Polish priest reflects on Pope - WALB.com, Albany News, Weather, Sports

Polish priest reflects on Pope

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Thomasville- In Vatican City Friday, in the largest religious gathering on record, the Catholic faithful and the church hierarchy bid a final farewell to Pope John Paul the Second. Millions attended his funeral and many more watched worldwide.

     Father Jacek Szuster is the only Polish priest in our region. He is the priest at Saint Augustine's Catholic Church in Thomasville. Pope John Paul the Second was one of his biggest inspirations. The death of the Pope signals a time of reflection for Father Jacek.

     Father Jacek and John Paul the Second were years apart, but they grew up just two hours from each other in Poland. The pope's teachings and openness toward other religions inspired Father Jacek to join the priesthood. The Pontiff became his unwitting mentor of sorts. "Sometimes you have these great examples, you want to kind of become like them. You cannot become like them, but you can do the work they are doing," says Father Jacek.

     Father Jacek didn't need the Pope to tell him he made the right decision. All it took was the Pontiff's impromptu graces to a group of young seminary students. "It was in Italy at his summer residency. The Pope showed up in the window and waved to us, and gave us his blessing," says Father Jacek.

     The Catholic Church describes the Pope's death as bittersweet. While there is a note of sadness, priests say the Pontiff's death embodies his life. "He was preaching the good news of Christ, Christianity, the Catholic faith. And if you look at the news right now, how many people are learning about the Catholic faith right now," says Father Jacek.

     That's a tribute reinforced by one of the strongest cornerstone's in the Catholic Church's foundation. "In the Catholic Church we believe death is the beginning of new life," says Father Jacek.

     New life. A beginning Father Jacek became familiar with when he came to the United States in 1995. But being an ocean away from home during this time of mourning is something he says is a new life well lived. "I came to work with the people here, and I love these people. And I hope they love me, so we'll do the best we can," says Father Jacek.

     A lesson learned from a fellow clergyman, and a fellow countryman. Poland is 98% Catholic, and is the home country of 25% of the new priests in the world.

Posted by stephen.ryan@walb.com

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