I’m Mike Richard, principal of Living Kraków Cultural Pilgrimages.
I never intended to be organizing pilgrimages, but that’s another story.
Perhaps a future blog.
But I fell in love with Poland, and Holy Spirit tapped on my shoulder, so here I am, heading into year 13.
During this time, I’ve spent an aggregate of some 3 years traveling in Poland and other nearby countries independently. I have stayed as guest with more than 30 families, most in Poland, but also in Munich, Ukraine and Moldova.
In Poland, they say “Gosc w dom, Bog w dom”. (“Guest in the home is God in the home.”)
And, believe me, I feel very humbled by my treatment by Polish hosts.
Here are some of memory highlights that come to mind.
And, I invite to to join us on a future Living Kraków Cultural pilgrimage; make your own memories!
- My first two hours in Poland, in 2005, I started to fall in love with this amazing culture: My son and I arrived about 5:30am Sunday morning on the train from Budapest. We had booked a B&B but only had a general idea where it was, so we started walking in the general direction. As we entered Europe’s largest open market square, there was a sweet little nun sweeping off the street in front of a church. Later we discovered Krakowians have a near obsession for keeping their city clean. This is said to go back to Commie days when Stalin’s Nowa Huta steel plant spewed carbon and covered the buildings. Now, if you drop a gum wrapper on the street, a local will stop, pick it up and deposit it in the trash. Then we encountered two Polish girls, university students who ran up to us in the middle of the deserted square, “Hi. You must be Americans” “How can you tell?” “You have so many bags! Where are you going?” We showed them the address. The bolder one picked up my largest bag and threw it on to her shoulder. I protested. She, “Follow me. Polish girls are strong!” and led us to our B&B. We offered the girls breakfast, but they said no, they just got off work and had to get sleep and study. As they ran down Karmelicka Street, the bold girl turned her head “When you go to America, tell them Polish girls are NICE!” We decided to go to Mass and found a church and early Mass. It was so packed we stood in the Narthyx and could not even see the Altar. At Communion, I moved with the wave of people to receive. As I approached, I noticed Communion only “on the tongue” which I had never done, being a convert who was instructed only to receive in the hand. So, I received on the tongue for the first time, and sensed these words “As you are in Me, I remain in you.” Wow! How can I not love Poland after such a two hours?
- As an individual traveler, I have stayed with more than 30 families mostly in Poland, but also including Munich, Ukraine, Moldova. In Poland, one host was Marion who was a coal miner near Katowice whose strike led to martial law. Also a history buff, he showed me parts of Poland I would never have seen, including pictures of his family mobilizing for German invasion in ’39, some who were killed by the Russians at Katyn. Another host was Theresa, who studied under Karol Wojtyła in Lublin where she was one of his Środowisko students who went trekking and canoeing with the future Saint. She showed me a shoe box filled with handwritten letters from him that extended even to while he was Pope. I remarked, “You must have been a special friend”. “No”, she responded. “He kept up with all his friends like this.” Theresa was widowed when she had a small child, the letters during that time of grief came from Rome weekly.
- In October 2015, we timed our group pilgrimage for St. Faustina’s Feast Day, October 5th. This is a very low key celebration because she wanted to emphasize, instead, Mercy Sunday. As is our practice, we stayed at the Pilgrims House next to the Convent where she lived and died in Kraków-Łagiewniki. We asked the Sisters would there be any special commemoration we could join? They said, not really. But at the last minute, our group and a few dozen others were allowed to visit her actual room where she died. This was the first time in more than 9 years that anyone aside from the Sisters had been allowed here.
- We learned early, before public announcement, of the date of St. John Paul the Great’s Canonization and our plan was to spend Holy Week in Wadowice, then fly to Rome. We had rooms blocked in Rome, at Residencia Madre Pie, within 500 meters of St. Peter’s front door. But the Pilgrims wanted to stay in Poland and, miraculously we were able to stay at the Divine Mercy Pilgrims House, during Mercy Week!!!, and this was headquarters, along with the John Paul II Sanctuary next door, for local celebration of the Canonizations. We also celebrated Holy Mass in the Archbishop’s Residence private chapel where Karol was ordained priest, and Kardynal Dziwisz dropped in and spent about 20 minutes with us before hopping on a bus to lead a convoy to Rome for the Canonization.
- During that same pilgrimage, we wanted to ‘cap off’ Holy Week by celebrating Easter meal with a Polish family. I reached out to many friends and other contacts in Poland to arrange this. But, Easter is a family time, and not the most convenient time for 30 pilgrims to drop in on you. Then Piotr, our fantastic Tour Leader, called to let us know the only others also staying at the Carmelite Monastery in Wadowice was an extended Polish family of 40 and they would love to spend Easter meal with us. We learned to write the pysanki (Easter eggs) prepared the baskets according to tradition and had them Blessed by the local Priest, all to be included in our Easter meal. Jezu Ufam Tobie.
- We celebrate Holy Mass in places sure to remember. The first time we celebrated Mass at Częstochowa, at THE Altar of the Black Madonna, presided by our Priest, and our group seated IN THE CHOIR next to the Altar and the Miraculous Icon, it was so unusual we were actually interviewed by Jasna Góra radio. The Sister who conducted our tour of the Shrine said she had not seen, in her 25years, an English speaking group seated in the Choir unless led by a Bishop. It was very humbling, and we have continued this tradition on every pilgrimage since.
- August 14, 2016, joined the Celebration of Holy Mass in Auschwitz death camp, presided by Kardynal Dziwisz, in commemoration of the 75th Anniversary of the Death of Martyr St. Maximilian Kolbe. Everyone knows the story, how he gave his life for another. During this Mass, I had an inspiration, not his life for another; his mortal life for the eternal life of those 9 other condemned prisoners who he accompanied in their deaths. He administered the sacraments, sounds of singing and joy came from their death cell and those nearby. That’s what priests do.
- A 2007 guide in Poznan, Jola, has become a good friend. A student then, married now and has a high powered job. On the Christmas Eve after we met, she called me from her family home near Szczezin “We’ve set a place for you at our Wigila table.” Poles will understand this, such an honor.
- On a recent pilgrimage, I was able to re-unite with a young lady who I mentored during her time as a student in Gdansk. She dreamed of being an architect and envied me for living in Phoenix and able to visit the Talieson West of Frank Lloyd Wright. But, before her graduation, she was required to spend a few months on a high rise construction site and realized she really like that better than being an architect (she had interned in a firm for 2 years along with studies, so knew how to compare). When we reunited she was serving as the Assistant Project Manager for the huge airport construction project in Kraków, and less than a month after I returned to Phoenix, her boss left and she was made Project Manager and completed the construction. (I have many friends in Poland and it’s not unusual for one or more to join our group for dinner on a pilgrimage. It’s another way you get to meet real Polish people on your pilgrimage.)
Please feel free to email me Mike@LivingKrakow.com for information about future Living Kraków Cultural pilgrimages. Each one is custom designed; there’s sure to be the perfect one for you!