Seventy-four pilgrims, two buses and a land rich in the story of the mercy of Jesus Christ. If the New Evangelization is about our encounter with the Risen Lord and our subsequent commission to share the Good News of Our Lord’s dying and rising with all we meet, then our pilgrimage to Poland and the Czech Republic formed us in the best of ways to be Christ-bearers to our world, so in need of the Lord’s mercy.
It is hard for me to put into words the impact of being part of the ongoing story of the Communion of Saints as we experienced it on pilgrimage. We were edified by the stories of St. John Nepomuk and his martyrdom. He refused to break the Seal of Confession. His courage and witness encouraged us in the face of new challenges with religious liberty issues.
Bishop Paul Sirba
We prayed at the tombs of St. Wenceslaus, who faced his violent death at the hands of his own brother with forgiveness, and St. Hedwig, whose foresight in support of Catholic education founded the oldest university in Poland, where Copernicus and St. John Paul II studied.
We visited Velehrad where Sts. Cyril and Methodius, the Slavonic apostles who brought Christianity to Central and Eastern Europe did in their day what we are called to do in ours.
We silently stood at the cell of St. Maximillian Kolbe, who died alongside millions of Jews, giving his life in exchange for his brother prisoner . . . “no greater love.”
We offered Holy Mass at the altar of St. Stanislaus at the Cathedral of Krakow.
We encountered St. Faustina, who taught the world about Divine Mercy (Jesus, I trust in you!) and Blessed Jersey Popieluszko whose death brought life to the Solidarity movement and freedom from Communism in Poland.
We were blest by the omnipresence of newly canonized St. John Paul II, whose life has spoken eloquently to me, throughout my seminary and priestly life. Finally, we were loved and protected by Our Blessed Mother, and visited her shrines at Svata Hora in the Czech Republic, Czestochowa and the Black Madonna, the most important place of religious worship in the Polish Catholic world, and Kalwaria Zebrzydowska (a mouthful of a name) and Our Lady of Fatima, popular pilgrimage places for St. John Paul II.
The pilgrims with whom I was privileged to travel on this journey included five of our priests and one from the Diocese of Superior, a deacon and his wife, a Sister from
St. Scholastica Monastery and the most inspiring, encouraging and fun group of Catholics you could hope to travel alongside.
They brought prayers, stories and good humor to everything we did. They were cancer survivors and runners, grandparents and singles, seasoned travelers and those who flew for the first time. Father Tony Wroblewski was an extraordinary spiritual leader and guide. We ate well, too!
My hope is that the prayers we offered daily for our diocese will bear great fruit in the coming years. Pilgrimages are opportunities to experience the Risen Lord, to be renewed in faith, healed in spirit, filled with love and sent forth as modern day missionaries.
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October is Respect Life Month. In one of his addresses, Pope Francis conveyed that “even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live forever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect.”
Our Holy Father has shown us by his example and humility to have compassion for each and every person, born and unborn. We are made in the image and likeness of God.
The theme for the 2014 Respect Life Program is “Each of Us is a Masterpiece of God’s Creation.” Resources can be found at www.usccb.org/respectlife for your parish and personal conversion.
We set aside October to particularly pray for all human life. Let us never cease this urgent work!