By David M. Carollo –
A Pilgrimage to Poland
I am writing most of this article at Krakow airport, named after St. Pope John Paul II, the native son of this city. Flight delays can be a blessing, especially when the events of the day have been an inspiration to write accounts such as this. Make no mistake, I am not huddled in the corner of the terminal, sitting on the floor with people stepping over me and spilling their drinks on my computer. On the contrary, I am sitting in a comfortable lounge, one of the benefits of being a frequent flier. After a couple of days at Czestochowa where we had a group Mass in the sanctuary in front of the Miraculous Icon, we travelled south to Krakow where I was able to enjoy this beautiful city once again, our favorite place in Poland, albeit for a short time. Duty called me back to the US, so this trip was much shorter than I would have liked.
I attend Mass most every day. This was First Saturday, so the need to attend this morning carried a special urgency. I cannot disappoint Our Lady by breaking the promise to keep this devotion every month. I joined the pilgrim group that we were leading at the beautiful Carmelite Church on the Sand, built on the site where in the 11th century, Duke Wladyslaw I was miraculously cured of a case of scurvy after a vision led him to this place where he found blooming violets in the sand. This church and the beautiful city center have survived and flourished despite constant invasions and political abuses for centuries. In fact, it is a tribute to the determination and faithfulness to the culture and the Faith that built and maintains it. Time was short after Mass, so after saying goodbye to my wife who was staying for another week with the thirty pilgrims, I departed.
A Tale of Two Cities
I prayed my Rosary while briskly walking back to my hotel to catch my ride to the airport. Krakow is known as the Royal City for a reason. History envelopes you in this picturesque town. Horse drawn carriages and magnificent architecture define the landscape. Rosary dangling as I crossed the square, I saw many eyes look at this sacramental and at me. It did not quite fit, a layman praying amidst people shopping and enjoying the warm weather. Occasionally among the crowd were priests and sisters. Passing them, it is customary to acknowledge their consecrated nature, with the words, “Niech będzie pochwalony Jezus Chrystus” (Praised be Jesus Christ), to which they respond, “Na wieki wieków. Amen” (Now and Forever, Amen). I recently read accounts of the dwindling number of vocations in Poland. I fear that what the conquerors failed to accomplish with weapons, the commercialism of the West is doing by appealing to, instead of subjugating, the masses.
Poland survived and even thrived as a nation without geographical borders from 1795 until 1919. The Prussians, Russians and Germans partitioned this land physically but could not kill the culture. Later the Nazis and then the Communists took their turn at trying to redefine the nation. Why did all of them fail in this quest? It is apparent if you step back and breathe in the culture. It is the Faith. Sometimes you know these things, but never quite realize why. Most European cities are defined by the churches that are the centers of the towns, but this town is one of those that has numerous edifices that are a testimony to Christianity.
I am married into a Polish family. My wife’s family immigrated to the US when she was a child. The children were protected from the Communist times by their parents, but I gained an awareness of the difficulties that they encountered. Coming for a better life, they moved to the US and sought freedom and material success. Many conversations about how spoiled American people are reinforced what my mother and father often spoke of. My parents were the children of Italian immigrants who felt we took much for granted.
As I passed St. Mary’s Basilica, I saw the faithful lined up outside for the First Saturday procession. They looked at me with approving smiles. I stopped for a moment to say a prayer and take a photograph of the men on their knees and the statue of Our Lady up on the carrier with the custodians carrying the image. If time had allowed, I would have joined them. Continuing, I entered the other world once again, approaching my hotel.
It’s Worth Fighting For
I have the greatest admiration for St. Pope John Paull II, the vibrant man from Poland who took the world by storm in 1978 and opened the eyes of many Catholics in the developed world to the need to be dynamic in proclaiming our Faith. He was the perfect example of how adversity builds character, having lost his mother at a young age and growing up during the tumultuous mid-20th century. His mantra, “be not afraid,” reflects those who laid the foundation that he rose from. He reminded us of what many saints before him led us to: an understanding that our true heritage is found in Christ and that there is nothing more worth fighting for than this identity.
Catholics fought long and hard to become a voice in the United States. The work of the great Fr. McGivney, founding the Knights of Columbus and many other Catholic leaders brought us into the mainstream of society. Immigration from Catholic countries during the Industrial Revolution brought our numbers to great heights. Our ancestors brought more than good cuisine and friendly customs to the New World – they brought the Faith, without which the material trappings of our country are meaningless. With secularism tightening the grip on us here, will we stand as the Poles did through many trials and persecutions? The better life that the immigrants sought here in America is meaningless if we lose the noble belief that we seek something better and everlasting.
As atheistic communism darkened much of Eastern Europe for half a century, a shining light emanated from Poland. You see the Poles realized during their long history of struggles that there are things worth fighting for. In fact, if we are not willing to do so we are not worthy to receive the gift of freedom and the crown of everlasting life which awaits us.
God bless you and Mary keep you in her Immaculate Heart.
David M. Carollo is the Executive Director of the World Apostolate of Fatima USA/National Blue Army Shrine. He wrote this for his Voice of Fatima column.