Monday, August 16, 2010

Polish Pilgrims

On our way to Auschwitz near Krakow, we saw a group of young people bearing banners marching on the side of the road.  At first, we thought they were protesting against something.  I also thought it was a rather odd place to be marching in - it was just a country road and traffic was not heavy.

Then we saw another group, and another group, and another one, ...   It turns out they were making a pilgrimage to Czestochowa.  More accurately the Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa at the Chapel of the Black Madonna in the Monastery of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa.  The monastery is the national shrine of Poland, and the center of Polish Catholicism.  It is also the third largest pilgrimage site in the world. 

The preferred day to make the pilgrimage are the days around 15th August, the Feast of the Assumption.  Roman Catholics believe that on this day, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was brought up to heaven, at the end of her days on earth.  We encountered those marchers on 6th August.  We were told that some of them marched for days, even weeks, on their way to Czestochowa.  Many do not carry with them sufficient provisions.  But many people along the way would provide them with food and shelter. 

This is one of the things that impressed me in Eastern Europe - the strength of the faith among the people.  We visited so many churches.  Many of them are still being used for regular worship services.  Even when no services are being held, people come in to pray.  And not just old ladies, but also men, and young people.  

The strength of their faith was one of the main reasons that the largely peaceful dismantling of the oppressive and tyrannical Communist rule in Eastern Europe was possible in 1989.    


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