76. Poland, Fatima and the Blood of John Paul II, Part I


I just returned from leading an amazing trip to Poland. Nearly 40 pilgrims and I were following in the footsteps of Saints Faustina, Maximillian Kolbe and, especially, John Paul II, visiting the many places of importance to their lives and the various shrines, centers, and museums that commemorate them. I had begun the journey by sharing with the pilgrims the connection between John Paul II’s Theology of the Body (TOB) and pilgrimage itself: TOB teaches us how physical realities communicate spiritual realities, and that’s what happens on a pilgrimage – the physical realities we encounter can be the occasion of profound spiritual experiences.

I simply was not prepared, however, for the experience I would have later in the week when I unexpectedly encountered a relic of great significance to John Paul II’s life, and to my own. Seeing this astounding piece of history with my own eyes was utterly overwhelming. No words can do it justice, but I’ll try nonetheless to paint the picture for you in this blog post and the next.

COR THOUGHTS #115: Jesus Wants Us to ‘Be Opened’

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Beginning this month, Cor Thoughts will become a regular feature each Wednesday on the blog, social media and Cor Daily e-mail sends for both members and non-members.]

Of all the accounts of healing presented in the gospels, this Sunday we hear one of the most visceral. It’s almost – no, it is – shocking in its physical intimacy. Jesus takes a deaf man with a speech impediment away from the crowd. Apparently, what was about to happen demanded privacy. He “put his finger into the man’s ears.” And if that weren’t enough, Jesus then spits and puts his finger in the man’s mouth, touching his tongue! I don’t know about you, but I’m not so fond of strangers probing my body like that. Who is this Jesus and what on earth is he doing?! He’s looking to heaven, he’s groaning, and he’s exclaiming, “Ephphatha!” which means, “Be opened!” He wants our bodies and our hearts to “be opened” … why? So he can enter. Yes. That’s Jesus’ deepest desire: to enter our bodies with his body, our hearts with his heart. It’s called Eucharist. And to be entered, to be filled by Christ with all the fullness of God (see Eph 3:19) – that’s the deepest desire of our hearts. It’s a spousal desire. It’s a spousal mystery. The Church is the Bride; Christ is the Bridegroom. If we want to be healed of our maladies; if we want to be filled with Infinite joy and love and life, we must “be opened.” As Pope Benedict XVI observed, this small word, ephphatha, “sums up in itself Christ’s entire mission” (Sept. 9, 2012).

#CorPoland: Where the Theology of the Body Was Born

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(Above) The Tatra Mountains near Zakopane, where Karol Wojtyla hiked, camped, kayaked and prayed with youth, and where the seed of the Theology of the Body was planted — first unveiled in his book “Love and Responsibility.” (Photo by Bill Howard)

Here’s “Catholic Teen. Will Travel”, the latest post from Denise Bossert on our #CorPoland pilgrimage in the Footsteps of St. John Paul II.

Everyone arrived home safely Saturday/Sunday, so as we catch our breath, we’ll post a bit more on the last half of the pilgrimage. There were some memorable moments such as our private audience with St. John Paul II’s longtime secretary and friend, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, and the unexpectedly powerful, including a display of the blood-soaked cassock St. John Paul II wore at the time of the assassination attempt on his life. Posts on these and more to come…

The Cor Team was blessed to bring the intentions of many Cor Project supporters to the many holy sites we visited in our 10-day journey. Thank you for your prayers, too.

PS. One of the jewels of the Cor Membership is the thrice-weekly Living from the Cor Video Journal. Over the next few weeks, some of those 2-3 minute slice-of-life reflection videos shot by Christopher will come from the Poland Pilgrimage. If you’re not a member, Living from the Cor Video Journal alone is worth the modest monthly subscription. Sign up here.

#CorPoland: An Unforgettable Journey

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(Above) Pilgrims pray at the window outside Cell No. 18 in Block 11 (below) where St. Maximilian Kolbe was martyred by the Nazis in 1941 at Auschwitz in Poland. The paschal candle in the cell was brought by St. John Paul II in June 1979. (Above) Christopher West and Jason Clark pray at the execution wall behind Block 11. Photos by Bill Howard.

So much to write about… we’ll try to share more in the days following the pilgrimage. It has been a very packed, intense itinerary. Christopher has filmed a fresh batch of Living from the Cor Videos throughout the pilgrimage (you can become a Cor member and get these inspiring videos three times a week).

Catholic journalist Denise Bossert continues to post from our pilgrimage and has put up a new blog post here, “Leaving On A Jet Plane? Where Would You Go? And Why?” and has posted at #CorPoland on Twitter a bunch of great photos from our visit to Zakopane (where John Paul II loved to ski, hike and lead youth on prayer camping expeditions).

#CorPoland: Warsaw and Czestechowa

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Our motto for the pilgrimage: Totus Tuus (as shown at one of the entry gates to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestechowa). (Photo by Bill Howard)

Here are “The Black Madonna and The Priest In the Wheelchair” and “When A Saint Talks to You,” the latest entries from Catholic journalist Denise Bossert. The latter is about her experience at Niepokalanow, the friary founded by St. Maximilian Kolbe. St. Maximilian is one of the great Mariologists, and it was a gift to visit and celebrate Mass there on Aug. 22 — The Feast of the Queenship of Mary.

Denise also Skypes in regularly to Diana Von Glahn’s “Faithful Traveler” radio show and sent in a report earlier today.

Denise is chronicling our Footsteps of St. John Paul II pilgrimage this week. More updates coming soon.

In the meantime, here’s a very quick recap. You can find photos on Twitter using the hashtag #CorPoland.

We’ve finished our time in Warsaw and Czestechowa and are settling in to Krakow today. We will be based out of here for the rest of the pilgrimage. This morning, several pilgrims woke up extra early to return to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestechowa for the 6 a.m. unveiling of the icon of Our Lady of Czestechowa (Black Madonna icon, seen below).

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After breakfast, we began our journey to Krakow, where we toured the huge, beautiful Market Square and celebrated a powerful Mass in a chapel within St. Mary Basilica. We hope to post some audio of the amazing homilies by Father Jim Otto. Each day seems to be more overwhelming than the next, and in a good way. One can see the Spirit stirring in the hearts of the pilgrims, whether it’s the passionate singing at Mass to the quiet tears of joy and mercy while reflecting after Mass. Christopher has been leading the group in reflection on our long bus rides. We have recorded some of them and will see how we want to share them.

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(The magnificent altarpiece by Veit Stoss at St. Mary Basilica. At noon every day, decorative doors swing open to reveal this stunning collection of panels depicting key events in the lives of Mary and Jesus. Photo by Bill Howard)

Keep checking here and on Twitter at #CorPoland for more pilgrimage updates and photos.

And, yes, Christopher is alive (shown here getting rest next to St. Mary Basilica today).

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