Everything // A Reflection on Poland

I've started and stopped this post a couple of times. I think words, in this situation, might fail. But I guess I'll try.

When my friend told me, on the feast of the Assumption, that she and her brother were going to Poland, and hey, I could come too, I didn't know why it fit so right in my head. Maybe because I hadn't started school yet and was still in the mood to make silly decisions. Maybe it was because the Lord wanted me to go. Maybe a little bit of both.

I said if my boss let me have it off work, I'd go, and he did, so I bought the plane ticket and I gathered my favorite t-shirts and best walking shoes, asked for prayer intentions, and got on a plane by myself in Chicago. Three flights later, I met the other 5 people I was travelling with by the baggage claim in the Krakow airport.

There are a few things I am grateful for, before I get too wordy: I am grateful that I went with a small group of people, who were all on the same page about why we were there. I am grateful for my Brooks running shoes. You da real MVP. Most of all, I am grateful that the Lord thought I would be a good intercessor for the people who gave me their prayer intentions. I felt very sent during this trip. Sent out to these sights of pilgrimage to lift up the people who had entrusted the things deep in their heart into my hands to give over to great saints and our Blessed Mother and ultimately to Our Lord.

I read a quote recently from St. Faustina's diary: "Everything begins with Your mercy and ends with Your mercy."

That was this trip.

Krakow is beautiful and sunny and safe and clean. Easy to navigate, with a church on every corner (don't worry, we went in a bunch of them). We explored castles and churches and ate good, good food (though we were particularly bad at making time for lunch). We ate hot chocolate so rich it stuck to our teeth and we talked over big life decisions on long train rides.

We made a pilgrimage out to see Jasna Gora, the Black Madonna, and pilgrimaged on our knees around her image. I kissed a relic of St. Max and then I sat in the back of the little adoration chapel that sat above the glorious basilica and smiled at Your mercy, Lord. I smiled at the fact that we had made it just in time for mass and that the chapel was packed with people, half of whom wore a collar or a habit.

One morning, we took a bus out to Auschwitz, and were guided through the camp by a sweet tour guide who showed her heart to us. I walked through the grounds, my fingers wrapped tight around the rosary in my pocket, whispering Hail Mary's. What do you say in the face of terrible, horrific suffering? What do you say in the face of a whole pile of shoes, or suitcases.

I didn't have anything to say, so I prayed little Hail Mary's.

I have a huge devotion to St. Maximilian Kolbe, and though the heaviness of being in such a terrible place was weighing on me, my heart beat fast and loud as we neared the cell he died in. I was very aware of the fact that I was walking where he walked, seeing the trees and stones he probably saw. We didn't get much time at the cell, but it was enough. It felt holy, in the place of deep darkness. It felt like God had reached out and put His hand into this pain and there stood an Easter candle, in the middle of the place people had starved to death in, in the place they put a needle in St. Max's arm and killed him. My heart beating in my chest, I threw up all the prayers I had in me and I had to keep moving.

I still have a hard time figuring words for that. 

The rest of the camp and Birkenau (the bigger, sister camp of Aushcwitz) were just as hard. I don't know what to tell you about them. They were terrible and hard but important to see. It made me understand God's mercy in a new way, for I could trust that the merciful God that I serve had mercy on the little children and women who were gassed and the people who were shot against a wall and the men who died walking bricks from one location to another.

Oh, merciful Father.

We ended up at the Divine Mercy Shrine on two different days. The first time, we got there too late and the only thing open was the adoration chapel, so we spent a good hour in there. The second time, we got to spend time in front of the Image of Divine Mercy, and pray the Chaplet in Polish in the standing-room-only filled Basilica (which was gorgeous) and then attend mass, also standing-room-only. Poland, you do Catholicism so well. I'm impressed.

I understand, though, why Poland does Catholicism so well, why they have a strong faith. They have a faith so strong because what else is there? In the face of the suffering that they have endured, they have discovered the one thing that could get them through such suffering, or make sense of it, and that is Christ.

The Divine Mercy Shrine was probably my favorite part of the trip. Such a mercy to be there. It seemed to symbolize what Christ had done in Poland by raising up the great St. John Paul II and the devotion to Divine Mercy. It was a big, white building, set on a hill, showing that from the burned ashes of a broken country, came forth a great Saint and a great witness to the world of the love and mercy of God.

We took a quick trip to Rome for an ordination at St. Peter's Basilica and it was incredible. Another mercy.

We ended our trip in the mountains of Zakopane before returning for one last night in Krakow. We said goodbye to the city and I flew home the next day. I am glad to be home. But I am glad I got to go.

Everything is a mercy. Everything starts and ends. And that's what I learned in Poland.


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