This past weekend, the school organized a trip to Poland for us. I love it when they do this, because all I need to do is give them money and they plan everything! What a blessing for us busy students!
After a 10-hour bus ride, we arrived in Poland at 5 am. We made our way up an extremely icy hill to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa (pronounced chesta-hova). Because we were there quite early, we were able to be very close for the unveiling of the image. (For those of you who are unfamiliar with Our Lady of Czestochowa, it is said to have been painted by St. Luke on a table built by Christ!) Fr. Luke said Mass for us at the altar of the image, and most of us did the traditional walk around the Madonna on our knees.
Then, it was time for the difficult part of the trip- Auschwitz and Birkenau. We all knew about the concentration camps from school, but visiting is totally different. To walk the streets that Jews, Christians, and Nazis walked, to enter their barracks, walk their corridors, see their shoes, hair, brushes, suitcases, and dishes- it’s heartbreaking. I couldn’t help but ask myself, How? Why? How could this happen, and Why not me? Being able to pray at St. Maximillian Kolbe’s call was a very small, flickering light in the midst of a tremendous darkness. At Birkenau, the 150 of us waked the length of the train tracks in complete silence. All we could hear was out trudging footsteps in the snow. When we reached the end, we prayed a Divine Mercy chaplet together- once more, a little light in the darkness.
Back on the bus, we gradually started talking again, and eventually arrived in Krakow. The hotel was lovely, and I enjoyed spending time with Stasia and Elyse, as we were rooming together. The next morning, we were given a professional tour of the city. Our tour guide was Catholic, so she gave us a lot of little Catholic “fun facts” :). She was confirmed by Cardinal Karol Wojtyla! We had some free time, so we went through the outdoor market and bought some gifts for people ;). Perogies for lunch with the sisters who came with us, then on to the Divine Mercy Shrine, where St. Faustina received her visions and locutions. We said the chaplet with the sisters, then heard a presentation by one of the sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, went to the gift shop (see a trend here?!?), and had Mass. Dinner was on our own, so Stasia and I had hamburgers… don’t judge. Not quite Polish, but very delicious! That evening, we went to this fantastic shop for hot chocolate… I literally think they melted a chocolate bar into the cup. It was super thick and creamy… yum!
On Sunday, we had a Latin Mass at the Cathedral in Krakow, then headed to Wadowice (pronounced va-do-VEE-chey). Wadowice is Blessed John Paul II’s hometown, only about an hour from Krakow. It is very small, so there was not tons to do, but we saw his parish where he was Baptized, received First Communion, and Confirmed, and ate “pope cake”! JPII had a favorite pastry that he always ate when he returned to his home- it’s a thick layer of pudding-creme in between two flaky pastries. So good! (After eating it, I was very thirsty (and in need of spending my last zloty (Polish money)) so I went to find some water. I saw some in a bakery, so I went in and asked for water. There was only one kind, and she handed it to me and I paid. When I took a sip outside, I was taken aback- I had forgotten to ask for still water!! It was sparkling! I’d actually never had plain sparkling water before; it was quite good and refreshing :P ).
We had another long bus ride back, and arrived home to Gaming about 1:30 am. Thank goodness Monday was a “recovery day” with no classes. Just 3 meetings. Haha.
All in all, it was a really great weekend. I was able to spend time with some different people and get to know them, see some things that helped me grow both as a person and in my faith, and prepare spiritually for my next trip! (But that’s another blog post in and of itself…)