Our Lady Visits Polish Youngstown and the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon

Youngstown is located in northeast Ohio in the Mahoning Valley and is Ohio’s ninth largest city.  Youngstown is part of what has become known in some quarters as the “Rust Belt” – a region in the Northeast and Central States in which many cities were prosperous, but have declined demographically and economically due to the loss of industry.

Between the 1920s and the 1960s Youngstown was an important center of steel production.  But its fortunes waned with the decline of the U.S. steel industry in the 1970s.  The city has lost 60% of its population since 1960.

Aundrea Cika Heschmeyer, the Director of Polish Youngstown, invited me to visit St. Stanislaus Kostka Church in Youngstown. Polish Youngstown was created in 2008 to preserve, promote and educate the people of the Mahoning Valley about Polish culture and history. 

St. Stanislaus Kostka Church was founded in 1902 by a group of Polish immigrants who were devoted to their Catholic faith and who desired to preserve their Polish culture and traditions.  But people of all nationalities have always been welcome and have found in the parish a sense of belonging. The Pastor, Fr. Edward Neroda will celebrate his 57th anniversary of ordination to the priesthood in 2014.

The pilgrim icon was welcomed with great reverence in a ceremony conducted by Deacon Mike Schlais as the people sang traditional Polish hymns, and the icon was processed into the Church on Saturday afternoon.  Children wearing traditional Polish dress led a procession into the church for the 4:00 P.M. Vigil Mass. I preached at this Mass and the 10:00 Mass on Sunday which featured a wonderful Polish choir. A rosary for life was offered before the Mass on Sunday sponsored by the St. Stanislaus Altar and Rosary Society. 

After the Mass, the Polish Arts Club of Youngstown sponsored a Chinese Auction and served traditional Polish food.  I gave another presentation to a group in the library about the history and significance of the pilgrim icon and the From Ocean to Ocean Pilgrimage in Defense of Life.  Later that afternoon, the icon was processed out of the church as the people, many in traditional Polish dress, sang Czarna Madonna.

After a brief visit to the Cathedral of St. Columba, I made an unscheduled stop at the National Shrine of Our Lady of Lebanon in North Jackson, Ohio where I was welcomed by a Maronite priest - Fr. Andrew Kolitsos.  I concelebrated Mass for the first time in the Maronite Rite.  I was struck by the beauty of the Shrine and the poetic Maronite Liturgy.  My visit to the area reminded me also of the catholicity of the Church.  “Catholic” means universal.  The two cultures of the Polish and Maronite Catholics were very different from each other and the traditions in which I was raised, yet we were all united in one faith, with the same sacraments in the same Church! 

The readings that weekend emphasized the importance of persevering in prayer.  In the first reading from the Book of Exodus, Amalek had attacked Israel.  Joshua and his army defended Israel while Moses prayed.  As long as Moses kept his arms raised in prayer, Israel had the better of the battle. When he lowered his arms, Amalek had the better of the battle. Eventually Aaron and Hur supported Moses’ arms on each side and Israel defeated the Amalekites (Exodus 17, 8-13).  This is a reminder to us that we must not relax our efforts in prayer. We can’t win the battle for the culture of life by our own efforts alone, but we must rely on the power of God.

The Gospel told the humorous story of the poor widow before the unjust judge (Luke 18, 1-8).  The judge granted her request not because he was a good man, but because of the widow’s persistence.  This reminds us of our need to continue to pray even when it seems our requests are not being granted. God wants us to pray with faith and perseverance.  He prepares our hearts through prayer for the graces he wants to give us.

Through the From Ocean to Ocean Pilgrimage in Defense of Life prayers are being offered to Our Lady of Czestochowa throughout the world for the triumph of the Culture of Life. If we pray to Our Lady with faith and perseverance, she will conquer the Culture of Death and win a great victory through the power granted her by her Divine Son.

Fr. Peter West
Vice President for Missions
Human Life International

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