“I think this entire Pilgrimage has strengthened my faith.”
by Brenda Cerkez, Executive Director
“For many of you journeying with us through these following days and nights, a pilgrimage might mean many different things … For some, it might mean a retreat from ordinary daily life and a time to pray, honor and worship; for others, it might mean an exciting opportunity to visit new places and learn new things; and for some, it might mean a time to journey with friends for a common cause. For whatever the meaning might be, we must still be reminded that pilgrimages are special, evoking our earthly journey toward heaven and a very special occasion for renewal in prayer, as the catechesis teaches.”
— From “An Introduction to the Canterbury Way of Pilgrimage”
It was, indeed, a very special trip.
When our merry band of 22 pilgrims left the U.S. on March 28, I’m not sure any of us knew exactly what to expect and how we’d react when our plane finally touched down in Warsaw, Poland the next day.
For me, representing Family Honor, this pilgrimage to Poland was a journey to our Family Honor roots and an appropriate ‘kick off’ for our Family Honor Year of Thanksgiving to our Lord. It was a chance to visit numerous sites of significance in the life of Saint John Paul II, whose writings on the family, love and responsibility, marriage, the human person created in God’s image, and the Theology of the Body have played such an important role in the development and delivery of our programs, training, books and other materials.
For others on this pilgrimage, it was a way to connect with their Polish roots, see places of historical significance, travel with family members, and enrich their faith life with an experience they had never participated in before.
I think for all of us, though, it was also a very spiritual and emotional experience. It’s hard to pick a favorite spot that we visited or a ‘peak’ moment, but here are a some of the stops we made that stand out in my mind as I’m writing this:
- In Wadowice, walking through the apartment that St. John Paul II lived in with his parents when he was growing up. Stunning to realize that we were standing in the room in which he was born!
- Visiting St. Casimir Church in the tiny town of Swince Warckie where St. Faustina was baptized. This is the parish church she and her family attended when she was growing up. Also visiting her home. This saint, her parents, and many brothers and sisters lived in two rooms!
- Strolling in the mountains of Zakopane and marveling at the incredible views and the beauty of this area. And understanding why St. John Paul II would often visit here as Pope.
- Exploring the Jasna Gora monastery and praying in front of the portrait of Our Lady of Czestochowa, for her intercession with our Lord. As we were listening to a priest explain a bit about the history of the monastery and of this portrait, noticing other pilgrims (likely from Poland) walking on their knees toward the portrait. Humbling.
- In Krakow, visiting the Divine Mercy Shrine. Kneeling and praying to our Lord before the image of Divine Mercy.
The Polish People
Another impression that will always stay with me is the faith and perseverance of the Polish people. Our incredible tour guide, Olga, was extremely knowledgeable about the history of Poland and the extraordinarily difficult times the Polish people endured. This is still a very Catholic country and a country that actively practices their Catholic faith through regular Mass attendance, pilgrimages, and other devotions. I remember that our group stopped at a large parish church around 6:00 pm on a Monday evening. When we opened the back doors to go in, we were surprised to see the entire Church PACKED for a Mass.
What Our Pilgrims Said
As I continue to think about the Pilgrimage and how it has refreshed my spiritual life, it has been encouraging to hear from some of the other pilgrims on our journey to Poland, and what it meant to them.
Here is feedback from a few of our pilgrims:
“We had a small group and such a nice mix of interesting people. It was easy to get to know and enjoy everyone.”
“We found it to be very inspiring and was eye opening as to what the people of Poland went through as a country and that they kept their faith even through all that occurred.”
“I met a lot of wonderful people and I think I cried every day. I was impacted by the people I saw in the churches. Such pious people; such a strong faith. I really enjoyed the fact that the guides went into the history of the country – such tragedy but how faith saved the Polish people … Auschwitz was /leaves me speechless … Such a humbling experience and I feel that I should never ever complain about anything ever! I think this entire pilgrimage has strengthened my faith. Thank you again for this experience and I am so glad I saw the ad in my church bulletin and that I made the decision to go.”
“This past Saturday, I received the Sacrament of Confirmation at the Easter Vigil and took the name “Faustina” as my Confirmation name. I will always remember the excitement of visiting St. Faustina’s birthplace, convent, and shrine. I was also very moved by visiting the birthplace of Pope St. John Paul II and visiting the Pope John Paul II Center, the monastery and museum of St. Maximilian Kolbe, the Warsaw Ghetto area and the Auschwitz death camp. I was glad that Auschwitz was scheduled near the end of the Pilgrimage. The churches and monasteries were incredibly beautiful. All in all, the Pilgrimage was a wonderful, spiritual experience, and it was great sharing the experience of this wonderful Pilgrimage with you and the other Pilgrims!”
In concluding this chapter of Family Honor’s very first Pilgrimage, I can only say that I think it has deepened the faith of all our pilgrims and fulfilled what we set out to do, on several levels. I also think we’ll continue to see many graces poured out as a result of the trip. St. John Paul II, pray for us! St. Maximillian Kolbe, pray for us! St. Faustina, pray for us! Our Lady of Czestochowa, pray for us!
Click here to see some of the photos from our pilgrimage to Poland.
An interesting thing happened midway through our Pilgrimage to Poland. People expressed interest in going on another Family Honor Pilgrimage!
Originally, our plan was to just organize this one, very special pilgrimage. But as Family Honor has thought about this, we remembered our guiding philosophy: have a plan, but be open to the work of the Holy Spirit.
So, what do you think? Would you be interested in traveling with Family Honor on a pilgrimage? And if so, where would you want to go with us?
We need your input and so we’re asking you to take five minutes to fill out the survey below. It would be helpful if we could hear back from you by May 5. Family Honor will likely decide by the end of June if another pilgrimage is in our future for 2018. Stay tuned!