Why John Paul II’s symbols matter in a modern world?

Autor: Eva Orlowska

Photo: Helmut Steinwender
Unveiling of Pope John Paul II statue: Archbishop James Peter Sartain, Joanna Kozinska-Frybes, and Marian Strutynski

As millions gathered around the world to celebrate John Paul II’s beatification, the faithful in Seattle unveiled a magnificent statue of the late Pontiff by a Polish sculptor Wiktor Szostalo. The archbishop of Seattle, Polish Consul General and local dignitaries spoke why the Polish Pope has long been a role model emulate.

Photo: Helmut Steinwender
Marian Strutynski and  Wiktor Szostalo: Bridging tradition and modernism

While Vatican sorts through the paperwork of miracles, many Catholics declared the late John Paul II a saint on the day of his funeral in 2005 when millions chanted “Santo Subito” – “Sainthood Now.” Sainthood, practiced by many faiths, is an official recognition of the passing person’s extraordinary qualities worthy of respect and emulation. Art, ceremonies and resting places help to retell the story.

May 1 was an unusually sunny day in Seattle. The tediously welded, stainless steel, 850lb and 8.5 foot-high monument arrived from its sister-city Gdynia ten days before the festivities. The unveiling of the first West coast installation of John Paul II was accompanied by the Honorable Joanna Kozińska-Frybes, Consul General of the Republic of Poland from Los Angeles, the Archbishop of Seattle James Peter Sartain, Father Stanislaw Michalek of St. Margaret Church, local parishioners and residents, media and many local Polish American organizations: Polish Home Association, Polish Home Foundation, Polish National Alliance, Seattle-Gdynia Sister Cities Association, Choir Vivat Musica!, Polish Scouts, Radio Wisla, Young Polanie Dance Group and John Paul II Foundation.

The project was commissioned by Father Stanislaw Michalek and a small selection committee. Exhaustive search resulted in a choice Wiktor Szostalo, a Polish artist with roots to the Seattle community. Former Solidarity leader who is internationally renown for his environmental art, theTree Hugging Project, impressed the selection committee with his Millennium Memorial in Kolobrzeg, Poland, a tribute to the Polish-German Reconciliation and 1000 years of Christianity in Northwest Poland.

“I wanted to capture the energy and charm that people loved Karol Wojtyla for,” said Mr. Szostalo. “The statue symbolizes a traditional pose-a ceremonial gesture of blessing of the crowd. But the technique represents the contemporary world-John Paul II modernizing the church and leading it into the 21st century.”

Marian Strutynski, the master of the ceremony and a long time Polish Seattle community leader, opened the festivities with recognition of those who contributed countless hours to the project: Beata Oprzadek, Andrzej Kieko, Regina Zbanyszek among others. Mr. Strutynski personally met the pope and worked tirelessly to raise funds for the project. “To pass the story on, it is important to have a symbol of this great man who united (not divided) the world with an unprecedented skill and grace,” he said.

The Archbishop of Seattle, who was appointed Bishop by John Paul II in 2000, before blessing the statue, reminded the gathered of the numerous cities that the Polish pope visited and the millions he touched with his warmth, openness, personal appearances and use of media. “The pontiff had a great sense humor and ease of relating.” When Father Sartain told John Paul II that he was in Vatican the day his Holiness was elected, the Pontiff replied smiling: “I was there too.”

Consul General Joanna Kozinska-Frybes spoke of the love with which John Paul II related to the young people. Speaking their language, speaking many languages, he attracted ecstatic crowds on World Youth Days and other youth events. “You are our hope, the youth is our hope,” he said. Movingly, Ms. Consul General remembered the Pope’s calming words: “Don’t be afraid,”-words that gave courage to those behind the Iron Curtain and beyond.

President of the Polish Home Association John Golubiec said: “John Paul II will be forever revered for his role in ending the Communism. This was a miracle no smaller than parting of the waters. Over his 26-year papacy, he was at the center of the struggle in Poland and beyond. Millions today live with freedom of religion, speech and press because of his unyielding, steady and canny support of Solidarity and other peaceful movements. Reaching across cultures and religions, he transformed the world in ways unimaginable at the time of his election in 1978. As a Polish-American, I am enormously proud.”

Photo: Helmut Steinwender, Archbishop James Peter Sartain, John Golubiec, Joanna Kozinska-Frybes, Marian Strutynski with Vivat Musica! and Young Polanie in the background

Beatified from “Great” to “Blessed”, one of the most influential 20th century figures is looming tall now in front of St. Margaret Church in Seattle. No doubt the magnificent sculpture depicting the famous papal smile will draw many visitors. “Totus tuus” (totally yours) at the base of the monument-John Paul II’s motto of fidelity-will inspire more introspection. The traditionally clad choir sang the Pontiff’s favorite song, Barka. The faithful now, free to venerate publicly, await the final step of canonization, the recognition of John Paul II’s sainthood.