25 Jul 2016
Editor's blog WYD 2016
Sosnowiec - Days Three and Four
We arrived at the local train station at 5.30am and boarded a train that looked like it had been used in the Second World War - it was already overflowing with pilgrims from other towns in the district. A couple of kind young Lithuanian men gave up their seats for my travelling companion Basia and I while some of the rest of our group sat on the floor. There was much singing and rivalry between the different countries with the Calabrese Italians winning hands down – partly due to the fact one of their cohort had a megaphone! Fr Michael Romeo showed his true Calabrese colours when he took the megaphone and gave a splendid rendition of an Italian ballad.
We stopped for what seemed like an eternity at one point to allow another train to pass but the excitement was contagious and it was an enjoyable trip, making new friends and watching the countryside go past.
The logistics of organising a walking pilgrimage for a couple of thousand people became apparent as we alighted at a small station and were divided into two groups on different sides of the train line and then proceeded to a parking area where we were placed in groups of about 100. After a quick visit to one of the many portable toilets we began our journey – and oh what a journey! It was my first experience of a walking pilgrimage; I am not sure if they are all as lively as this but it was incredible to be part of such a joyful, spirited demonstration of our faith.
A small group of Polish singers led the way with a guitar and beautiful voices which were broadcast to the rest of the group through large speakers carried on a volunteer’s back. In the village from which we departed and along the way locals waved and clapped as we passed by. It was impossible not to be caught up in the enthusiasm of the young people and the kilometres whittled away easily, despite the relatively slow pace enforced upon us by the organisers (we had to keep a certain distance between the groups ahead).
It was amusing to see local priests in long black cassocks and bright safety vests directing the pedestrian traffic – one even had bare feet – while Fr Paul from St Catherine’s parish danced and clapped almost the whole 15km. We pilgrims also appreciated the local bishop coming to welcome us at the beginning and then meet and walk with the different groups along the way.
Our own Archbishop Wilson met the Aussie pilgrims about four kilometres before our final destination of Czestochowa. It was a much-need lunch break as the day was growing warmer (and our bodies tired) and after struggling to find a spot in the shade, Basia and I found a good spot under an apple tree and wondered if we would ever get up again! But we were re-energised by the enthusiasm of the pilgrims and the locals as we processed through the streets of Czestochowa and made our way up the grand boulevard leading to the Shrine of the Black Madonna and the huge altar that had been prepared for our Mass and for the Pope’s visit next week.
We watched ourselves on the big screen as Sosnowiec Bishop Greg read out the names of each group approaching the stage with Archbishop Wilson by his side as we Aussies appeared. We were extremely proud to have our Archbishop as the main celebrant on this magnificent occasion and we made sure we sat as close as we could to the front, despite attempts to move us. Fr Charles was surprised after walking the whole pilgrimage to be told he was reading the Gospel, but he did it with great aplomb of course and Archbishop Wilson received rousing applause for leading the Eucharistic celebration. The music was amazing and the whole atmosphere created by the joining of so many people from different countries in such a holy place made it a very memorable experience.
Some of our group gathered with the Archbishop for a cold drink after Mass and had our photograph taken next to a statue of St John Paul II’s parents. We then walked about two Polish kilometres (they seem a lot longer than ours) to the train station and returned home on another crowded train full of tired but noisy young pilgrims.
The next day was a much more sombre affair as we returned to the train station at 7.15am – this time to travel to Auschwitz-Birkenau. My first impression of Auschwitz, which was established by the Germans in 1940 as a concentration camp for Poles, Soviet prisoners of war and Roma gypsies but turned into the site of the largest mass murder in the history of mankind, was the orderliness of the buildings and the premeditated design of the place. We weren’t able to go inside the buildings to see the museums because of the number of WYD pilgrims visiting but the black and white images and descriptions provided a glimpse of the horror and suffering. When we took the bus to Birkenau, the horror moved to a different level and the sheer scale of the atrocities against the European Jews hit home as we wandered through the massive camp. Many of the buildings are ruins because the Germans tried to destroy as much of the evidence as possible but even the number of blocks for the forced labourers was enough to show the magnitude of the evil.
Large black and white images dotted around the memorial brought the tragic past back to life. For me, the faces of the young children with their families as they waited in the forest to be taken to the gas chamber are what stick in my mind. They are pictured having just arrived off the train, (the line was extended by the Germans to stop just outside the gas chamber), wearing hats and coats as if they are going for an excursion….
After more walking, we took the train back to Sosnowiec where we had lunch in a local school and then were bussed to the Pope’s Plaza up on a hill overlooking the city, with a huge statue of St John Paul II next to a purpose-built stage for the large outdoor Mass. More than 5000 young people and parishioners created a colourful, vibrant congregation and the evening concluded with a festival featuring testimonials and music performances, including the WYD anthem.
Posted by Jenny Brinkworth at 11:21pm