And Here. We. Go.


“Violence and arms
can never resolve the problems of men.”

-Pope St. John Paul II

Throughout all of midterm week, I had but one thought that kept me going, that helped me make it through the week: Poland. The weekend after midterms was our pilgrimage to Poland. I had heard such great things about the time in Poland, and I knew that it would be fruitful in some way (I prayed), so that is what helped me through the hellish week that was Midterm Week.

We left that Thursday evening from Gaming and got into Częstochowa early that Friday morning. We made it there in time to see the unveiling of the Black Madonna. It was kind of strange, because there were trumpets, and it was very theatrical. I was sort of disappointed in how theatrical it was, but the Black Madonna was still beautiful, adorned in silver and gold. After the unveiling, we had breakfast and then went back to the basilica. We were supposed to have Mass in the Chapel of the Image, but something happened, so we had Mass in some back-chapel that was obviously used for presentations given to tourists. After Mass, I had the opportunity to crawl on my knees around the Chapel of the Image (a tradition of pilgrims to the Black Madonna). The pilgrim is called to lift up their intentions as they crawl. Because of my bad knees, it was more of a struggle but even more fruitful, as I was able to offer up my sufferings to the Cross, recognizing how minuscule my pain was to His.

After spending more time in Częstochowa, we got back onto the buses and headed toward Auschwitz. I had heard much of the power of the experience of the camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau, so I did what I could to try and prepare myself, in the sense of knowing that it can be quite powerful. It was suggested to walk through the camps barefoot as a sacrifice for all of those who died in those camps, and that is what I did. I didn’t feel right taking pictures there, auschwitzso I don’t have any pictures. As I walked through the camps, it was truly sad to think of all the people who went through them and died at the hands of the Nazis. And I did make that sacrifice, as small of a sacrifice as it was, for them. However, two things seemed to stick out to me: the weather and the Nazi soldiers. Whenever I had seen the camps portrayed, the weather was always bad – either rainy or at least cloudy. I understand that that is just artistic portrayal, but I almost half-expected the weather to be similar. However, when we went, the sky was clear and blue. Surprisingly, it made the camps seem more like a real place, where real people were, and not just some place on TV and in movies. Also, the soldiers came to my mind more than the prisoners. The soldiers put their souls at risk by following this path of evil. I found a book (“And Your Conscience Never Haunted You?” – The Life of Rudolf Höss, Commander of Auschwitz, and the Question of His Responsibility Before God and Human Beings) about an officer of Auschwitz. From what I have read, it mentions how we not not evil; he just did evil things. These officers need our prayers more, because they turned so far from truth and goodness. I took a rock a rock from each camp to help remind me how real these places are.

After going to Auschwitz and Birkenau (places about which I could probably talk for much longer), we went to our hotel in Krakow for dinner and for the night. We were told we could turn in, or we could go out and check out Krakow. I decided to just have a Polish beer with a friend and then turn in. The next morning after breakfast, we were given a tour of Krakow, showing us some major spots and major churches throughout the city, including site of Karol Wojtyla (Pope John Paul II). After the tour, I went into St. Mary’s Basilica with some friends for a little while and then enjoyed some pierogis for lunch. We had a rather chill morning/early afternoon as we walked around and checked out some stores in Krakow.

After our free time, we were taken to the Shrine of Divine Mercy for a Chaplet of Divine Mercy and100_1699 Mass. When I saw the Shrine, I was…surprised. I was rather disappointed. The Church did not life my mind to God in prayer. It did not look like a church; it looked like a small airport hangar with an air traffic control tower. I would have thought it would have been more like… – I don’t know – a church. I never even felt the need to go in. We had the Chaplet and Mass in the Old Convent Chapel, which was much more beautiful than the Shrine seemed. We went back into Krakow for the night, where we walked around, found dinner, and then headed back to the hotel. Some of us stayed up for drinks while others called it a night. I got to have some good times talking with friends and just enjoying their company, which is sometimes hard to do during the school week.

The next morning, we had the opportunity to go to a Novus Ordo Latin Mass at the Basilica Cathedral in 100_1727Krakow (at the tomb of St. Stanislaus). I have missed having more opportunities to go to Latin Mass, so I greatly enjoyed having that chance. After Mass, we had more free time in Krakow. We got to visit some more churches. Though, ultimately, it was more free time than I needed in Krakow. After Krakow, we went out to Wadowice, where Pope John Paul II grew up. We saw the Basilica of Wadowice, which had several relics of saints such as Padre Pio and Pope John Paul II. I spent some time in the church and then went to do some shopping and to get some Pope Cake, which was really good. We then loaded up the buses again and started back to Gaming, finally getting back at 1:00am or so on Monday morning.

There were two main things that the pilgrimage made me think about. Firstly, God’s ways are truly not our ways. We can always go in with expectations about what is going to happen or what is going to affect us (such as with Częstochowa, Auschwitz, the Shrine of Divine Mercy), but those expectations don’t mean anything. God is going to do what he wants; He works on His own terms, not ours. I went in like the Joker in the meme above: I went in expecting a big boom but was quickly disappointed when nothing happened. That is something that we must constantly remind ourselves, for big things or little things. If we build up expectations, we better be ready to have them struck down, because God does things His way, to which our way doesn’t always match up.

The second thing is that it can be easy to get burnt out. We were taking in so much throughout the weekend, especially with going to the concentration camps. The whole time, we never got a Holy Hour or time like that to empty ourselves to God. Sure, we could have done that during our free time, but few of us are likely to actively seek it out despite the fact that we desperately needed it. By Wadowice, I was so burnt out; I couldn’t take in anything more. Nothing could phase me. Throughout our lives, we constantly need to turn to give all we have to Him so that He can fill us back up again. We can easily become complacent and numb. That’s because we are so full of the things we’ve experienced and haven’t taken time to turn to God. We always need that time, whether on pilgrimage or just living the everyday 9-to-5.

“Totus Tuus”

-Pope St. John Paul II


Duc In Altum


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: What I Learned in Austria Is… | Eärendil Star

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