John Paul's sainthood is source of pride at Polish parish in Norwich

Twin 5-month-old sisters Hailey, left, and Catherine O'Brien of Quaker Hill attend Mass on Sunday at Saint Joseph Church in Norwich in honor of the canonization of Pope John Paul II and Pope John XXIII. Their mother, Amy O'Brien, right, and the twins' grandmother (Amy's mother) Christine O'Brien, left, of Yantic, keep the two entertained.

Norwich - Catholics the world over rejoiced in the dual canonization Sunday of Pope John XXIII and Pope John Paul II, a historic event that drew hundreds of thousands to Mass in Vatican City.

But for members of the St. Joseph parish, watching John Paul II join the ranks of saints was a smaller-scale event of mere dozens scattered among the pews - and deeply personal.

On this Divine Mercy Sunday, one week after Easter, Monsignor Leszek Janik spoke in the presence of two portraits - one of Jesus Christ, the other of the now-saint. But he spoke first of the humble beginnings of Karol Wojtyla, their fellow Polish countryman.

At 21, he was the only living member of his immediate family; not long after, he labored in a chemical factory under Nazi occupation. Janik traced his history from priesthood to, finally, his election to the papacy - and the profound effect he had on his country not long after.

Janik recalled the pope's "legendary" trip to Warsaw in 1979, the public prayer that galvanized the Polish people, gave them back their will for freedom and, Janik said, changed everything: Ten years later there, the Iron Curtain finally fell.

"He has left us a legacy of peace, love and hope," he said, before asking both new saints to pray for the parish. Choruses of "amen" echoed through the hall.

For Katherine Czackor of Uncasville, who attended the special Mass with her mother and brother, it was a day to honor her heritage - important enough, she said, that her mother took a day off from work to bake traditional Polish babka and angel wing cookies for afterward.

"It's a very special occasion for all of us," she said.

For Christine O'Brien and husband Dennis, of Yantic, it was made even more special by the presence of their newborn twin granddaughters, near-perfectly behaved for the entirety of the Mass.

They've been coming to the church with their daughter Amy, of Quaker Hill, for years. O'Brien - born Polish, married Irish, she said - has been coming to the church her whole life, having watched the groundbreaking with her parents when she was just 5 years old.

Catherine and Hailey, nearly 6 months old, were born on All Saints' Day.

Of their new Polish saint, O'Brien said, "It means everything in the world."

a.isaacs@theday.com

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