I think this is Day 4 of our Pilgrimage officially. With over a day a day of travel under our belt, we have visited the Tatra Mountains (separates Poland from Slovakia) in the beautiful mountain city of Zakopane where St. John Paul II would retreat to ski, hike, and be in the presence of God in nature. It was glorious! The architecture of the city was stunning - everything was hand crafted out of wood so intricately. We visited a shrine to Our Lady of Fatima which was built in honor of JP II's life being spared after an assasination attempt. JP II was known to have said, "One hand shot the gun while the other hand guided the bullet," that other hand being Mary. We are blessed to have 7 priests and Bishop Quinn with us, so we celebrated Mass with the Diocese of Bismarck, ND (who is traveling with us) in a small chapel at the shrine. I noticed there were little silver hearts that looked like the Sacred Heart of Jesus nailed all over the chapel, and Bishop Quinn said they were hung in honor of prayers answered. I can't explain how beautiful it was to feel the presence of so many answered prayers.
This morning we traveled to Wadowice (pronounced Vadovicheh) and discovered that Karol Wojtyla lived, went to Mass, and went to school all right next to each other. Today, his childhood flat (apartment building) has been turned into a museum displaying his life. You can see a video of us at JP II's hometown at our facebook page for Pax Christi Catholic Church at https://www.facebook.com/PaxChristi/?fref=ts.
What a gift to have walked in the footsteps of our Holy Father in his early life. The other strikingly beautiful aspect of Poland is how active church life is here. Every time we enter a church here there is either Mass, Adoration, Baptisms, or people there to pray. There are also many more people just because it's the week before World Youth Day, but even in Zakopane yesterday the locals of the community (which are called Highlanders) filled the Church of the Holy Family for a Divine Mercy Chaplet (which we joined them for) and daily Mass. The Spirit is truly alive here in Poland!
This afternoon we traveled to the city of Wieliczka (no idea how to pronounce that one, but it's close to Krakow) where we took a two hour tour of the salt mines that have been around for 600 years 443 feet under the city. After the rise of Communism in Poland, JP II was forced to work in these mines so he would not be deported from his own homeland. Another display of the spirit of Poland was the 40 chapels the salt miners had built within the mines. Every day the miners would pray in one of the 40 chapels to dedicate their work and day to God and ask for His protection in their dangrous work. There is one "chapel," that is basically a church, that took 60 years to carve out and only 4 men built it. I kept thinking about how these men devoted their entire lives to making a beautiful church for the miners (and now others - it still opersates as a church) to worship in. How many people today devote 60 years of their lives to building something beautiful for the glory of God? And these miners worked hard all day in the mines - they were not professional artists. I left the mines today in complete awe of the devotion of the Polish people to God who they know is in control and should receive our firstfruits. Below is an image of the main chapel in the salt mine. EVERYTHING is made from salt...even the chandelier!
There is just so much to write about and not enough space or time! Tomorrow we are headed to Aushwitz and the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, so please pray that we are open to receive the plentiful graces the Lord will flood us with as we spiritually enter the world of St. Maximillian Kolbe and many others who died in the concentation camps in World War II.