19 Jul 2016
Editor's blog WYD 2016
July 18, 2016
Warsaw – Czestochowa
We hit the road on Sunday morning and made our way out of the capital to the Franciscan friary founded by St Maximilian Kolbe, passing through fertile countryside and small villages. Scott the tour guide told us the average size of the farms was about 10-15 acres, a far cry from the rural properties in Australia!
After hearing the story of Maximilian Kolbe, who volunteered to die in place of a stranger in Auschwitz, we celebrated Mass in the chapel built by the Polish martyr. Archbishop Wilson pointed to the paintings of young friars who also were exterminated in Auschwitz in 1941. We then visited the museum and the nearby basilica where there are 10 Masses held every weekend, all of them overflowing with worshippers.
Lunch was at a traditional highlander restaurant (‘karczma’) complete with thatched roof, log cabin-style architecture and quaint, highly decorative interior. After typical Polish tucker, including the best cabbage salad/coleslaw I’ve ever tasted, we hit the road again and a couple of hours later arrived at Jasna Gora, the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, also known as the Black Madonna. This pilgrimage site attracts several million visitors each year and yet I am sure many Australian Catholics have never heard of this very significant Marian shrine.
The image of the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the child Jesus in her left hand is believed to date back to the second half of the 13th century although some say it goes back to as early as 300AD and legend has it that St Luke was the artist. The walls of the Chapel of the Miraculous Image are adorned with rosary beads and other items left by the faithful who have put their faith in the healing powers of the icon, such as callipers and crutches. We joined the queue of pilgrims winding its way through the congregation while Mass was taking place and viewed the icon. Coming out of the chapel and into the magnificent Basilica of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, we regrouped and shared our experiences, then followed the impressive Stations of the Cross which lie just outside the monastery walls.
We returned to the monastery early the following morning for Mass in one of the chapels which was pretty special in itself but things only got better when our host for the morning Fr Simon Stefanowicz joined our bishop and clergy on the altar for a photo (after taking a couple of calls on his mobile phone). When I asked the group to move to a better spot in front of a copy of the Black Madonna he quipped “what are you a reporter?” The Archbishop replied,”no she’s the editor!” Renowned for his sense of humour, Fr Simon quipped: “Send me a copy on my beatification”.
He then took us on a lightning tour of the Chapel of the Miraculous Image and opened the special gate right next to the revered image, claiming special treatment for his ‘Aussie pilgrims’. Another photo opportunity ensued and I promised to send him a copy of The Southern Cross.
Our next stop, Wadowice, the birthplace of St John Paul II, was just as highly anticipated and didn’t disappoint with the beautiful basilica where he and his family worshipped and the font where he was baptised, not to mention the ‘Pope cakes’ – a creamy custard pastry which was his favourite sweet, for obvious reasons.
I should add that on the way to Wadowice we passed through a town called Oswiecim, or in English, Auschwitz. Our visit to the place where more than a million Jews were exterminated is scheduled for later in the week but it was an incredibly chilling feeling to drive past the railway station which looks much the same as it would have during the Holocaust, and to pass the back entrance to the camp which is nestled between houses and businesses.