July 7th we went to Wawel Cathedral, which holds the remains of many royal family members and relics of saints. Some of these include Saint Stanislaus, Wenceslaus, and Jadwiga. Queen Jadwiga, or 'The Girl King', got her title at twelve, after her father died and she was left with a country to take care of. She chose to marry a man twice her age to protect her country, instead of the man she loved. Most importantly, she made those important decisions at the foot of cross, or in her case, the 'Black Cross', located in Wawel. One of our pilgrims, Alek, was assigned to look up the royal (So all of this information is from him; thanks Alek!)
"She had every right to be the most nasty woman, but she was always kind to her people and her husband, and always put their needs first."
The Cathedral itself was beautiful, and every way you turned your head there was something new and exciting to look at. At one point we climbed to the top of the tower and touched a 1300 lb bell. According to pilgrim Shane:
"It really showed the faith of the people. They had to work together to get it up there, and it must have been hard, but they did it together."
The Bike Ride
What Shane said reminds me of what we did next -- a bike ride around Krakow, including stops such as JPIIs home and church (St. Stanislaus Kostka) during WWII. I personally struggle a lot with bike riding, and wasn't very good at it (Ask anybody who was there!). But kind of like what Shane said, my peirs helped me and lifted me up (sometimes literally), and I pushed through and did it! Being surrounded by people who cared and had such faith in me made me have faith in myself.
Happy 18th Birthday, Alek!
After the long and exhausting ride, we went out for some dessert. The 7th was a special day, as it was pilgrim Alek's 18th birthday! What better way to become an adult than to be living such an amazing experience in a country so rich in the faith. I hope he had a fantastic birthday, and to close I will share with you some words he said at our nightly wrap-up:
"I always only saw the rules in our faith. This trip -- this whole year -- I've learned that [Catholicism] is not all rules. It's a relationship. A relationship of love, and of mercy."
More to come soon!
-Maria, Proud Pilgrim
"To accept everything He gives you. This is trust; don't ask why. We must know one thing: Everything that is given to us is given out of love."
-Sister Maria Viannney
Divine Mercy Shrine
The biggest highlight from July 6 was our trip to the Divine Mercy Shrine (where St. Faustina lived as a sister), and within that our tour guide Sister Maria Vianney. Her job was to show us around and teach us about Sister Faustina, but she ended up teaching and showing us so much more. Her wisdom and true happiness did not go unnoticed by our pilgrims. Several talked about her impact at the end of the day and everyone agreed. According to Pilgrim Rosie, "She was what I strive to be -- a true definition of femininity and an image of Mary."
JPII Center Church
Another amazing thing we did the 6th was tour the grounds where we are staying, including the Church at the center. The Church was overwhelmingly beautiful, and contained such things as a rock from Bethlehem and Nazareth, a picture from the Shroud of Turin, the robes JPII wore when he was shot, and so much more. Having such a stunning presence right next to where you are staying really keeps the focus on where our minds should be -- which is ultimately growing in our zeal for the faith.
Our group's priest, Father Gino de la Rama from the Archdiocese of Newark (we'll introduce him more, and how he even ended up being our chaplain for this trip, later) has been reminding us throughout the trip that we are not tourists, but pilgrims. So when we talk at the end of the day, he asks us not about the doughnuts (panczki!) we ate, or the beautiful architecture we've encountered, but asks: "How did you encounter Christ today?"
Seeing the ways my piers have encountered Christ has made me more passionate and excited for what will happen next.
Here's the space we'll be using to post blog updates along with slide shows of the day.
The first few days have been packed full of experiences. As with most pilgrimages, there's so much to cover and the challenge quickly becomes choosing what not to do!
Day one: Niepokalonow, the city that St. Maximilian Kolbe built for our lady, was our home. Spending the 3rd settling in and learning from this holy place was followed by a good ol' BBQ to bring in the 4th of July.
Wednesday was Warsaw day: Bl. Jerzy Popieluszko, Warsaw Old-Town and the Warsaw Uprising Museum.
Thursday, we said "fair well" to Warsaw and made our way down to Poland's most important Pilgrimage site: Our Lady of Częstochowa. Not before a very special Mass at the main alter we were heading for Krakow. Finally, home sweet home at the John Paul II "Be Not Afraid" Center!
This morning we gave an introduction to this new home (the two-level basilica, the location and the big bell tower), then walked a mini pilgrimage to the Divine Mercy Shrine, where we were welcomed by one of the English-speaking sisters of Our Lady of Divine Mercy. Sister brought everyone to their chapel to see the Miraculous Image of Divine Mercy, and to venerate the relic of St. Faustina, before sharing the message of Divine Mercy with us, through her own words and experiences.
After lunch we tramed into Krakow's wonderful old town to see its main square, "Royal Mile" and a few of her most precious churches.
The days are full, and the pilgrims are sleeping :)
Here are a few of the photos for you to catch a glimpse. The rest are forthcoming...
Our first day here was both an exhausting and exhilarating introduction to our trip. After our flight, we headed to our first temporary home for the first two nights, the monastery of St. Maximilian Kolbe, Niepokalanow. Though we were tired, our suffering couldn't even compare to that of Kolbe in Auschwitz. Seeing and hearing about everything he went through was a wake up call (literally and figuratively).
Parish and Museum of Bl. Jerzy Popiełuszko
Our first day really going out we visited the church and museum of newly Blessed Jerzy Popiełuszko, who lived in the communist 80's and was martyred in his early 30's. One of our pilgrims, Sophia, felt a special connection with the Blessed: "The fact that he could fulfill his vocation in the most ordinary, everyday way -- in spite of such evil -- inspires me to try to live in accordance with his example."
His story is fascinating, and seeing and touching things from his life made all of us have a deeper understanding of Bl. Jerzy; I highly encourage you all look up his beautiful and moving story!
More updates to come as we "Open wide the doors to Christ", following the words and footsteps of Pope John Paul II.
The Media Team!