) ought to be carried out through rapprochement and reconciliation,” he said.
“No one has remained as faithful to the values of Solidarity as Lech Kaczyński. We will be proud to call him ‘the man of Solidarity,’” said the leader of the Independent Self-Governing Trade Union ‘Solidarity,’ Janusz Śniadek. He added that the president has reminded us what it means to be Polish and the example of his life and his tragic death yet again revived the spirit of solidarity in Polish hearts. “Mocked for out-of-date patriotism, faithful to God and our country, we raised our heads. Let us do our best not to let the flame lit in our hearts and minds burn out,” said Śniadek.
The presidential couple were accompanied in their journey from St. Mary’s Basilica to the Wawel by a funeral procession of several hundred people. As the procession was passing the Katyń Cross located at the foot of the Wawel, the Sigismund Bell reverberated.
Only the closest family and friends were present while the coffins were laid into the sarcophagus. The funeral ceremonies ended with a national salute – 21 gun salvos to honour the presidential couple. The national salute was given by 6 saluting guns of the Ceremonial Guard Battalion of the Polish Army based on a 1939 howitzer design.
After the funeral ceremony, members of the official delegations conveyed their condolences to the family of the presidential couple and to the representatives of the Polish authorities. The closest family of Lech and Maria Kaczyński, their daughter, Marta and the president’s brother, Jarosław, received condolences. Polish authorities were represented by the speakers of the Sejm and the Senate – Bronisław Komorowski and Bogdan Borusewicz, the Prime Minister, Donald Tusk and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Radosław Sikorski.
Having paid their condolences, each person signed the book of condolence. In the evening, access to the crypt with the bodies of Lech and Maria Kaczyński was provided to all the participants of the funeral ceremony, who were able to pay their last respects to the couple.
(PAP, own information)