Over the last ten years my husband and I have been on several pilgrimages led by St Mary’s in Penistone. It all started when, ten years ago, I saw a notice in our church, St John’s in Penistone, advertising a pilgrimage to Poland. I thought this was too good an opportunity to miss.
Poland was somewhere I wanted to visit for some time because of a Polish man who had settled in the village, Halton West, where I grew up after the war. He had lost his family in the concentration camps and was afraid to return whilst it was under communist control. He was called Bronic and was a very gentle man and probably the first person I met from another country. He did return to Poland for visits and was reunited with a niece after 1990. He died only a few years ago at the age of 90.
We had just retired, so, answered the advert and were welcomed into the group as fellow Christians. We were two out of six Anglicans. We were invited to share in the Masses, and contribute to the service through music and prayers. Since then we have joined the pilgrimages to Oberamagau, the Holy Land, Turkey, Ireland, and this year again to Poland. We are a “happy band of pilgrims” always coming from different parts of the country and different denominations, yet all Christians coming together in the love of Christ.
This year we stayed all week in Krakow, going out most days to visit places of interest. The first day was spent visiting the Congregation of the Sisters of the Virgin Mary at Lagiewniki where the Divine Mercy was given to Saint Faustina. We continued to Wadowice, the birthplace of Saint Pope John Paul the Second, where we visited a museum depicting his life. What an inspiration to mankind! The next day we visited Auschwitz where we witnessed the worst that man could inflict on fellow man. However, we also saw an example of the best of humanity through the deed of Saint Maximillian Kolbe. He sacrificed his own life so that a fellow prisoner could escape. The next day we travelled to the national Shrine and centre of Catholicism in Poland at Jasna Gora, Czestachowa, which is the home of the icon of the Virgin Mary, allegedly painted by Luke the Evangelist on a tabletop built by Jesus himself. The icon was discovered by Saint Helen, mother of the Emperor Constantine who was a collector of Christian relics in the Holy Land. According to legend it remained for over 500 years before coming to Jasna Gora. The cathedral is a splendid example of the Baroque style of architecture and is magnificent.
Sunday was a free day to explore Krakow, which we did after attending Mass with a congregation of nuns of the St Francis order near our hotel. The next day we visited Zakopane in the Tatra Mountains where we used the funicular to climb the mountain. This area is a favourite for anyone who likes walking and skiing and was a special place to Saint Pope John Paul. Finally, we visited the Salt mines at Wieliczka. They are amazing, and illustrate as much as anything the faith of the Polish people. There are chapels carved within the mine adorned with statues of special saints carved out of salt where the miners would worship before commencing with their arduous and dangerous work.
In all a fulfilling week. The sun shone upon us every day, and we returned still a “happy band of pilgrims” so grateful to Brendan and Phyl Lally who organised it for us all, and to Father Stanislaw for the spiritually uplifting Masses.