The pilgrimage to Poland is now completed - in all we had twelve modern day disciples - The Other Twelve - who journeyed throughout Poland seeking - God's Divine Mercy.
The journey began in America at our respective airports - San Diego - Phoenix Sky Harbor - Chicago O'Hare. From there we flew thousands of miles to Warsaw, Poland - the Capital of Poland. Arriving on a free day - nothing planned except a welcome dinner - the majority ventured into the Old Town area of Warsaw to visit the Royal Palace and the Stare Miasto - Old town square - to browse and enjoy the Polish culture.
Gathering together in the evening with our tour guide - Marta - we toasted the safe arrival of everyone and the beginning of our pilgrimage. Beginning the next day - we ventured on a tour of Old Warsaw - viewing Lazienki Park/Museum - Lazienki Palace - the Warsaw Ghetto and monument dedicated to the Polish Jews - wandered into the Stare Miasto in Warsaw viewing Sigismund's Column near the Royal Palace - visiting the Warsaw Cathedral - lunch in the square with the Warsaw Mermaid - ending the day at the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy where Saint Faustina entered the convent. After celebrating Holy Mass we retired for the day.
Lazienki Museum & Park
Warsaw Memorial for Jews
Sigismund's Column - Old Town - Stare Miasto
Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy Chapel
The second day of our pilgrimage saw us leaving Warsaw and heading to Niepokalanow to visit one of the largest Franciscian monasteries in the world founded by Saint Maximillian Kolbe. There we listened to a lecture about Saint Kolbe - visited his museum - viewed the basilica there with time for a prayer then left for Czestochowa - the spiritual capital of Poland.
Inside the Basilica
Czestocohwa - Jasna Gora Monastery
At Jasna Gora - Czestochowa - we were introduced to Father Szymon one of the Pauline monks who leads English tours. He is quite the character and filled with a treasury of knowledge about Jasna Gora Monastery - the Black Madona icon - Czestochowa in general. After an in depth tour he celebrated Holy Mass with us - then sent us on our way to rest for the evening.
The Black Madonna
Karen & Joe with Christ The King
Holy Mass with Deacon Dale and Father Symon
Our next day we left heading to Wadowice - the hometown of Saint John Paul II - visiting the basilica there where he served as an altar server - celebrated Holy Mass with Father Mirek - minus this deacon who was under the weather - then ate some Kremowka made famous by the Pope. .
Basilica of the Presentation of the Virgin Mary
Father Mirek at Holy Mass
Leaving Wadowice we headed to Krakow where we met our local guide Mikal who took us to Wawel Castle and Wawel Cathedral - then walked to the Market Square to visit St. Mary's Church - housing the world's largest altar. The evening was free to explore on our own.
Hot & Tired Pilgrims
Saint Mary's Church
Sukiennice - Cloth Market - Market Square
Our next day found us at Auschwitz-Birkenau - an emotionally draining experience - viewing both the camp at Auschwitz and the remains of the Birkenau location. According to our guide - revised - more accurate numbers - now corrected for early misinformation - place the number of those killed at 1.5 million persons - the majority - perhaps 80% - Jewish men - women - children.
Auschwitz Entrance Barrier
Firing Squad Wall Memorial - Joe & Arlene Placing Flowers
The Ovens - Destroying the Evidence
Entrance to Birkenau
Marta Laying A Flower On The Tracks That Brought Death To So Many
Death Camp Arrival Station - The Selection Process
Leaving there and taking a breather to come down from that visit and eat some lunch - we headed to the Shrine of Divine Mercy. The tower at the Shrine greeted us as we approached and walked to the church in time to pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3:00 PM - the Hour of Mercy. After a short break we entered the chapel area below the main sanctuary where we listened to a short lecture by one of the sisters regarding Saint Faustina and the Divine Mercy. Immediately after we celebrated Holy Mass with Father Mirek a local English speaking Polish priest. At this Mass I was able to encourage our pilgrims and a group of women who joined us for Holy Mass on the responsibility of living a productive Catholic Christian life. The tour continued with a visit to the convent where Saint Faustina lived and died.
The Divine Mercy Basilica
Entrance To the Basilica
The Altar in the Basilica
View of the Convent from the Tower
View of the Sisters' Grave Site From Tower
Sister Teaching About Saint Faustina and the Divine Mercy
Holy Mass with Deacon Dale and Father Mirek
Deacon Dale Homily on Divine Mercy and Call To Discipleship
The next morning came very early as we left for a visit to the Salt Mines at Wieliczka where we we able to avoid the 358 steps down into the mines via special arrangements to use the miners' elevator. Once below in the mines we were guided through many passageways viewing small chapels - artwork carved out of salt - and entering huge rooms hewn out of salt where today you find space for hundreds for Holy Mass - wedding receptions and other functions. The most impressive things about the salt mines is the lack of dust and how clean and polished all the surfaces are. Return to the surface was a quick 20 second ride in a modern elevator.
Entrance to Salt Mine
Going Down - Miner's Elevator
Saint Kinga's Chapel
We then headed to Zakopane to visit the area of Poland made popular by Saint John Paul II and his love of skiing in the mountains there. Unlike the majority of Poland - where the homes are brick and stucco - the homes in Zakopane are more like Swiss chalets cut from timber. The ride was relaxing and once there we viewed The Church of the Holy Family and spent some time shopping for local crafts.
Church Of The Holy Family
Zakopane Market Area
The ride back to Krakow was restful - a peaceful end to our pilgrimage. Leaving early the next morning we boarded our flights to return to our homes.
The Other Twelve - Poland Pilgrims - Wadowice
Pilgrimage whether at home or in a foreign land always draws one closer to God - closer to Jesus - closer to understanding your personal relationship with the Divine. Being open to the possibilities - of the moment - of your potential - of others - reinforces the beliefs shared by many. As an evangelization tool - pilgrimage is a great way to further experience your faith.
As we often say - Come Journey With Us