Sunday, October 20, 2013

Poland Pilgrimage

          The weekend of September 27-29 the school took most of the Gaming campus to Poland. It was a very intense weekend. I really enjoyed it because I actually had a little bit of an understanding of the place we were visiting courtesy of family read-alouds and high school historical fiction about World War II.
          Thursday night around 7:30pm, everyone boarded the busses they had already signed up to be on and we were on our way by 8:15. It was estimated to be a nine hour bus ride so we all settled in for a nice long ride. Of course we started out with the rosary and then Sr. Sarah Rose started the movie Karol about Pope John Paul II. I was in the very back of the bus with Rose and we had extra leg room! It was awesome! I was also next to the window so I leaned against the window and fell asleep after about an hour on the bus. We stopped in the Czech for 45 minutes (by law) so the bus drivers could rest and I got out and walked in the parking lot for two minutes so I could say I was in the Czech Republic. After we were back on the road, I slept for a while until the bus stopped again but once we started moving, I fell asleep.
          We were scheduled to arrive in Czestochowa around 5:15 so we could walk to the shrine to see the unveiling of the Black Madonna, but the road was closed so we had to take a long detour. Everyone on the bus was hoping we were going to be able to make it in time and as soon as the bus door opened, we hit the ground running. Literally. Sr. Sarah Rose was leading the way and she took off running and we all followed. We ran down the street about three blocks, ran across this huge street and up the sidewalk towards the shrine. When we looked up at the shrine, it was lit up in the darkness and surrounded by all this fog. There was a star shaped light on the top of the steeple, but it looked like the star was floating because the steeple was surrounded by fog. We had stopped running at this point, but we were still walking at a fast pace. Everyone was so excited because we knew we were going to make it for the unveiling. When we got in the chapel, we all stood as close to the front as we could. It was very quiet until these trumpets and horns started playing this gorgeous song and the unveiling began. I wasn’t able to see because I was off to the side, but apparently this cover that was over the picture was slowly raised off of the image.
          The image itself was absolutely beautiful. More beautiful than any picture of it could ever be. It was surreal to actually be there in front of the image and to look up at the Blessed Mother and see the scars on her face. It reminded me of the picture that Fr. David had at St. John Gualbert’s underneath the arm of the cross.
          After the unveiling, we all walked to the nearby hotel for breakfast and we stayed in the restaurant for about an hour trying not to fall asleep. We headed back to the Shrine because we were scheduled to have Mass around 9am and we wanted to walk around before Mass started.
When we got back to the shrine, we all got down on our knees and followed the path that went behind the image of the Black Madonna and in between rows of relics. There are grooves worn in the floor because so many pilgrims have gone behind the image on their knees. We visited a lot of side altars dedicated to different saints, an adoration chapel, a room with very different depictions of the Stations of the Cross, and a relic chapel that was underneath the Sacred Heart Chapel. We couldn’t go into the relic chapel, but we could see into it and see all the relics. There were the typical bone chips in reliquaries around the room, but there was also full out femur bones enshrined in the reliquaries. It was really cool! 
          We went back to the chapel with the image of the Black Madonna and Fr. Ron said Mass for us in English. Inside the chapel, there are rosaries, crutches, canes, walking sticks for blind people, glasses, leg and arm braces, and holy medals all hanging on the walls to witness to the miracles people have received. After Mass, we visited the gift shop and lit candles for our intentions. Rose and I walked around outside and saw a statue of Pope John Paul II and the Stations of the Cross they have outside. We walked into town with Ginny, Finley, and Becca, but didn’t come across anything exciting so we headed back to the buses. We had a sack lunch on the bus as we continued watching Karol and made our way to Auschwitz.
          When we got to Auschwitz, you could feel the mood change among the students. Mr. Wolter had us split up into groups and once we were all situated with a headset, our tour guide started us on the tour. There are no words to describe what it was like to walk through that camp. It was very emotional, but at the same time, it was so emotionless because you did not know what emotion to respond with…silence, regret, sorrow, peace. It was just so numbing. We walked through the rooms where the prisoners slept, the hallways they were marched down, the bathrooms they used, the pathways outside where they were lined up, the places where they were tortured, the cells where they were killed, the gas chambers, and the house just outside the camp where a Nazi leader and his family lived. We saw rooms filled with human hair, shoes, luggage, glasses, combs, tooth brushes, razors, and clothes. We saw cases that displayed prisoners ID papers and a hallway with pictures of the prisoners with their date of birth, date of entrance into camp, and date of death. When we were in the gas chamber, our tour guide pointed out that the room we were standing in was often filled with two hundred people or more when they killed the prisoners. There was about thirty of us in our group and we were standing in one half of the room. If we were in an American room, we probably would have been considered a safety hazard because there were so many of us in such a small space but the Nazis would cram one hundred or more prisoners into the same space we were standing in without thinking twice about it.
          It was a brisk day and walking around outside and through the cold buildings made me chilly. I was also hungry because a peanut butter sandwich and apple doesn’t go too far when you’re constantly on the move. It really made me think as I was walking through the camp just how privileged I am. Here I was wearing a cami, a tee shirt, a sweater, a rain jacket, jeans, socks and sneakers after I had eaten yogurt and cereal for breakfast and a peanut butter sandwich and apple for lunch with plenty of water and I was thinking about how cold and hungry I was while I was walking through a concentration camp. What?! It made me realize just how much I have and how much I can still complain with all that I have even when there were people walking down the same dirt roads I was walking down wearing practically nothing and eating next to nothing not even a hundred years ago. That’s the self-centered American mentality for you.
On our tour we were also able to see the cell where St. Maximilian Kolbe was starved and the building where he died. After we walked out of that building and while we were waiting for the rest of our group to come out, we stood by the post a Nazi watched at near the railroad tracks to make sure no one tried to escape. It was odd because while we were standing there in the cool, cloudy afternoon it felt like there was new hope and life being breathed into the camp. Almost like spring. There was no more pain and suffering to be had there. Only people to be remembered and lessons to be learned.
We got back on the buses and drove in silence to Birkenhof which was 5 minutes away. There we saw the platform where the people brought into the camp were told to leave their luggage and were sorted between those sent straight to the gas chambers and those sent to work. We saw the buildings they slept in and the triple level beds they put people on. We also saw the remains of the underground gas chambers. Our tour ended by a memorial and all the Franciscan students prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet together.
When we got on the bus, people tried to process what they had just seen but it was all so overwhelming. It definitely took some time to really comprehend what we had just experienced. We were taken to our hotel for dinner and then I headed up to my room to do some homework and go to sleep because it had been such a long day.
Saturday morning we had breakfast at the hotel which consisted of a buffet of eggs, bacon, bread, ham and cheese, yogurt, cereal, pastries, and mini croissants. Needless to say I stored away a few of those croissants in my stomach. We got on the buses to go into Krakow for a tour which started while we were on the buses and then we got off and walked around. On our tour, we saw the castle, the castle church, a building where John Paul II studied, and we stood on this corner where you could see six churches that were separated by only a few buildings. We went into one of the churches and saw the spot in a pew where John Paul II often prayed. We were able to kneel there for a minute and pray. It was a very special opportunity. We made our way into the center of Krakow in time to see the trumpeter of Krakow play his trumpet at 11am. It was totally amazing to think about when we read the Trumpeter of Krakow as a family read-aloud and to be able to actually be there to hear the Trumpeter of Krakow. It made me remember coloring pictures while mom read the story and how I used to think if I could go anywhere I would go see Poland and see where the Trumpeter of Krakow was… and here I was listening to the Trumpeter. Unbelievable!
When our tour was over, we walked around the souvenir shops and then Marissa and Michaela and I found this little restaurant where you filled up your food and paid by the ounce…or gram or whatever form of measurement they use. I had pierogies (I think they were potato), potatoes, and a potato pancake. It was actually pretty good. After lunch we walked down by the water and went to see the dragon breath fire.
Around 2pm we got back on the buses to go to the Divine Mercy Shrine. When we got there, we went straight to the Shrine so we could be there for the Divine Mercy Chaplet. The nun who was leading it said it in three (I think) different languages including Polish, English, and something else I didn’t recognize…not that I can recognize any other language.
After the Mercy Chaplet, we went to a conference room where the sweetest little nun gave a talk about Sr. Faustina and the Divine Mercy. It was so cute because Sarah the RD and a student were standing in the back and sister stopped her talk and said her heart couldn’t bear to watch them stand. They very quickly sat down to make the nun happy. It was so funny! After her talk, everyone visited the gift shop and bought rosaries or Sr. Faustina’s book or pictures of the Divine Mercy because everything was so cheap.
Fr. Ron said Mass for us in the Divine Mercy Chapel and we were able to venerate a relic of St. Faustina that is under the Divine Mercy image. After Mass, the bus dropped people off in Krakow if they wanted to spend the evening in the city and get dinner and it also went back to the hotel for those people who wanted to go back. I opted to go to the hotel because apparently Krakow isn’t as safe at night as the other cities we’ve been in and they were recommending people travel in groups (no, duh!) and preferably have a guy with them. I had food in my back pack so I was planning on eating in my room.

When I got back to my room and told my roommate I was planning on eating on my bed, she told me she has misophonia where she can’t stand the sounds of other people chewing so she would just hang out in the bathroom when I wanted to eat. By the time I was ready to eat, so had her headphones on so I asked her if it was still going to bother her and if she wanted me to go in the bathroom. She said it would bother her, so I went into the bathroom to eat. It is quite difficult to sit on the lid of the toilet and balance bread, an apple, and chocolate on your lap while your peanut butter is on the edge of the tub. I watched myself in the mirror the whole time I ate my picnic dinner in the bathroom.
          Sunday morning we went back to Krakow for a Latin High mass at the castle church. We ended up standing in the back because it was so crowded. The priest was giving the homily in Polish, but he insisted that Fr. Ron give a homily in English for us. After Mass, a group of nursing majors and two other girls went to the church where a vial of John Paul II’s blood is kept. We had to wait to go in because Mass was going on, so we prayed a Mercy Chaplet while we waited. Someone asked why this church has the vial of blood and Cecelia was like, “when he was here, he nearly cut his finger off on a window, so they got a vial and scooped his blood up.” Some of the people thought this was really cool and I was thinking, “that sounds really unlikely because how do you scoop up blood off of a window” and then Cecelia burst out laughing and told us all she was kidding. We eventually got into the church and were able to pray and touch our rosaries to the glass case that housed the vial. We went back into the center of Krakow and got some lunch and then slowly made our way back to the bus.
          The buses took us to Wadowice where we had two hours to see whatever we wanted to see. We were able to visit the church where John Paul II received the sacraments and where he often went to pray. We also went to the tiny museum that had his baby clothes, his different priestly robes, his ski and snow clothes, and some of his certificates. It was really awesome. We went to the local bakery and had a Pope Cake which apparently was something John Paul II recommended. It was this pastry type dessert that had this creamy filling that tasted like whipped cream and it was really good. Some people said they had a stomach ache because it was so sweet, but I didn’t think it was too sweet. Maybe it’s because they had specialty coffee too.
          We left Wadowice and headed to a hotel two hours away for dinner. Dinner took forever because the staff was so slow in serving everyone but we finally were back on the road headed to Gaming. The last part of the trip was so long because everyone was so tired and my back was killing me from sleeping on the bus. We got back to the Kartause at 2:58 am and I literally went straight up to my room, put my pajamas on and went straight to bed. It felt so good to be back in my bed.
          The Poland Pilgrimage was a very intense weekend full of amazing opportunities. It was definitely my favorite weekend because it had so much meaning for me and it made me feel close to my family and Polish friends. Poland was such a beautiful city and I’m so glad I had the opportunity to go there with so many friends! 

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