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Composers, musicians and singers from around the world are setting their sights on Gdansk, Poland, as they prepare themselves for a celebratory concert in honor of the silver anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s pontificate.
The concert, entitled the “International Concert Premiere Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Pope John Paul II,” will be held on Oct. 19 and will include over 500 singers from five continents, including the choir of St. Eulalia Church in Winchester.
According to Jan Milun, artistic director for the Moniuscko Musical Society of Boston and coordinator of the event, the two-and-a-half-hour concert will include the Baltic Symphony Orchestra, an African Mass from Kenya, and many original pieces written by “composers from the United States, Poland and Canada.”
"They have taken their text from the Holy Father's own texts and have written magnificent music for this concert," Milun stated.
In addition, banners from 197 nations will be displayed “as a symbol of unity — depicting the pope’s pilgrimage around the world,” he added.
The concert will culminate with all 500 singers joining in Handel’s “Alleluia,” while the audience holds candles and firework grace the night sky.
Several dignitaries, including Archbishop of Gadansk Tadeusz Goclowski, are expected to attend. In addition, Milun has invited several representatives of the Russian Orthodox church, although he is unsure if they will attend.
"We don't want to convert anybody," he added. "We just want to create unity through music."
“This will be one of the most important concerts in Europe, I would say,” commented Milun.
The concert will be televised throughout the world via satellite. In addition, the concert will be simulcast on Radio Maria.
Although Pope John Paul II will not be able to attend the concert, Milun expects “the Holy Father will watch this program and, afterwards, will perhaps say a few words” to the audience.
According to Milun, both the date of the concert and its location are significant.
The date of the concert — Oct.19 — is important for several reasons: because it falls close to the anniversary of the John Paul II’s pontificate — Oct. 16; because that is Mission Sunday — “a day especially important for the internationality of the Church;” because that is the day Mother Teresa of Calcutta will be beatified; and because it is the anniversary of the death of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, a popular young parish priest in a suburb of Warsaw, Poland, who was an outspoken supporter of the once banned Solidarity labor union. Father Popieluszko was kidnapped and murdered by police in 1984 because of his criticism of the communist regime.
"We wanted to commemorate the life of Father Popieluszko at this concert," Milun said. In order to do this, Newton resident Leila Pradell has composed a musical piece to the words of Psalm 23.
The site of the concert is significant because “Gdansk is one of the most important places in history,” he said, “because it is there that the Second World War began,” he said.
This is not the first time Milun has organized a concert in honor of Pope John Paul II. Almost simultaneous with the pontiff’s election, Milun created the Moniuszko Musical Society of Boston — in honor of Stanislaw Moniuszko, a famous 19th century Polish composer. Beginning in 1979 and continuing every five years thereafter, the society has gathered international talent to “promote the Holy Father’s teaching and ideology” through music. Similar concerts have been held in Boston, New York City, Lithuania, and in Milun’s hometown of Brzeg, Poland, in honor of the pope.
In addition, the Moniuszko Musical Society of Boston has also held concerts in support of the Solidarity Movement in Poland, as well as programs in honor of St. Maximilian Kolbe — a Polish priest who sacrificed his life in order to save a fellow prisoner at Auschwitz.
"Through music, people can heal. Music reaches the heart, it reaches families," said Milun.
His involvement with music dates back to his childhood in an area of Poland which is now Lithuania. His parents, who were “incredibly religious,” encouraged him and his two brothers to sing hymns and songs “in order to prove that we were much better than the Communist system which did not allow for us to have our God.”
By the time he was seven, Milun and his brothers were singing their way through Poland. “My family was quite famous because we had three singers,” he recalled.
After graduating from the Academy of Music in Krakow, Milun realized that he, “felt called to dedicate my life to God through music.”In order to do this, he opted to remain a bachelor. “I realized I could either be a family man or I could dedicate my life to God through my voice. I am doing concerts that no one anywhere in the world is doing,” he said.
"I feel I came from a difficult situation [living in Communist Poland], but sometimes the materialistic world is not so great, really. God has given me this spirit, He has given me wings through music so that, through me, I can inspire people to give thanks to God, to the Church and to the Holy Father."