Pilgrimage to World Youth Day Krakow
As young South Australian Catholics travelled from Adelaide to Krakow in Poland for World Youth Day 2016, The Southern Cross newspaper editor Jenny Brinkworth provided a daily update on the pilgrimage journey.
01 Aug 2016
As our South Aussie pilgrims gathered at 8am to leave for Campus Misericordiae (field of mercy) they were relieved to learn that they could take the tram part of the way. Many other pilgrims had the same idea and it was a crowded ride followed by an 8km walk in the hot sun to the massive purpose-built venue for the vigil and final Mass.
I needed to find out if I could get a pool card for the event, to ensure I had a seat on the media bus, but I couldn’t get confirmation from anyone and was told to turn up at 1pm to see if there was room on the bus. In the meantime, I filed a couple of stories and then met Aoife from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference for coffee at a bakery near the university.
When I returned to the media centre I was told they had put on extra buses for reporters and as luck would have it, I was able to get a pool card from one of my Australian Catholic Press Association buddies (and ex-Adelaidean), Adrian Middeldorp from Parramatta Diocese. He already had a photographer’s pass so didn’t need his press one. This was a big relief because it meant I could get access to media area and close to the stage. During the 40-minute bus trip to the venue we saw the hundreds of thousands of pilgrims making their way along the edge of the main road and I felt very lucky that I was in an air-conditioned coach.
But it wasn’t all easy – we had about a 2km walk over rough terrain (in my sandals mind you) to reach the checkpoint for the VIP and media area, then there was a wide queue to get into the security check area. I finally squeezed through the gate to the army personnel checking documentation, only to have them ask me for ID (my media ID card wasn’t enough, even though it has a photo) such as a passport or driver’s licence, neither of which I had. I was so close but so far…I remembered I had a photo of my passport page on my phone and I showed this to the soldier but he scoffed ‘it’s just a photo’ and told me to go and sit on the grass.
A couple of other reporters had been refused entry because they didn’t have a pool card and I was almost resigned to having to go back and try and find my pilgrims when after about half an hour on the grass I saw one of the young volunteers from the media centre who had helped me get a taxi earlier in the week. As I approached her, the solider who had told me to wait asked me to show him my WYD pilgrim pass hanging around my neck and then said, “okay you can go in”. I’m not sure if it’s because it had ‘Australia’ on it or what, but it worked!
There was a tent for media and a three-storey stand overlooking the stage as well as some seating for non-photographers underneath. I spent some time up the top with Adrian and Emily Ng from The Catholic Leader in Brisbane and then sat in the shade underneath to watch some of the performances and testimonials.
The size of the stage – well it was actually three stages with a huge stairway leading up to the main one – and the vastness of the pilgrim area was a sight to behold. The blue sky and fluffy clouds created a beautiful backdrop to the large screen showing Pope Francis and when the sun set over the pilgrims there was a rush to get that perfect shot. An estimated 1.6 million people were there to see Pope Francis deliver his address to pilgrims, many of whom lit candles at dusk and prayed silently with the Holy Father during Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament.
Up on the media stand, it was very moving to see reporters stop their work and kneel down to participate in the Adoration. Earlier, when the Pope asked people to start building bridges by holding hands, some of the reporters did likewise. It’s not something you would ever see with secular media and I felt privileged to be part of this international media group.
Unfortunately, it was too difficult to catch up with our pilgrims because of the difficulty in moving around in such a large crowd and I had to make sure I followed the media contingent back to the bus which departed at 10pm.
There were a number of buses returning to Krakow and they received a police escort to ensure they made it through the streets blocked off due to security for the Pope and to keep clear of the pilgrims who had decided to leave that night.
The logistics of getting to and from the Campus Misericordia were extremely challenging and I didn’t attempt to get to the Final Mass because my flight to Rome was at 1.25pm.
I am sure those who stayed the night and celebrated Mass had an unforgettable experience and I look forward to catching up with our pilgrims back in Australia to find out all about it. They had a celebratory last supper in Krakow before heading to Prague for a retreat before returning home while I have two weeks holidaying in Italy before coming back home.
It’s been an amazing two weeks – we seem to have fitted so much in and the time has gone way too fast but at the same time it feels like we have been away a long time! The Polish people have been wonderful hosts; Basia was told that many Krakow residents were wary of WYD and some had decided to leave town for the week but those who stayed had nothing but praise for the pilgrims and said the city was ‘so alive’ while they were there. She also was told that the crime rate was 10 times lower than usual, so well done to the young pilgrims. I’m sure the city streets and squares will seem very quiet now that they are all leaving.
I hope you have enjoyed this small glimpse of our journey to Poland and World Youth – be sure to read some of the articles and see some more photographs in the next edition of The Southern Cross.
30 Jul 2016
The carnival atmosphere created by hundreds of thousands of WYD pilgrims from 187 countries has not relented. As I write, the streets are abuzz with singing and chanting, the hundreds of food venues are packed with hungry young people and the youth festival venues are pumping.
I am still in awe of the organisation required for such an event – the logistics of an estimated one million people leaving the 48-hectare Blonia Park both last night and tonight is exemplified by the fact that people in some sectors were not allowed to leave after Pope Francis concluded proceedings. These people were told to wait and listen to the peformances on stage simply to enable the huge numbers of people to leave in an orderly manner.
A couple of our group were in that part of the park and were messaging via Facebook to say they were contemplating a 'break-out'.
The other amazing aspect of tonight's Way of the Cross event was the absolute silence during the narration of the 14 stations – only broken by the magnificent classical music accompanying the spectacular artistic reflections.
The only other noise was the helicopter hovering just above us and the occasional siren. The young teachers in the crowd must have marvelled that so many kids could keep quiet for nearly two hours.
On our way home we stumbled upon a park with food trucks selling all sorts of delicious food, including barbecued pork sausages which we could buy with our food vouchers.
Earlier in the day half of our group went to catechesis with Archbishop Prowse and the other half visited the St John Paul II centre, completed in 2013, and the Divine Mercy Shrine. There was a long line to the beautiful John Paul II church but we managed to go in through the exit lane and pretend we'd lost our group – putting on our best Aussie accents when the guard questioned us. We didn't have the same luck with the chapel where St Faustina's relic lies and had to be content with an outside view due to the huge number of pilgrims.
It was very hot and humid in the middle of the day but once again the rain came in the early afternoon and the umbrellas and brightly-coloured raincoats came out but by the time of the Way of the Cross the sun was shining and we needed the umbrella to give some shade.
29 Jul 2016
We started the day with another amazing catechesis session, this time with Cardinal Mafi from Tonga, who spoke with humour and warmth about growing up and being ‘sacked’ from school for brewing his own beer. He also spoke of his relationship with his mother who, when learning of his mischievous behaviour, touched him tenderly instead of beating him. “This is mercy,” he said.
We learnt a new dance during catechesis and celebrated Mass – once again I was reminded of how important music is to young people (and oldies like me) and how it opens our souls and lifts our spirits.
I left the group to make my way to the media centre and on the way I met a photographer from the national Catholic paper in Scotland and he gave me some tips about how to get to the Pope’s welcome event (apparently you need a pool card as well as media accreditation). I was also pleased to see my Italian friend from the first day who found a cable for my camera after I lost mine.
Despite all the good advice, I nearly missed out on getting to the media section at the Pope’s welcome because of confusion over departure times but I eventually found myself catching up with a large press contingent on their way to the venue, Blonia Park, which is a 10-minute walk from the press centre.
It took us a long time to get through security – I’ve never seen anything like it! The camera crews and photographers had every single bit of equipment taken apart and checked, as well as having it put through an x-ray machine, and even my humble camera had to be turned on and off, as did my computer, and they asked me to drink from my water bottle before a woman gave me a thorough body search.
The police and army presence was unbelievable – at one stage there were about 50 police vans driving down the street leading to Blonia Park and I hate to think how many officers and army personnel are on duty. It makes you feel both safe and scared at the same time.
Despite the hold-up at security, I made it up to the press stand – high above the crowd and only 50 metres or so from the main stage. I had to pinch myself when I got up there and looked around at all the crowd which stretched further than the eye could see.
The arrival of Pope Francis saw pilgrims running from the grass to the 'aisles' to catch a glimpse of him and the noise level and flag waving increased dramatically. The press area also got a little more intense as photographers and cameramen jockeyed for position. The pope’s speech didn’t disappoint with it’s focus on mercy and his warning – received with laughter – that some young people seem to have opted for “early retirement”.
Each region brought onto the stage a flag with an image of a saint – for Oceania it was St Mary MacKillop, much to the delight of the Aussie pilgrims – and there was traditional Polish dancing and beautiful singing by the choir which filled a whole stage.
I have never been to an event of this magnitude – the AFL Grand Final pales into insignificance in terms of numbers, colour and logistics. And it’s only the first of the main WYD events!
28 Jul 2016
This morning we began the first full day of World Youth Day with Catechesis for English-speaking pilgrims in a very large circus tent not far from our accommodation. Acclaimed homilist and author Cardinal Timothy Dolan from New York was the presenter and did not disappoint with his message of 'now is the time for mercy' and his stirring account of Pope John Paul II's return visit to Poland in 1979, which he described as 'nine days that changed the world'. After decades of Soviet rule, John Paul encouraged the millions of Poles who came to see him to not give up on God and in doing so was a driving forcebehind the fall of Communism.
I returned to the media centre where there was much anticipation and activity as journalists, photographers and TV crews from around the world prepared for the arrival of Pope Francis that afternoon. After a couple of hours filing stories, Basia and I walked into the old town, stopping on the way for a cool drink in a cafe with a quaint courtyard. The waitress kindly brought us both a piece of complimentary cinnamon cake – most probably because we were wearing our green Aussie t-shirts.
We joined the throngs of noisy pilgrims in the market square – the French had taken over the statue of a famous Polish poet and were singing and waving flags. There were army trucks nearby, a sad sign of the times, but on the up side I couldn't help but be impressed by how well-behaved the young people have been and continue to be – not a drop of alcohol in sight!
We were intent on getting to the Jewish quarter on foot but were delayed by impromptu concerts and a visit to the beautiful Trinity Cathedral. It was further away than we thought and with my laptop in my rucksack, my camera on my shoulder and sandals on my feet, I'd just about given up when a monk who Basia had approached for directions came back with his car and gave us a lift. We couldn't believe our luck – and although the most historic synagogue was closed we managed to see inside a smaller one and wander the cobbled streets for a while before stopping for a much-needed refreshment.
We then caught a taxi to the Novotel for dinner with the Archbishop and a few of the other 'leaders' in the group. The television was showing the Pope's appearance at the window where Pope John Paul II used to address the people and it was strange to think he was just a few blocks away from us.
27 Jul 2016
We returned to Krakow yesterday (Monday) afternoon and after an induction by the Cosmos tour operators we were assigned our rooms in the largest university residential complex in Poland – two to a room with a shared bathroom for eight. We made up our bunk beds and tried to access Wi-Fi but you could only do so in the lobby – consequently it was rather crowded!
There were a lot of pilgrims arriving at the same time so there was a line-up for the small lifts and we were further delayed when we took the even number lift instead of the odd number one. A priest took pity on us and together with one of his pilgrims helped us lug our heavy suitcases up one flight of stairs.
We were all pretty tired and after picking up my media accreditation and WYD backpack we made a quick trip to the supermarket and prepared for bed. Getting my blog sent home proved somewhat of a challenge (not the first time either) because the Wi-Fi password wouldn’t work on my computer and after a few failed attempts I had to resort to transferring it to a USB and paying for an internet connection at the Uni shop.
This morning when the group headed off by tram to the Australian gathering I decided to go it alone and find my way to the media centre. I was a bit surprised at the small size of the room and the lack of facilities until a nice Italian man told me I was in the organising committee press room, not the main press room. A little embarrassed, I explained that the volunteers had directed me there (not sure if he believed me but he seemed impressed that I was from Australia at least).
It was a huge relief to get Wi-Fi access and start communicating easily with the rest of the world again, only to find that later in the day the Wi-Fi wasn’t working! In between that, I took a taxi to the Tauron Stadium about 20 minutes out of Krakow to report on the Aussie gathering and attend a press conference held by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference. It was wonderful to see so many young Australians come together in this amazing venue (it seats 20,000 and is the largest concert venue in Europe according to the taxi driver).
When I left the stadium there were no taxis around and it took me two trams, a bus and a walk in the wrong direction before I finally found my destination.
There is an incredible atmosphere around Krakow with thousands of pilgrims roaming the streets wearing colourful T-shirts, backpacks, hats and raincoats. It is much busier than when we were here a week ago and a lot of the roads are closed to traffic. There is a huge police and army presence around – not surprisingly following the recent terrorist attacks in Europe, including the shocking slaying of a French priest this morning. The bishop from the diocese where the attack in the church took place is here in Krakow and he put out a media release expressing his shock and great sorrow.
Despite the thunder, lightning and rain earlier in the afternoon, nearly 500,000 people are at the opening Mass right now. Miraculously, the rain subsided just before the Mass commenced and there were hordes of late-comers hurrying to make it in time. I have a birds-eye view through one of the many screens in the media room and a friendly volunteer has just organised a translating device so I can hear the speeches. But I can see from the look on the pilgrims' eyes that it is an incredibly emotional experience for them to be celebrating the Eucharist in the city of Divine Mercy.
26 Jul 2016
After a hectic couple of days it was nice to relax a little on Sunday morning and spend some time with our host families. We all gathered for 11am Mass in the beautiful 18th century St Catherine’s Church with Archbishop Wilson presiding and giving a moving homily about an Auschwitz survivor. Translated by Fr Christopher, it received loud applause from the congregation.
Once again, the talented young musicians enhanced the liturgy and at the conclusion of Mass there was a festive atmosphere in the church as some of the Ecuador and French pilgrims joined the choir. The same occurred later in the evening after Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament with the parish priests leading the clapping and singing.
We enjoyed a lingering lunch (soup, main course and two desserts) with our host family and their relatives and in the evening the parish held a festival in the front of the presbytery next to the church for pilgrims and their families. The warm, balmy evening didn’t stop the young people and children from dancing while the locals watched on and served delicious Polish cakes and juice.
Walking back to the ‘White House’ we reflected on how lucky we were to stay in such a charming village as opposed to the city where the atmosphere would have been quite different. The warmth, kindness and generosity of our hosts, the volunteers and the parish was quite overwhelming and on our final gathering at Mass on Monday morning there were plenty of tears, including from Fathers Peter and Paul. In his homily, Father Harold from Whyalla put it beautifully when he said even the sky, which had suddenly turned grey and cloudy, looked like it was about to cry. He spoke of the Gospel message of service and how our hosts had displayed this in the truest sense and that’s why it was so hard to say goodbye.
This was certainly the case with our host family who couldn’t do enough to help us – from rising at 4.30am to put breakfast on the bench before we left for our pilgrimage, to washing clothes by hand (which I didn’t realise until after we had left). We exchanged gifts - Dziadzia (grandpa) proudly wore his Australian cap and gave us the Aussie ‘thumb up’, but he was visibly upset about our departure and he and the rest of the family were there in the pouring rain with the other hosts, volunteers and priests when our bus left the churchyard a little later. There were many similar stories of hospitality from other pilgrims and the whole experience was testament to the value of the Days in the Diocese program.
The bus trip to Krakow was a pretty silent affair with most people sleeping and others reflecting on the friendship, faith and love they had just shared.
24 Jul 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.
22 Jul 2016
This will be a short installment tonight as we have to get up at 4.30am tomorrow to take the train to our starting point for a 17km walk to Czestochowa. And it's been a long day today with worship in St Catherine's at 8.30, a climb up the hill to St Dorothy's Church, built in 1382, to a very special Mass with our fellow pilgrims from Argentina, Ecquador, Lithuania, Czech Republic and France. Archbishop Wilson did us proud with his inspiring homily, translated into Polish by Fr Christopher from Yorketown, while Fr Charles read the Gospel with great passion.
We then walked down the hill a different way about 5kms to a local sporting complex where the different countries competed against each other in a variety of sporting games and activities. The Aussies were led admirably by soccer star MJ but by far the loudest supporters were the Argentinians!
We went by bus to the local public school for lunch served by the teachers (even though it's school holidays) and finished the day with a concert featuring acts by the pilgrim groups. We Aussies did a splendid rendition of I am Australian and took the audience on a tour of famous sites such as Kangaroo Island, the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney Harbour Bridge with some brilliant mimicking of kangaroos, fish and some acrobatics to boot.
It was nice to mingle with young people from different countries - my favourite group were the Lithuanians who spoke excellent English and told us that their dream was to come to Australia one day. They were also very tall and I thought about recruting a couple of them as ruckmen for the Crows!
Our incredibly hospitable hosts came to watch and after a much-need shower we had supper, then wandered down the street to their friends (also pilgrim hosts) for some deliciious barbecued sausages and pivo.
21 Jul 2016
We had the luxury of a ‘sleep-in’ today with a wake-up call at 7am and departure at 8.30am as we commenced the next stage of our journey to Days in the Diocese. We soon left the city behind and drove through rolling hills and lush countryside to the Sosnowiec region which was once considered to have the worst pollution in the world because of its mining industry. Much has been done to remedy this and although some of Sosnowiec still appears to be quite industrial, the clear blue sky was much appreciated after a couple of coolish, cloudy days. Our destination was the more rural Bedzin-Grodzcu in the north eastern part of the Silesia Province, and when we arrived at our host parish of St Katarzyny (St Catherine) we were thrilled to see a large group of parishioners there to welcome us with WYD flags, singing and a loaf of bread to share.
Grodzcu is a pretty town with lovely, well-kept gardens and two-storey houses, something of a rarity in Poland where most people live in high-rise apartments. After being assigned our hosts, Agnesha and her 10-year-old daughter Paula, Basia and I went to their home dubbed the White House by us for obvious reasons, and we were greeted with lots of kisses by the grandparents Zigmont and Jadwiga who live on the ground floor.
With Polish-born Basia translating as much as possible, we chatted over coffee and warm home-cooked apple cake, and after some unpacking were back at the table for a delicious lunch.
We learned that Paula rides horses, plays the guitar and sings; the highlight of our day was her solo performance of a famous Polish song which brought tears to Basia’s eyes (and her proud grandma too). In the afternoon we went to the horse riding club and were amazed to see so many young girls grooming their horses and ponies skilfully before their riding classes.
We were amused to see a cat hotel, a hairdresser for dogs and an animal pharmacy adjacent to the riding school which was situated in a beautiful forest. There was also a restaurant and after bumping into another host family and their billets we compared notes on the state of Catholicism in Poland and Australia over Coca-Cola and pivo (beer).
In the evening we walked to St Catherine’s Church for Mass with our group and pilgrims from France, Burundi and Ecuador as well as local parishioners. The Mass was in Polish and was followed by the weekly novena.
Gathering outside the church, we exchanged stories with our fellow travellers and discovered Fr Charles and Fr Michael had been picking berries, Clement had ridden a quad bike for the first time, some of the girls had visited a castle and so on. As a first timer to Days in the Diocese, I am seeing already the benefits of experiencing the Polish way of life at the local level.
20 Jul 2016
Today we headed into Krakow and began the day with Mass in St Anne’s Church, the largest Baroque church of Krakow from the turn of the 17th and 18th centuries. We were then joined by our local guide Henryk who led us through the cobbled paths and courtyards of Jagellonian University where John Paul II began studying in 1938 but when war broke out was forced to continue his studies underground.
Henryk was not only a fountain of knowledge on Krakow’s history and ecclesial architecture, he also told some very good jokes and during our tour of Wawel Hill he was delighted to pose for a photo with we pilgrims and our Aussie flag with the Wisla River in the background (pictured).
The market square in the Old City is the largest Medieval square in Europe and is the site of St Mary’s Church, one of Poland’s most beautiful Gothic basilicas. Henryk made sure we didn’t miss out on one of the main attractions – the bugle call on the hour from a window located high up in the 81-metre church tower.
Our lunch was in a restaurant with a series of stone-walled cellars – typical of the underground rooms used by the Intelligentsia during the Communist rule. In the afternoon we explored the market square, tried some of the local delicacies and even rode in a horse-drawn carriage around the perimeter of the old city.
There is no escaping that this is where World Youth Day will be held – there is signage everywhere, on trams, buildings and street poles, and there is a growing number of pilgrims from different countries wandering through the streets. Our Aussie flag and some of the pilgrims’ Aussie t-shirts attracted the attention of locals and tourists, including a group of Argentinian pilgrims who we bumped into in the market.
With Days in the Diocese beginning tomorrow, there is plenty of excitement among the group and people are getting to know each other better as we continue on our journey to the City of Mercy!
19 Jul 2016
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.
17 Jul 2016
After the long flight from Australia we arrived at Chopin Airport in Warsaw (I’m embarrassed to say I never knew Chopin was Polish until then) where we were met by our tour guide Scott – that doesn’t sound like a Polish name and that’s because he’s American although he was quick to point out that he has spent most of his life in Europe and has done his best to lose his American accent. After a brief and badly needed rest we gathered in a gazebo on the grounds of our hotel for Mass. It was improvisation at its best with Sr Liz and Rebecca from Port Pirie Diocese leading us in the WYD song and Archbishop Wilson praying for the victims of the shocking terrorist attack in Nice which we had just learned about on the last leg of our flight to Poland. On the first leg I had sat next to a South Aussie girl from Tea Tree Gully parish who was heading to Nice to meet up with an Oblate pilgrimage to Krakow – I’m sure there was a dark cloud over their journey when they heard the news.
After an early night we were up at 7am and headed into the heart of Warsaw for a tour of historical sites relating to Poland’s turbulent past, a magnificent monument of Chopin and memorials to the Warsaw Ghetto and the 750,000 Poles killed in the Warsaw Uprising. When our local guide pointed to the sewer opening which small children used to smuggle food to their families, it was a sombre moment indeed and we were grateful to Fr Charles for choosing this moment to say a prayer for humanity on the very site of such unimaginable human suffering.
Another moving occasion was when we celebrated Mass in a one of the small chapels in the Warsaw Cathedral, (see photo) one of the many beautiful buildings rebuilt after the German bombings. Other tourists came and joined us including a young Russian girl who was in Poland to meet up with 300 young people of Polish origin from around the world for WYD. She was pleased to have stumbled upon our Mass – perhaps we will see each other again in Krakow.
We wandered down the main boulevard where there is a magnificent church every 100 metres, including the Church of the Holy Cross which was reduced to rubble with only the cross remaining in sight after the war. Chopin’s heart is buried there and in a corner there is an eerily beautiful wall sculpture of St John Paul II with his relic beneath it. The rebuilding of Warsaw’s old city is testament to the resilience of the Polish people and their determination to ensure their culture and faith survived against all the odds.
01 Jul 2016
Watch this space for updates from Jenny Brinkworth on the Adelaide pilgrims' journey to World Youth Day Krakow in Poland, commencing July 14.