Student Leadership in Poland’s Capital

Just recently, we took a weekend pilgrimage to Warsaw. We invited another group of American students studying in Rome to join us. With growth in leadership being a theme of the John Paul II Project study abroad programs, we had the students lead parts of the pilgrimage and teach the group about different sites we were touring. 

One of our students this semester, Bernadette, is an aspiring journalist and works as our social media intern. She is Polish-American with family in Warsaw and couldn’t wait to go on this pilgrimage and share her favorite city with us. She lead the main part of our tour, giving detailed historical information mixed in with some fun personal facts like what church her grandparents were married in! 

Jacob, Peter, and Anna, our other American students who were less familiar with the city, had presented on specific sites they had researched.

Mixed in with the history, we had silence and reflections on homilies JP2 gave in various places. The most powerful was in Victory Square where JP2 called down the Holy Spirit on Poland. The people who actually witnessed this event say they truly could feel the Holy Spirit coming. When we read that homily out loud, standing in that very same square, we were all left in awe and silence as we felt the power of his words even to this day. From what I hear, the other JP2 Project alumni reading this must be reminiscing, “yes, I remember that happened to us too.”

Polish People and Culture

The day of our long tour was ice cold and I found myself having to focus most on keeping my new baby warm, but I didn’t have to worry about the students: they had it covered and they loved leading, presenting, and receiving what Warsaw has to offer. In the evening we all dispersed among Polish host families who warmly welcomed us with traditional food, music, song, and stories of the old times in Poland. It was enlightening and refreshing to immerse ourselves more fully into the culture and learn more of the trials Poland has faced in the past on a more personal level.

In Our Lady’s Heart: From Kolbe To Częstochowa

On Sunday, the last day of our pilgrimage, we went to where St. Maximillian Kolbe settled and worked. There is a special adoration chapel that we were all quite eager to visit. The chapel has a monstrance shaped like Our Lady, with the Host on her heart. It is considered one of the “Crowns of Mary” scattered throughout the world in places of suffering by a particular artist. Story has it that after this monstrance was made they found writings by St. Maximillian Kolbe about having a place like this, declaring it a chapel for people to come, kneel down, leave all their worries and petitions there and let Mary “take care of their business.” We couldn’t wait to spend time there in prayer, and to offer all our petitions to Mary. I felt this emphasis very fitting, knowing that just a semester ago the founders had consecrated The John Paul II Project to Our Lady in this very place. Just as John Paul was close to Mary’s Heart, so have we given her this project, along with our students.

We concluded the trip by visiting Jasna Gora, the place of the shrine of Our Lady of Czestechowa. Our time there felt so rapid, where hours felt like minutes. All felt drawn to participate in the pilgrim tradition of circling the altar of the Miraculous Image on one’s knees.Even my seven year old daughter, Felicity, felt compelled to share in this experience, insisting she wanted to do it with me. It was the perfect conclusion to our trip.

Back at the Sanctuary, just a few days later, I finished a 54 day rosary novena I had been praying for the Project and our student’s intentions, which had been written out and placed in an envelope before an icon of Our Lady in my living room. I think it’s safe to say Our Lady is close.

-Megan Madden

Krakow Program Director