Krakow is the only city in the world with sites connected with almost the whole life of Saint John Paul II. In fact, the city could be ascribed as being synonymous with the life of this great former successor of St Peter as the head of the Catholic Church. It is this city that remembers him as a student of Polish Philology, a workman, an actor, a Poet, a seminarian, a young priest saying his first masses, a university instructor, a priest in charge of the pastoral care of students and families, a bishop and an Archbishop before becoming the Head of the Catholic Church.
Karol Wojtyla (Saint Pope John Paul II) lived in Krakow for 65 years of his life. He was called to the Holy See in 1978. Each of his visits to the Royal Capital City of Krakow when he became a Pope left traces in more than just human hearts. In order to commemorate these meetings, the people of Krakow have raised monuments, hung commemorative plaques and named important institutions after him. The people of Krakow and indeed the entire Poland are familiar with the sites that are connected with the life of Saint Pope John Paul 11
On the 27th April 2014, Pope John II was proclaimed a Saint by Pope Francis. The nearly 9-year long, canonization process of the Polish Pope acknowledged the occurrence of two miracles. The first was the healing of a sick person with Parkinson’s disease, the French nun Marie Simon-Pierre, through the intercession of the Pope, and the second was the miraculous healing of a woman from Costa Rica, suffering from an inoperable brain aneurysm, who had been praying through John Paul II since his beatification.
Visiting John Paul II’s paths in Krakow during this World Youth Day, is a unique opportunity for Nigerian delegates and other young pilgrims from different parts of the world to follow the route of a Catholic saint and pope who towered high and impacted positively on the lives of many as the head of the universal Catholic Church.
The Nigerian Pilgrims began the World Youth Day in Poland in a grand style with a visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa.
The image of Our Lady of Jasna Gora, also known as the icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, depicts the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the Child Jesus on Her left hand, and is housed in a Church known as the Shrine Church of Our Lady of Czestochowa which is run by Dominican Monks.
Thousands of pilgrims, all over the world, come in their large numbers to pray and to seek the face of God through the intercession of the Blessed Mother. The Nigerian Pilgrims were paired with pilgrims from United States of America, Australia, and the Filipinos for a Holy Mass. The Mass was presided by Bishop Kevin Rhodes of the Diocese of Forth Wayne-South, USA.
“It is a privilege to visit the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa a few days before the commencement of the World Youth Day in Krakow.” Said Bishop Rhodes.
“Mary accompanies us in our pilgrimage, with her maternal care and compassion leading us to her son. Mary points us always to the Lord. She does not exalt herself. She is a perfect disciple who wants to help us to know how to be a good disciple.” He added.
Bishop Rhodes who said that the image of Our Lady of Czetochowa has been venerated by the people of Poland for years also noted that Mary has shared in the sufferings of Poland for many years.
“When the Nacists overran Poland, they did not allow the people to come to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czetochowa. Their lives were in great danger. Yet within the period, the young Karol Wojtyla (who later became Pope John Paul II), deferred all the threat and came to the Shrine to worship. When he became the Archbishop of Krakow, the Soviet did not want people to enter the Shrine any more. As an Archbishop in Krakow, he had the image of Mary removed from the Shrine and taken all over the country every Month for veneration. This gave the people courage.” The Bishop narrated.
“Mary indeed is a woman who inspires hope on people. As a mother she will never let us down. We can always turn to her to help learn how to grow in Holiness. She is our model.” He added.
All attention has now shifted to Krakow, venue of the final ceremonies for the celebration. After performing the one-week family visitation in Bytom, where they were hosted by the diocese of Gliwicka. The delegates arrived in Krakow in three batches from 2,30pm until 8.00pm at the Parish of Saint Maximilian Kolbe Mistrzejowice district, Krakow. All the 168 Nigerian delegates are staying together in a secondary school owned by Saint Maximilian Kolbe Parish, Krakow.
To say that this year’s World Youth Day is to honour this beloved Pope of the people is overstating the obvious, considering the fact that he started the celebration of the youths of the world; and the celebration has grown to be the greatest celebration of the youths of the world.
(Rev. Fr. Chris Anyanwu is the Director of Social Communications, Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria; CSN)