The Roamin' Roman

Benvenuto! You have happened upon the blog of a wandering Catholic American college student studying for a year in Rome, the Eternal City. You will find here my pontifications, ruminations, reflections, images, and ponderings on my life in Rome. Ciao!

Monday, January 9

Poland, the Hidden Gem

My time in Poland was filled with graces from beginning to end - even though it was at times one of the most difficult journeys I have gone on. What was not difficult, however, was falling in love with Poland, with the people, the cities, the land - Poland took me in and made me feel quite at home.

I arrived in Warsaw last Sunday, and right off the bat encountered a few challanges... It had been arranged that I would spend the night at the apartment of Jolanta (my Polish classmate's mom). However, the directions I had been given to get to her home from the airport were a bit incomplete. And I hadn't gotten a map from the airport before I left. And it was dark out. And I didn't speak a lick of Polish. Oh boy. After a bit of interior panic, I began asking Poles around me, and discovered that A) they were all wonderfully helpful and kind and B) almost all of them speak some English. From person to person, I eventually landed safely (about an hour later) at "Mom's" house and a Polish meal only a Polish mom can cook.

So, from the very beginning, I felt that this trip was going to be a real pilgrimage in a very special way... because from the very beginning I was intimiately dependent upon God, and on His strength to help me "go with the flow" of His grace.

On Monday, I set out for the train station for a 3 hour train ride to Krakow, the "jewel of Poland", spared from severe damage during the War (some people will say that this is because of the devotion to the Divine Mercy in the region... the more pessimistic Poles say that it is because Krakow let Hitler in without a fight... Hmmm). In Krakow I went straight out to the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy, where I had a room at the Sanctuary's pilgrim house. Before I say anything else, let me say that I love the Sanctuary a great deal, and I have a deep devotion to St. Faustina and the Divine Mercy. However... the new Basilica that they have built there is about as cold and unmerciful of the "modern" architecture that I have ever seen -- thankfully, they have maintained the convent and the original convent chapel in all of its beauty, and from what I saw that is still really the heart and soul of the Sanctuary and the spiritual life of the Sisters there. And, ALL of the liturgies at the Sanctuary were amazingly beautiful and reverent - the spiritual life there is strong. I recommend everyone to go to the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy, it is not only a wonderful place for retreat and pilgrimage, but it is also both inexpensive (about $30 a night, with breakfast) and nicely located in a quiet area just outside of the center of Krakow.

With the Sanctuary as my "homebase" for the week, and starting each day with 6:30am Mass there with the Sisters, I explored the city of Krakow and also took a day trip out to Auschwitz. More on those places with the photos in a bit.

On Friday I left for Czestochowa, the major pilgrimage site of Poland with a beautiful icon of Our Lady with the Child Jesus. Poland's Catholics honor this icon, and have received many graces from God through Our Lady of Czestochowa. The entire town is quite a nice little Polish town, but the center of it all is Jasna Gora, the hill where the monastery is located. In a real sense all roads lead to Jasna Gora there!

This brings me to the spirituality and piety of the Polish people -- nowhere else have I ever experienced the devotion and love of our Lord, His Mother, and His Church that I saw in Poland. The practice of the Christian life is almost a given here, and it is shown not only in the liturgies, but in the very life of the people. I must say, the liturigies I participated in were all beautiful, with true "full and active participation of the laity" - without the means of "lay roles" or DIY liturgies, but rather, with the heartfelt and joyous prayerful uniting of the people with the offering of Jesus Christ in church, in Mass or in Adoration. The integration of faith and life in Poland is amazing, I cannot even begin to describe it to you... it is just something that I think is a great blessing to witness as a Christian trying to follow Christ in a world that is not always tolerant of those who try to live life according to their faith.

Back in Warsaw for my last night, I enjoyed being "home" in Poland after a week of constant new experiences and travels. On Sunday, Piotr was back in Warsaw and was able to take me around the city center - also very beautiful. It was one of the good things the Communists did for Poland, apparently, the rebuilding of the historic center after the War basically demolished it to ruins. They used whatever means they could to recreate what was lost, from the original plans, to old photos, to memory drawings, to reproduction paintings done by an Italian artist of some of the works of art that were lost. What we see today is so beautiful it is hard to imagine what it was like in the 1940s. Later on we met up with some other friends of his, and they took us to the major park of Warsaw, a beautiful royal estate (summer home of the kings formerly) before driving us both to the airport. By Providence, both Piotr and I had bought tickets on the same flight back to Rome (!) so it was a great blessing to finish my travels in good company.

And now, I am home... but I so much want to go back to Poland! I encourage all of you to go, Poland is a hidden gem in my opinion, particularly for Christians. It is a safe country, with a rebounding economy (there are new buildings and renovations going on in both Warsaw and Krakow), and the strength of the dollar against the Polish currency is such that it is very inexpensive for most of us to travel there. The best part of it all is that there is such a strong living faith there, and a real warmth of the people, that you cannot help but be encouraged in your faith and friends with many Poles before your journey is done!

Ok, enough chatter I guess... Check out the photos and see for yourself!


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