Religious Music of Polonia
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“Barka” – The Favorite Song Of John Paul IIWanda Slawinska • Wed, Feb 09, 2011(Sung during the “Light-Life Oasis” spiritual retreats conducted by Archbishop Wojtyla for teenagers)
Everyone has favorite songs. When I learned Polish religious songs early in life, naturally, I thought that they were written and composed by Polish authors. Twice, in recent years, however, I was mistaken. The first time was with the hymn, My chcemy Boga (We want God.) It was at a Mass in St. Joseph’s Church, in Niagara Falls, celebrated by the late Msgr. Richard S. Amico. I heard the familiar melody with a slight variation. They were singing Noi vogliam Dio. The words were the same, but in Italian. The notation at the top said it was “Traditional,” which usually means it has been handed down from generation to generation, until the author or composer’s name is lost.
Now I ask myself how many more “Polish” songs do I know which did not originate in Poland? What would you think when a song that you especially liked was also a favorite of John Paul II? There is one that many of us can name and, perhaps, sing. It is Goralu, czy ci nie zal? (Highlander, do you not grieve?) This favorite of our Holy Father was part and parcel of my family’s experience when we, and thousands of other Polish refugees after World War II, were stranded in Europe between the tyranny of communism and the despair of homelessness. That song had a deep meaning also for our Holy Father, who knew that in the same way he, too, albeit for other reasons, would never again return home.
The song, Pan kiedys stanal nad brzegiem, or Barka (The Barge), as it is better known, (Lord you have come to the seashore), was most significant for the Holy Father. It contained the theme that he adopted for his pontificate, since Christ had called him, as he called his apostles, and told him not to be afraid, as henceforth he would be a fisherman of men. And it was with this same homily that Benedict XVI began his pontificate.
My first awakening to the origins of this song was when I found it in Spanish in a church hymnal. Not quite believing it, I thought, “Oh, it’s been translated into Spanish!” Next, I looked for a name at the top of the page, and found that it was not Polish at all, for Cesareo Gabarain was the author. Then and there I decided to do some research on it.