Andrzej Duda shot to prominence in Catholic news when he rescued a host of Holy Communion that had fallen to the ground during a national pilgrimage, while he was President-Elect of Poland.
On Monday 20 August 2018 President Duda and First Lady Kornhauser-Duda visited the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, Marayong in their only NSW community event during the first official visit to Australia of the leader of a free, independent, sovereign Poland. Over 800 Polish-Australian community members gathered in the John Paul II Hall to see the President and First Lady.
Upon arrival the presidential couple greeted local dignitaries including Fr Tadeusz Przybylak SChr, Provincial, Fr Henryk Zasiura SChr, Rector, Sr Lucyna Fraczek CSFN, Provincial, Mrs Alexandra Davis, Holy Family Services CEO and Mayor of Blacktown Stephen Bali. Msgr Ron McFarlane EV, parish priest of St Andrew’s Parish, Marayong represented Most Rev Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta.
The presidential couple spent several minutes in prayer before the Blessed Sacrament and the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa before President Duda was shown the side chapel-mausoleum containing urns with earth from battlegrounds and places Poles were executed during World War II. First Lady Kornhauser-Duda visited residents of the adjacent Brother Alberts Home of the Residential Aged Care of Holy Family Services, a place with mostly Polish residents.
President Duda presented Polish-Australian community leaders with state honours, including Sr Agnieszka Misiak CSFN, who runs the Holy Family Polish Saturday School, the oldest Polish language and cultural school in NSW.
“This is an award for all the sisters,” Sr Agnieszka said.
In his address, President Duda thanked members of the Polish diaspora for keeping Polish culture and traditions alive for future generations.
President Duda thanked the clergy and religious for “strengthening the spirit, for enabling faith in life, for enabling us to practice our Catholic faith, which is the foundation of our culture and identity.”
“For all these innumerable times, when a Pole in Australia, often lonely, broken by life’s gusts, could come to the Church and get spiritual support.”
His well-received address recognised the successes of members of the Polish diaspora in Australia, which numbers close to 180,000 people.
“You are loyal citizens of Australia, friendly people, good neighbours, honest, reliable workers, entrepreneurs, and you are simply respected. And if you are respected, then because of you, Poland is also respected.
“I thank you hugely for that, that you give such an account of our country,” he added.
Several Polish troupes of young people then performed dances wearing spectacular traditional costumes. Small children also sang songs and read poems about Poland. The President and First Lady mixed with large crowds of enthusiastic community members before departing.
“It was a historic visit. For the first time, the President of Poland came to Australia,” Fr Andrew Fornal OP said. Fr Fornal is part of the Polish Dominicans and parish priest of St Joseph’s, Kingswood.
“That was a good and uplifted visit and people felt connected again with their roots, especially the young people who had a chance to present and show that their Polish heritage is important to them. President Duda was very gracious.”