Polish Protestant bishop dies in car crash following state funeral
The deputy head of Poland’s Protestant Church was killed in a car accident while returning home from state funeral ceremonies for President Lech Kaczynski.
In a statement on its website, the Church said Bishop Mieczyslaw Cieslar, 60, died last night near the city of Lodz, to which he was returning from weekend memorial ceremonies in Warsaw.
Poland’s President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria died in a plane crash on April 10 in western Russia.
The funeral took place eight days after the Polish Air Force Tupolev 154 crashed on approach to Smolensk, Russia, killing the first couple and 94 others.
The funeral Mass in Latin was held at St Mary’s Basilica, a 13th-century red-brick Gothic church set on a vast market square in Krakow’s Old Town.
The Mass was led by Krakow Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz.
The Kaczynskis’ daughter, Marta, and the president’s twin brother, Jaroslaw, sat in the front row as Mozart’s Requiem was played.
After the Mass, the bodies of the first couple were carried in a funeral procession across the picturesque Renaissance Old Town and up the Wawel hill, the historic seat of kings where a fortress wall encircles a castle and 1,000-year-old cathedral overlooking the Vistula River.
After an all-night vigil at St John’s Cathedral in Warsaw, the bodies of the couple were driven slowly through Warsaw past places linked to Mr Kaczynski’s life, including City Hall, where he served as mayor of Warsaw, and a museum he championed on the Warsaw Uprising of 1944.
They were then flown by military transport to Krakow, below the volcanic ash plume. As their funeral cortege made its way to St Mary’s, thousands of mourners lined the streets and many tossed bouquets of flowers on the hearses.
Ahead of the Mass, scores of people flocked to a memorial at the base of Wawel Hill to pay tribute to those who died, leaving flowers and candles.
Pictures of Mr Kaczynski and his wife, as well as other victims, could be seen amid candles and flowers left by mourners who came to pay their respects.
Last Saturday’s crash – which investigators have said was likely to have been caused by human error – plunged Poland into a deep grief not seen since the death of Pope John Paul II five years ago.
The plane went down in heavy fog after clipping a birch tree on approach to Smolensk, Russia.
Those aboard had planned to attend a memorial for thousands of Polish army officers executed in 1940 by Josef Stalin’s secret police.
The first couple will be laid to rest together in a honey-hued sarcophagus made from Turkish alabaster in a crypt of the cathedral and it will be open to mourners after the ceremonies today.
The decision to bury Mr Kaczynski at Wawel sparked protests in recent days, with people saying that despite the national tragedy he still does not belong in the company of some of the nation’s most august figures.
Karolina Rajchel, 19, a student who travelled five hours from Wroclaw, said she had not supported every step that Mr Kaczynski took, but called the protests “out of place” in light of his death.