April 27 marked one of the most important days in the lives of parishioners at Our Lady of the Bright Mount west of downtown Los Angeles. 

Some traveled to Rome, braving huge crowds and long flights to witness the canonization of Saints John XXIII and John Paul II. Many more celebrated back home during two Masses which honored two holy men of faith, especially their beloved countryman who visited their parish in 1976 as Cardinal Karol Wojtyla from Cracow, Poland.

With Society of Christ Father Rafal Dygula, pastor, accompanying the parish delegation in Rome, Father Leopoldem Rzodkiewiczem — an assistant to the bishop in the Polish Diocese of Legitsa — shared with Our Lady of the Bright Mount parishioners his remembrance of St. John Paul II during his homily. And there was much to share: the saint’s compassion and kindness to others, his great love of Poland, his service in the Polish Underground during World War II.  

Between Masses, Father Leopoldem told The Tidings through an interpreter that he first met Pope John Paul II when he was a 23-year-old seminarian, serving as a candle-bearer in a procession as Pope John Paul II was celebrating Mass. He noticed how deep in prayer the pope was during Mass. 

“You could just feel that he was talking directly to God,” he said. “He was a patriot and dearly loved his home country. I studied in Rome for three years and frequently met the pope.”

Father Leopoldem said John Paul’s love of Poland and fight for Polish freedom “is very similar to what is happening right now in the Ukraine. Like Poland, the Ukraine is surrounded on all sides by those who want their land.” 

Retired Superior Court Judge George Kalinski, a longtime Our Lady of the Bright Mount parishioner, first met St. John Paul II in 1976 during Cardinal Wojtyla’s visit to the parish. He was one of several parishioners invited by the pastor and they talked with the visiting cardinal about the need for housing and a care center for elderly seniors in the parish.  

“There was something magnetic about the cardinal,” Kalinski recalled. “He understood the needs of the people. Moreover, you could tell he was in direct communication with God. He intellectually observed situations and his holiness was proven by his life. He was a saint.”

Parishioner Krystyna Komoroski came to the U.S. from Poland in 1964. She stayed with her uncle, a Polish officer, who was here already, and later met and married her husband Miczysma (Michael). Her brother Jon was a member of Solidarity and he was killed by the communists.

“In Poland,” she recalled quietly, “even though the communists were in charge, I still went to church. They could not stop me. I always thank God for my faith. God is greater than any sickness or problem. I ask God to give me strength.”

Which is why St. John Paul II is so important. 

“He was for the people, especially children, and the poor,” said Komoroski. “And I pray to him. He was never afraid to fight for Poland. We Polish never give up. I love Pope John Paul. He was a man, yes, but a pope for all the world.”