Happily for us, the fevered speculation of one million pilgrims converging on Czestochowa did not come to pass. There were tens of thousands, certainly, but nothing unmanageable.
Our Mass at the spiritual heart of Poland, which in a way launched our pilgrimage (in fact, there’ve been many starts), brought together Australians, Americans and Britons. It’s really not cricket for priests to take photos during the Mass, but I did sneak in one:
The queues to reach the Black Madonna were very long, and very slow, but all our pilgrims dutifully and patiently fell in.
As we snaked around the large chapel, we could really soak in the surrounds. The walls are covered in plaques and medals and rosaries which date back centuries: gifts from pilgrims, grateful for graces they attribute to Our Lady of Czestochowa.
There’s also a wall of crutches, left behind by pilgrims whose healing made them redundant:
Our pilgrims were briefed to “pray, click, pay” in that order. So in the final couple of hours, pilgrims took photos, toured the museums and grounds, and met some of the other thousands of international pilgrims.
This was a great way to prepare for the World Youth Day festival, which begins in earnest on Tuesday. From the spiritual heart of Poland we move towards the spiritual heart of Christendom: the papal Mass on Sunday, where we join Pope Francis at the altar, and with him the billion Catholics presently living around the world, and the countless holy souls in Heaven and purgatory.
Our early start this morning – 5:15 I think – didn’t feel so early. I guess there’s nothing like a longhaul flight to help you appreciate sleep in a real bed! The rising time loses its significance. Everyone’s bright eyed and bushy tailed.
Today we move from Warsaw to Czestochowa, the geographical and spiritual heart of Poland. We’ve got midday Mass scheduled at Jasna Gora, one of Europe’s most famous Marian shrines. Every year, hundreds of thousands of Poles walk to the shrine, seeking spiritual favours or giving thanks for favours received. I get the impression that Jasna Gora is central to every Polish Catholic – all 37 million of them.
Nobody seems to know how many international pilgrims we’ll be joining in our own visit to the shrine. Estimates vary from tens of thousands to a million pilgrims! The monastery accommodates 100 thousand at a pinch, so we may not even glimpse the Black Madonna, but at least we can all reconnaissance the place for some future pilgrimage. I’m sure our visit will still honour Our Lady and please her Son.
I’ll post photos at the end of the day, when we again have free wifi. In the meantime, at the monastery I’ll commend readers’ intentions to the prayers of our Blessed Mother. Godspeed!
So I am blogging now from Doha, where the Internet is slow but free, so I’m not complaining.
The Krakow Connect pilgrimage is so big (200 plus pilgrims), that we are travelling on two different flights. Most left earlier, and flew with Emirates. But I’m part of the Qatar cohort, which is why our stopover is in Doha.
Qatar Airways is very good. The flights are slightly cheaper than Emirates and Etihad, but the service is in fact much better. I think my roman collar earned me a seat with more leg room, and I received lots of extra attention, so that was an unexpected bonus.
But all the other pilgrims agree, too, that the service is much higher than the already high standard of other airlines. The food wasn’t great, but the seats are comfortable enough to sleep in, and the insomniacs report the range of movies was good.
It’s the friendly staff which really recommend Qatar. They run a lot – I’ve never seen that on other airlines – but maybe that’s what makes them so generous with their time, and very personable. As I was disembarking, one of the Muslim stewardesses wished us all a good Easter. Makes sense. Lots of pilgrims; a big Catholic festival … I can see why it might evoke Christianity’s greatest feast.
Many of the pilgrims have never been overseas before. Even fewer have met the pope. So the excitement is pretty high. I hope, just as so many have experienced before, that World Youth Day exceeds their expectations and makes a deep spiritual impact.
I’ll keep updating this blog when I can. Updates are available in other places too:
Official blog: www.cam.org.au/wydvictoria/Live-Blog
Stacey Atkins’ blog: pilgrim2016.weebly.com
This week, I feel like a city priest. For a week now, I’ve been anointing the dying, and arranging funerals, and burying the dead, every day except Sunday. And the rest of this week offers more of the same.
I’m accustomed to a funeral every three or four weeks, so six funerals in six days is definitely a thing. It gives me a taste of the life of my suburban counterparts, who carry this sort of workload all the time. In my case, I think it’s related to the unusually cold winter conditions.
Confession: it is wreaking havoc on my interior life. I’m spending three or four hours in the car each day, rather than the usual one or two. (Maybe that detail is still unique to the country priest!) Driving, at least, lends itself to praying the psalms and the rosary.
But all my time out of the car is spent ministering to people, and time constraints limit even that. There is little time for meditation before the tabernacle, and no time for spiritual reading. As someone who strives to be a contemplative in the world, I’m feeling very shrivelled right now. But I suspect I shouldn’t dialogue with that. I’m called to be a contemplative in the world, which is distinct from the calm routine of monastic life.
One thing I am very much conscious of: activism is fatal to priestly ministry. I think a priest who does not pray is a fraud. His spiritual reservoir is quickly exhausted, and when he’s running on empty, how can he give to others what he does not have himself?
On the other hand, it is inevitable that duties of ministry will occasionally preclude the usual prayer routine. Right now I feel like one of the disciples, joining the Lord for a spiritual retreat in the wake of the devastating death of John the Baptist. Only to be confronted by a large crowd which moves our Lord to pity, and requires me to roll up my sleeves and get to work.
At this rate, World Youth Day will be a time for me to rest and recharge. Blessed be God!
Today I joined 300 or so pilgrims at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Melbourne, where Archbishop Hart prayed a blessing over us and commissioned us to join the pope in Poland for World Youth Day later this month.
In addition to the blessing and commission, we received briefings and tickets and a host of related goodies, like a green and gold combination of pilgrim T-shirt and hat:
What really caught my eye, though, was that Prayer Book for Youth which the Melbourne Vocations Office has published in honour of Pope St John Paul II. It’s a great new resource, which seeks to be something of a one-stop shop for young Catholics becoming acquainted with traditional forms of prayer.
There are adaptations of the Divine Office — I particularly like the Night Prayer. There are popular devotions like the Rosary, the Stations of the Cross, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. You’ll find traditional formulae of Catholic doctrine, a guide to spiritual discernment, and prayers authored by saints old and new. The book concludes with several lengthy quotations from St John Paul II to youth, on the priestly vocation, the married vocation, and the universal call to sanctity.
Each chapter title is accompanied by a black and white photo of the pope, and several of these photos I have not seen before. The chapter on sacramental confession incorporates a famous photo of John Paul II with Ali Agca, his would be assassin. The pair strike a pose which evokes confession, and although no sacraments were ministered that day, grace abounded and a very real reconciliation took place.
The guide to a good confession which constitutes this chapter is very familiar to me. I prepared it for last year’s Adelaide Catholic Youth Festival, in collaboration with my good friend and neighbour in Mt Gambier, Fr Michael Romeo. I’ve blogged before about Fr Romeo’s heroic efforts at the ACYF to promote eucharistic adoration and sacramental confession. The guide to confession he commissioned from me, and a guide to eucharist adoration he commissioned from Adelaide’s Fr Peter Zwaans, are now featured in this excellent new prayer book.
I’m not saying you should get the JPII Prayer Book for Youth because of the material I prepared for it. I’m recommending it because it positively teems with great content, from all quarters — most notably the saints. It is beautifully presented and easy to use. Best of all, it’s free! Keep your eyes peeled, because its public circulation began today.