In honor of their final 10 days here in Krakow, I’d like to share the top 10 gifts that God has given to our students these past months.

1. Our pilgrimage day in Czestochowa was a moving encounter with Our Lady for everyone present. One of our students who comes with no faith background shared with a joyful sense of mystery, “Even I could feel something powerful, something special there.”

2. Our mountain retreat was a much needed break from the everyday. During a gorgeous March weekend, we enjoyed authentic relaxation in nature with no devices and invigorating hikes through the trails of John Paul II. We experienced why JP2 retreated to the Tatras, and learned about it from an elderly Ursuline sister who knew him personally.

3. We discovered the Eastern Catholic Church and Ukrainian culture in our educational pilgrimage in Lviv. A whole day private tour of downtown, attending divine liturgies, and front row seats to a stunning ballet made for a great trip across the eastern border.

4. World Youth Alliance offered to fully sponsor three JP2 Project students to participate in their European Youth United Conference in Madrid, Spain. They had an incredible weekend with 40 other youth from around the globe as they drafted a policy that will be submitted to European Parliament in defense of human dignity.

5. Our 5-day pilgrimage in Rome was unforgettable! We didn’t tour the Sistine Chapel, but rather experienced it for the purpose it was created: worship. After museum hours, we participated in a breathtaking Lenten Vespers ceremony within Michelangelo’s masterpiece with only a few hundred select individuals. On the birthday of Bl. Pier Giorgio Frassati, we prayed the rosary and ate dinner with his niece Wanda Gawronska, who still at age 92 heads the Frassati Association to spread the legacy of this blessed who also influenced young Wojtyła! These were stars among the “ordinary” moments of historic basilicas, hidden gems, inspiring saints, great friends, each other, and delicious Italian cuisine.

6. We had plenty of opportunity to practice our own Polish hospitality with over 30 guests here at our residence, the JP2 Center/Sanctuary. In one very fun weekend, we hosted 18 students from 5 universities, and 8 more students from 5 universities over the course of the semester (in addition to other friends and family who have visited).

7. Easter Triduum: Wow. Everyone wanted to stay home in Krakow for Easter and thank God we did. Simply participating in the liturgical events was a retreat in itself. Chrism Mass at the Divine Mercy Shrine. Night adoration Holy Thursday and Good Friday in specially arranged chapels in the JP2 Sanctuary. Stations of the Cross and the Hour of Mercy together before the powerful Good Friday liturgy. Polish traditions of painting eggs and the blessing of the Easter foods. Magnificent Easter Vigil & Eucharistic Procession with Cardinal Dziwisz here. Our own late night feast and breakfast the next morning with the resident priests of the Sanctuary.

8. Divine Mercy Sunday happened last week! Yes, we were all there, with countless pilgrims in the pouring rain, to encounter God’s Mercy, in the heart of Mercy. Night adoration, reception of the sacraments, and meditating on the exhortations of John Paul II, Apostle of Mercy (check out this video).

9. Christ in the City! Every last Thursday of the month, this huge nightly gathering for Mass, adoration and confessions (even in English) in the heart of Krakow has the mission of putting the Eucharistic Christ at the center of our lives, as JP2 encouraged. The students absolutely love this event and have been uplifted spiritually through it.

10. The ordinary is good. The Theology of Christian Marriage according to Thomas Aquinas and John Paul II, taught by renowned Rev. Prof. Jarosław Kupczak, is the favorite course. The students are learning to cook a few times a week, and community life is filled with healthy joys and challenges. Fortunately, even among the challenges, life here is good. I can tell God is at work when a normal dinner, after months of being with the same people, is filled with hysterical laughter.

Thank you for being a part of this beautiful work of God.

With prayers,

“Like Mary, Joseph also believed in the Lord’s word and came to share in it. Like Mary, he believed that this divine plan would be fulfilled through their willing co-operation. And this is what happened: the eternal Son of God became man in the Virgin Mother’s womb.”  – John Paul II