Pilgrimage: from Liverpool to Krakow for the Year of Mercy

Liverpool pilgrims in Wadowize
Liverpool pilgrims in Wadowize

More than two dozen parishioners from the North West of England, including several from St Francis Xavier’s Church (SFX) in Liverpool, have taken part in a pilgrimage to Poland as part of their celebrations for the Year of Mercy. The 28 pilgrims came from the Liverpool City Centre North Pastoral Area and their visit included places of significance to Saint Pope John Paul II, the home of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa and sites of Second World War atrocities.

The pilgrimage to Krakow was coordinated by Debbie Reynolds from SFX, who says the entire experience was memorable – though not entirely for positive reasons. The first part of the pilgrims’ trip, for instance, took them to Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest Nazi concentration camp and extermination centre of the Second World War, where more than a million men, women and children lost their lives. “The pilgrims came face to face with the reality and horror of where hatred, fear and discrimination can lead,” says Debbie.  “Thankfully, our tour guide found us some space to gather respectfully in prayer and remembrance.”

While in Krakow, the pilgrims had the opportunity to ‘Follow in the footsteps of Pope John Paul II’.  Karol Wojtyla lived there for four decades before being elected as Pope in 1978. It was in Krakow that he celebrated his first Mass in the crypt of Wawel Cathedral, the day after his ordination to the priesthood in 1946 and where he was ordained bishop 12 years later. “We all thoroughly enjoyed the tour and museum based in Pope John Paul’s hometown of Wadowize,” says Debbie, “before we set off for the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy, the basilica which is dedicated to the Divine Mercy Devotion and which holds the remains of Saint Faustina Kowalska.” Three Popes have visited the shrine: Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI and, most recently, Pope Francis, who went there during World Youth Day in July of this year.

A secret student pilgrimThe icon of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, Wikimedia Commons

The next stage of the pilgrimage was to Częstochowa, where their guide, Fr Simon, shared the history of the Jasna Góra Monastery, his commentary peppered lightly with the phrase ‘Simon says’, according to Debbie. This basilica houses the icon of the Black Madonnan (right), also known as Our Lady of Częstochowa, which has been intimately associated with Poland for the past 600 years. Częstochowa is regarded as the most popular shrine in Poland; Pope John Paul II visited it secretly as a student pilgrim during the Second World War II.

Before returning to the UK, some of the pilgrims from North West England had the opportunity (and the energy) to visit the “Wieliczka” Salt Mine, one of Poland’s most valuable monuments of the country’s material and spiritual culture. One of 12 sites on the UNESCO World Cultural and Natural Heritage List, the Salt Mine is visited every year by more than a million tourists from all over the world.

Although organised as part of the Liverpool City Centre North Pastoral Area’s Year of Mercy celebrations, Debbie Reynolds hopes that there will be similar pilgrimages in the years ahead. “It was a time of reflection, prayer, fun and forming new friendships,” she says, “which will hopefully be repeated in the near future.”