From October 22 to October 24, 2011 in Rome were held celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the Blessed John Paul II Foundation attended by representatives from 18 countries worldwide. The main objectives of the Foundation founded in 1981 by Pope John Paul II and which is currently chaired by the Archbishop of Cracow, the former Secretary of the Pope, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, include: scholarship assistance for young individuals from Central and Eastern Europe, providing sleeping accommodations for pilgrims in Rome, training provided for priests and lay people and preservation and development of the spiritual heritage of John Paul II.
The anniversary celebrations included Holy Masses at the St. Peter Basilica and at the Church of the Holy Spirit, procession to the John Paul II tomb, meetings, banquet along with the spoken and music program as well as a gala dinner and concert “In honor of the Blessed John Paul II”. The Papal Audience with Pope Benedict XVI at the Clementine Hall of the Apostolic Palace for the participants of the Foundation’s anniversary was the culmination point of all celebrations.
Among participants of the celebrations were many presidents of the Foundation Chapters and benefactors of the John Paul II Foundation from around the world; from the Church’s prelates we need to list Cardinals, Archbishops and Bishops (Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Cardinal Stanislaw Rylko, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, Archbishop Jozef Kowalczyk, Archbishop Zygmunt Zimowski, Archbishop Szczepan Wesoly) also priests, monks who celebrated the liturgy and accompanied Faithful during the entire celebrations.
Excellent artists from around the globe honored the celebrations with their performances. The following artists performed: Magdalena Baczewska, Julia Debowska, Francesco Lanzilotta, Renzo Renzi, Valentina Pesciallo, Arianna Micceli, Violetta Brzezinska, Marcin Kwiecien, Polish Dance School Maki, Roma Sinfonietta Orchestra, and the Folk Group of Indonesia and others. Dr. Krzysztof Wieliczko, Administrator of the John Paul II Foundation was diligently overseeing the entire celebrations.
This year, for the first time, the Polish Dance School Maki from Ocean County, NJ which for 7 years dance and sing on the eastern coast of the United States was asked to participate. For this occasion children and young people under the directions of Ms. Krystyna Olszewska, choreographer and the artistic director and Mr. Grzegorz Tyminski, singing teacher, prepared a special program that consisted of 2 parts: Polonaise and Cracow’s, that started and ended the entire artistic program planned by the organizers.
Maki started their performance with the Welcome Polonaise greeting gathered guests with the old Polish tradition of presenting a loaf of bread. Then, they performed the song “Ubi cari tas”, “Barka” and a Polonaise to the Michal Oginski’s music. Charm and artistry of the performed dances was multiplied by tailored especially for this occasion nobleman costumes, which additionally underlined the richness and craftsmanship of the Polish national dances. The Cracow’s part included a bouquet of Cracow’s dances and two songs “Goralu czy ci nie zal” and “Daleko, daleko”. Gathered from various parts of the world Polonia was touched by both songs which affected them emotionally, especially the words: “far, far away, beyond the sea, beautiful land, homeland of my mother” triggered longing and tears in eyes of many, who left the homeland of their Fathers many years ago.
Very eloquent were also tears in Cardinal Dziwisz’s eyes when the song “Goralu, czy ci nie zal” was sang. Polish highlanders often sang this song for the Holy Father. The group’s performance was very well received and the audience demanded 3 encores. The words of appreciation and gratitude directed to the young performers and their parents and teachers expressed by Cardinal Rylko, the President of the Boards of Directors, during the Sunday dinner was also a great honor.
The Cardinal gave thanks to “Maki” group for their connection with the homeland expressed in Polish dances, songs and costumes. During the celebrations, children and young people presented Polish noblemen and Cracow’s national costumes and with pride represented our Polish traditions and culture. The costumes distinguished them and drew attention of the pilgrims and tourists not only at the Basilica and St. Peter’s Square, but also during all events organized by the Foundation in which the “Maki” group participated.
The group “Maki” handed on the Fr. Krzysztof Wieliczko hands a gift for the Blessed John Paul II Foundation – a painting by Ms. Ewa Zeller, an artist, which depicts Blessed John Paul II with the “Maki” group, Fr. Krzysztof and guardians. Ms. Krystyna Olszewska, the artistic director and choreographer emphasizes that the performance and participation in the John Paul II Foundation anniversary in Vatican was one of the most important events in the group’s history, a great honor and privilege, but simultaneously, a huge challenge for the young dancers, who with their performance did not yield to professional groups and presented a very high artistic level.
The stay in the Vatican and Rome was also, for the majority of the group members and their guardians, a great opportunity to learn about the extremely rich history and architecture of both places. Visiting the Vatican Basilica and ancient Rome (including: the Colosseum, the Pantheon, Palatine Hill, Fountain di Trevy, and Spanish Steps) was not only a great history and art lesson, but also a pilgrimage to many sacred and important places in the life of every Christian. Devout entry on the knees through 28 “saint steps” of the Lateran Basilica; the “saint steps” that belonged to the palace of Pontius Pilate, through which, according to the legend, Jesus was led on the court, will always remain in our memory.
The prayer at the tomb of the Blessed Pope John Paul II and the audience with Benedict XVI, who strongly encouraged everyone to explore the rich heritage of Polish Pope, was a profound and important experience.
Meetings with many people from different countries of the world also gave the great opportunity to establish interesting contacts and to exchange invitations. On the way back, sharing emotions and impressions of their stay in Rome, group “Maki” looked with hope to the future and making plans for more trips to Europe.