The Rev. Seamus Griesbach begins the annual blessing of the Easter baskets Saturday at St. Louis Catholic Church in Portland’s West End as longtime parishioner Kaz Zywina holds the holy water while acting as the sacristan. The church on Danforth Street was built by Polish immigrants in 1924, and is the only Polish Catholic church in Maine. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Heather Emery, who as a girl came from Poland to the United States, was among the many faithful who brought an Easter basket filled with food to St. Louis Catholic Church in Portland on Saturday.

Her Easter dinner will indeed be blessed.

St. Louis, the only Polish church in Maine, held its annual tradition of “swiecenie pokarmow,” which in Polish means “Easter blessing,” when their baskets of Easter food and sweets were blessed by a priest.

After offering prayers, the Rev. Seamus Griesbach sprinkled holy water on colorful baskets that filled several tables. About 200 people from the St. Louis Parish attended, and many spoke Polish. Their baskets were decorated with flowers and ribbons, often covered by handmade embroidered linens. The Easter basket blessing tradition dates back centuries in Poland.

Emery, of Old Orchard Beach, explained that every food item in the baskets has a meaning. Included in hers were sweet bread called “babka,” horseradish, artfully painted eggs, kielbasa and salt.

Bread symbolizes Jesus, the bread of life; horseradish is a reminder of the bitter passion of the Lord; eggs indicate new life and Christ’s Resurrection; kielbasa is a sign of generosity; salt represents sons and daughters of God and people as the salt of the Earth; and candy and sweets are reminders to have a childlike faith and of Jesus’ sweet love for people, according to the web page of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland.



“It’s a tradition that we keep,” Emery said, tearing up while thinking about her native country.

Before the pandemic began two years ago, she made a return visit to Poland. “My goal is to reconnect with family members. When I was there, I learned more about what happened in World War II and the devastation in Poland, how it was divided and how no one came to Poland’s rescue,” Emery said.

Now Poland and its people are welcoming refugees from the war in Ukraine, “because they know what it’s like. They’re doing it,” Emery said. “I am so proud.”

Radek Przygodzki of Biddeford, also born in Poland, said as children they learned early that the blessing of the Easter baskets is an important tradition. In Poland, “Easter is a bigger holiday than Christmas,” he said.

Przygodzki, who also has family in Poland, said the millions of refugees from Ukraine are placing stress on Polish cities, “but they have been taking them in spectacularly well.” He added that “it’s unsettling” to watch how Russia is brutalizing its neighbors.


Eva Idzikowska, center, at the annual blessing of the Easter baskets or, Swieconka in Polish, at St. Louis Catholic Church in Portland’s West End on Saturday. The church was built by Polish immigrants in 1924 and is the only Polish Catholic church in Maine. Idzikowska began coming to the church when she moved to Maine from Boston during the pandemic. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Parishioner Michal Slawiec of Waterboro was also born in Poland, and came to the United States when he was 25. He met his wife, also a Polish native, when they were at at Southern Maine Community College.

To Poles, the blessing of the baskets and celebration of Easter are a beloved time, he said. His mother, his brother, his extended family and his wife’s parents all still live in Poland.

Slawiec, too, spoke of Poland’s warm welcome of the refugees from Ukraine. “Polish people have just opened their arms, their houses,” he said. “There are no refugee camps like in other countries, because Poland doesn’t like the concept of refugee camps. We treat them like our neighbors.”

Since Russia’s attacks began, some refugees from Ukraine have left Poland and moved to other countries, he said. Still, Poland continues to be the hub for refugees.

Poland has always been a Catholic country, and it’s ingrained in Poles to care for others, Slawiec said. It’s one reason why they are taking in entire families, strangers, into their homes. “They feed them. They support them,” he said.

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