April 18, 2010, 9:57PM
LINDEN — Red and white flowers and candles, the colors of Poland’s flag, adorned the altar at the Church of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus in Linden tonight as hundreds of mourners attended a prayer service honoring the late Polish President Lech Kaczynski, who was killed with his wife and 94 others in a plane crash.
Photos of all 96 victims of the April 10 crash were also displayed at the church, where a largely Polish and Polish-American crowd of more than 500 prayed for the president and his wife, Maria, and the other victims, on the same day the couple were laid to rest in Krakow.
“We feel like children who have lost their parents,” said Josef Malecki, 62, of Elizabeth, who came to America from Poland 20 years ago. He said the large Polish community in Union County has been grieving since the crash. Many people have put up Polish flags at their homes and marked them with a black string to show their loss.
“This is my president. I voted for him years ago,” Malecki said, referring to Kaczynski’s earlier posts in public office. “He was a very good man.”
Linden City Council President Robert Bunk, who was baptized and married at the church, said the news was “like an earthquake going off. It’s only right and proper for us to show respect.”
The soaring, brick church serves a congregation of 1,500 people of predominantly Polish descent. The Rev. Bronislaw Wielgus, church pastor, said he watched the funeral in Poland via satellite television, and many in the community followed developments on Polish TV stations.
Kaczynski and other of the nation’s leaders died when their Polish air force plane crashed on approach to Smolensk, Russia. They had been traveling to a memorial in nearby Katyn for thousands of Polish military officers executed 70 years ago by Josef Stalin’s secret police.
Kaczynski and his wife were interred earlier today in Krakow’s ancient Wawel Cathedral. Some 150,000 Poles lined the streets to pay their last respects as the funeral procession passed.
The prayer service in Linden, conducted in Polish, was somber and poignant. A children’s choir sang Polish songs, and some of the standing-room-only crowd wiped at tears.
A Mass followed. At its end the congregation was to sing “Boze cos Polske,” a national hymn that was also sung at the funeral in Poland.
By Rohan Mascarenhas and Jeanette Rundquist/The Star-Ledger