Pope John Paul II

Jo’s Monday walk : a Tale of 3 Churches


For my Polish family, religion is a part of everyday life.  The routine of going to church begins in the cradle, and in adult life is fitted in between shift patterns and housework. For myself, faith has never been a given, but I am awed by the beauty, created by man in celebration of his God.

My last day in Krakow dawned bright and beautiful, and I knew that I would spend it outdoors.  When I outlined my planned walk to my cousin Marta, it was greeted with her usual enthusiasm.  In no time at all I found myself deposited in a car park, facing a church, and surrounded by greenery.  I wasn’t sure exactly where I was, so I was relieved to see, in the far distance, the surreal outline of the Sanktuarium Bożego Miłosierdzia. It was my eventual target, but first I would look inside this church.


From the exterior, Sanktuarium Świętego Jana Pawła II, looks rather severe and forbidding, but that impression is quite false. The finely sculpted cast bronze doors testify to somewhere very special.  Then, across an enormous font, you catch a glimpse of the altar.

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The octagonally shaped church is dedicated to Pope John Paul II, one of Poland’s most famous and best-loved sons.  He was a very human pope, and a man who filled me with deep respect.  All of Poland mourned his passing, and tributes are to be found to him everywhere.  I was unprepared for the scale and the sensory indulgence of what lay inside.



I drew closer and closer, affected by the emotions and the glowing colours.  A disturbed Peter and the eloquence of Mary’s love.  The compassion in the touch of a hand.  I have never seen mosaics used to greater effect.


Observing a stern and sorrowful angel Gabriel, I turned to walk away.  The church was almost deserted at this early hour.  Footsteps echoed in the empty space and a priest came through a doorway and crossed my path.  I did not know the correct form of address.  Father, ‘Tata’ in Polish, seemed too familiar, and before I could think he was gone.  ‘Ojciec’, I should have said.

Out again, in the still and sunny morning, I began my walk.  A path was newly laid and there were signs of ongoing construction, but I had the place almost to myself.  A gentleman sat on a bench, his dog at his heels, and we exchanged greetings and a smile at the balmy morning.  A lady strolled with pushchair.  And I drew nearer to Sanktuarium Bożego Miłosierdzia.

An extravagance of yellow curly-wurlyness caught my eye, and then I stopped, unsure of the way ahead.  Steps led down to what appeared to be a construction site and I wasn’t sure if it was accessible to the public.  What to do, but carry on?  I had no idea how else I could approach the church.  I had been there once before, years ago with my niece Weronika, but we had arrived by car.

Down the steps and over a narrow bridge, the workers looked up from their tea break but made no comment.  A digger or two puttered about, and I’m sure that in the near future there will be a formal path.  Relieved, I followed a gravel path past the stations of the cross.

Sanktuarium Bożego Miłosierdzia, Church of the Divine Mercy, is an extraordinary building.  I walked around it, looking up at the 77 metre high tower, completed in 2002.  I knew that it was possible to ascend, and that the day was perfect to do just that.

On the grass in front of the tower, a party of school children frolicked and ate packed lunches.  Steps led to the main body of the church, where a service appeared to be taking place.  Clad all in white, the youngsters looked angelic.  I permitted myself a discreet shot, then headed for the lift.

Leaving the lift, there were two further flights of concrete steps to take you to the top.  The views encompassed Nowa Huta, the former industrial district, and all of Krakow’s suburbs. My third church, dedicated to Sister Faustina, was visible just below.  I headed back down the stairwell.


Back down to earth.  I was reluctant to leave.  The atmosphere was so calming.  So peaceful.  In wandering, I discovered John Paul II’s tiny chapel.

The wall celebrating the sponsors of the church complex led easily into the courtyard of Saint Faustina’s.  Born Helena Kowalska in 1905, Sister Maria Faustina Kowalska was a visionary.  Her death from TB in 1938 followed numerous mystical experiences.

The monastery of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy dates back to 1889.  It contains a very special painting of Jesus, as seen in a vision by Sister Faustina.  A place of international pilgrimage, it has close links with Pope John Paul II.  The nun was beatified in 1993.  As I approached the church a group of excited youngsters, all in white, spilled down the steps, chattering and smiling.  Proud parents took photos.  Marta later explained to me that the ‘mini pilgrimage’ is a regular feature of the church.

The joy shone out of the young faces and I longed to take a photo as they milled about.  I watched for a while and then turned to go.  I strolled back through the beautiful grounds and was just in time for one last treat.  On the auditorium steps a group of children were having photos taken with the priest.  I just about caught them before they dashed off.

My walk home was long, but maybe that’s a story for another day.  This concludes my series of posts about my visit to Poland.  I’ve touched on many aspects of Polish life and hopefully shared my joy.  And now, we really have earned that cuppa, haven’t we?

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As always I must say thank you to my many contributors and supporters who make this weekly post such a pleasure for me.  I hope you can find time to read them, and maybe you’d like to join me in a future Jo’s Monday walk.  Details of how to join in can be found by clicking on the logo. Here we go!


Budapest never looked more lovely than through Debbie’s eyes :

Walking the Danube

Spectacular alpine scenery from our intrepid Elaine this week :

An excellent view of the Glacier des Bossons

‘Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee’- immortal words shared by Drake :

Fly on the wings of love

Jackie posted a reminder of Gay Pride in Toronto :

Toronto Pride Murals

England has some beautiful homes and gardens, doesn’t it?  A lovely share from Lady Lee Manila :

Charlecote Park 

Explore her latest home from home, with Liesbet :

Visit to Northampton, MA

A rousing cheer for Mlissabeth, who joins us this week!  The family came too :

Our Walk through the Gardens

Miriam managed an overnight escape from her family, and that can also be blissful :

Twenty four hours in Marysville

And then a little magic, up in the clouds :

Marysville Magic 

While Biti continued her ramble along the Blue Coast :

Cote Bleue – Calanques Part II

You know I said last week how much I loved the Italian Lakes?  Check this out!  Thanks, Rosemay- it’s beautiful :

Exploring Lenno

And Susan continues her fascinating look at Eastern Europe.  There’s a book too!  More about that later :

Walking Moldova

Becky turns conformist this week, but only for a little while :

Hiking the Ladeiras do Pontal trail

And in case you didn’t know it, Becky has a second blog, featuring her English life :

Fingringhoe Wick

A charming Irish walk next, from Inese, with a little bit of drama :

Anne Valley- Walk through the Fairy Door

Next I have a jaw-dropper from Meg!  Go and see just why I wanted to visit Gdansk :

A ramble round Gdansk main town

Gilly has her very own city wall, and lovely gardens too, in beautiful Devonshire :

Beside the City Wall

Exhausting isn’t it, all this walking?  But I’m so glad you could come along.  Next week I have a totally English walk for you.  See you then!

And if you have any spare time, give a shout to the busy folks at Monday Escapes.

P is for Pope, Piotrek and Przemek!

Poland-eagle-150square Poland is, by and large, a Catholic country, and one of the images that stays in my head from my very first visit is that of Pope John Paul II (or Jan Pawel, as he’s known in Poland).  I already had enormous respect for this very human and vital man, but I hadn’t fully realised the reverence for him in his homeland.  When I began to look into the story of his life, I understood why.

Pope John Paul II in 1993- courtesy of Wikipedia

Pope John Paul II in 1993- courtesy of Wikipedia

Karol Józef Wojtyła was the head of the Catholic Church from 16th October 1978 till his death on April 2nd, 2005.  Born at Wadowice in Southern Poland on 18th May, 1920, he was to become the first non-Italian pope since 1523.

He was the youngest of three children born to his parents, though his sister Olga had died before he was born.  In reality he should not have been born himself because his mother, Emilia, had been told that she had no chance of giving birth to a live child.  A devout Catholic, she refused an abortion, and the child did indeed live, though Emilia herself died in childbirth when Karol was just 8 years old.  An athletic boy, he loved football and sports.

In 1938 he and his Dad moved to Kraków, where he enrolled at the Jagellonian University.  He took philosophy, and developed a talent for languages (he learned 12, which puts me to shame!).  He had to take part in compulsory military training, but refused to fire a weapon.  In 1939, the German occupying force closed the university and he had to find work to avoid deportation.  His Dad died of a heart attack in 1941, so that, by the age of 20, he had “already lost all the people I loved”.  It was then that he began to think seriously about the priesthood.

Statue of John Paul II in the grounds of na Skalce

Statue of John Paul II in the grounds of na Skalce church, in Kraków

In 1942 he knocked on the door of the Archbishop of Kraków and asked to be admitted to the clandestine undergound seminary.  He had some narrow escapes, but survived the war years to spend a year as a village parish priest, before being transferred to Kraków.  He taught ethics at the Jagellonian University and gathered a little group around him that became known as “Rodzinka”-  his “little family”.  As well as prayer and charitable works the group went kayaking and skiing with him.

You have to remember that these were now Communist times in Poland.  The Faculty of Theology was disbanded at the university and priests were forbidden to travel with students.  Father Wojtyła asked his students to call him “Wujek”- the Polish word for uncle (which I love very much), so that it would not be obvious he was a priest.  The name stuck, and to Poles he would always be their beloved Wujek.

The museum dedicated to Pope John Paul. a beloved local

The museum dedicated to Pope John Paul. a beloved local

At just 38, Wojtyła was appointed Bishop of Kraków, and from there it was a steady rise to the papacy.  His mission was “to place his Church at the heart of a new religious alliance that would bring together Jews, Muslims and Christians in a great [religious] armada”.  He was to travel the world like no Pope before (129 countries in total!) in an effort to do so.

In June 1979 he made his first trip back to Poland as Pope.  His country was still completely under the Soviet thumb but he encouraged them to adhere to their faith and affirm solidarity with one another.  The Communists were not to relinquish power for another decade, but it was with the Pope’s encouragement and “soft power” that Solidarnosc was born as a movement.   In 2004 he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his lifelong opposition to Communist oppression and for trying to reshape the world. The full story is in the Wikipedia link at the top of this post.

Beside Wawel Castle in Kraków

Beside Wawel Castle, in Kraków

I was in Kraków in 2007 on the 2nd anniversary of his death, and the crowds and emotion were overwhelming even then.  Candles flickered as his voice was broadcast into the night.  Since then I have always been aware of his presence whenever I am in the city.

P is for Piotrek and Przemek

Piotrek is the English equivalent of Peter, and a popular name in Poland, so of course, I have a cousin of that name!  He’s the carpenter son of Lodzia and Zygmunt, and a lovely man with whom I have danced at a wedding or two.

Within the family we also have a diminutive Piotrek (Piotrus) who is a proper scene stealer, as small boys are.  He is the son of Krzystof and Ilona, whose wedding I went to in April 2008.

That just leaves Przemek!  He is the son of my cousin Adam’s sister, Basia (also my cousin- no wonder I’m confused!).  His English is impeccable.  He and fiance Marta were house-hunting when I was last there, so who knows if there’ll be yet another wedding in the not too distant future.

Przemek and Marta

Przemek and Marta

Well, I’ve bent your ears enough for one post so it’s time to say thank you to Julie Dawn Fox for hosting the Personal A-Z Challenge, and to lovely Frizz for also letting me tag along on his A-Z.  As always the links and logos will take you there.