Hundreds gathered Sunday in a largely Polish cemetery in a Chicago suburb to honor the 97 victims killed in a plane crash in western Russia.
St. Adalbert Cemetery in suburban Niles is home to a memorial by Chicago sculptor Wojciech Seweryn, one of the victims killed in the crash.
The Chicago area has the largest concentration of people of Polish descent outside Poland. According to the 2000 census, roughly 950,000 Poles live in the Chicago area.
The plane carrying Polish President Lech Kaczynski and other officials crashed Saturday in western Russia. The group was headed to events marking the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, which was the slaughter of thousands of Polish citizens and military officers by Soviet secret police.
The sculpture in Niles, which commemorates the Katyn massacre, was covered with hundreds of candles, flowers and Polish flags on Sunday. Two journals at the base of the sculpture are filled with entries reflecting regrets and sorrow.
One reads simply: "Never Forgotten."
The sculptor's daughter, Anna Wojtowicz, lives in Mt. Prospect. On Sunday morning, she spoke with her mother, who traveled to Poland with Seweryn for the Katyn ceremony.
Seweryn's wife did not get on the ill-fated flight. Instead, she was visiting family when the plane went down. But when she saw video of the plane crash Saturday, she immediately knew it was the plane her husband, the president and all the dignitaries were on, Wojtowicz said.
In Chicago, Memorial Mass will be held at St. Constance Church, Holy Trinity Polish Church and St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish throughout the day. Cardinal Francis George, who sent a letter of condolence to the consul general of Poland after the crash, said he will also include a special remembrance in Sunday's Mass at Holy Name Cathedral.
"I extend my sympathy to the people of the Republic of Poland and of Polonia throughout the world, particularly here in the Archdiocese of Chicago, as they grieve the sudden and overwhelming loss of so many of their brothers and sisters," Cardinal George said.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn also offered his condolences.
In a statement, Quinn said Kaczynski was a courageous and dedicated champion of his nation and a defender of freedom. Kaczynski had been expected to visit Chicago late this month to help commemorate Polish Constitution Day, the governor's office said.
The Polish Consulate in Chicago has started a book of condolences for the families of the victims, which the public can sign. The Consulate is located at 1530 N. Lake Shore Drive.