Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Sorry for the lack of recent postings. It's summer, so sometimes I don't feel like the Internet beckons. That or a 56k dial-up is really annoying...
I went to Mass at the Cathedral of the Madeleine on Sunday, which happened to be the parish Feast Day, of St. Mary Magdalene. The Cathedral Choir and Choristers were present, and sang amazing pieces by Palestrina, Alonso Lobo, and Gabrieli. I have realized what a truly wonderful and beautiful treasure we have here in this otherwise Catholic desert.
Coming back from Krakow, a place that one could argue is the heart of Polish Catholicism, I have truly realized how much of a mission land this state still is, and how much the hope and good lies ahead for the history of the Catholic Church in this state.
As you may know, the Diocese of Salt Lake City is bishop-less, after Bishop George Niederauer became the Archbishop of Sodom, ummm...I mean San Francisco. Let's pray for a great, holy new bishop, who will guide this local church into the bright future ahead, and who will respond to the promptings of the Holy Spirit with the coming of the New Evangelization.
Thursday, July 13, 2006
Recently I read an article in the Polish weekly, "OZON," which confirmed all of my observations about the state of sacred architecture in Poland. It seems that after the fall in 1989, there is a great lack of creativity and tradition in the design of Catholic churches. While the lack of building materials and money during the PRL (Polish People's Republic) times may excuse the current appearance of some steel and concrete churches, it is hard to understand why today there is such a lack in beautiful church designs. From the Divine Mercy Shrine, to the Church of St. Jadwiga in Krakow, to this Church of Christ the King in Gliwice, there is an overall confusion in trying to create a modern sacred space. One exception seems to be the recent Shrine of Our Lady of Lichen , built in a traditional domed basilica style, alluding to St. Peter's in Rome (though seriosuly lacking the pleasing proportions of the Italian Baroque).
Friday, July 07, 2006
July 3rd, 2006
On Sunday morning, I attended Mass at the Roman Catholic Cathedral, together with the doctoral student whom I met, and who was also staying with us. I got to know him a bit better, and found out that he is actually a history teacher in a middle school in Silesia. Though he does not like to come to Lwów for reasons of personal hygiene (!), he had to come to work in the city archives. We had much to talk about, as it turned out, because he is a deep Polish patriot, and we shared many common experiences about the city, where the Polish soul and Polish culture had left an almost indelible mark.
After we attended Mass, we went to visit what is probably one of the most famous Polish cemeteries—the “Cmentarz Orląt,” or the “Polish Eagles’ Cemetery.” This historic cemetery is located in the back parcel of the Łykaczów Cemetery, an place known for the graves of the Zamoyski family, one of the most famous Polish noble families, Maria Konopnicka, the nineteenth century Polish writer, Stefan Banach, the Polish mathematician, and “Ordon,” the military hero whom Adam Mickiewicz writes about.
It was at this cemetery that I learned a little about the state of Polish-Ukrainian relations. I was shocked to enter this pre-dominantly Polish cemetery (all of the graves before 1939 are Polish), and yet, I found not one single sign in Polish. All of the signs are in Ukrainian, and not a single one points out the direction towards the “Orląt” cemetery, which is the reason why many Poles come to visit the place. Upon entering, one can only find a sign that directs people to the cemetery for the fallen Ukrainian heroes who fought for Ukrainian independence. The most famous Polish graves, in every case, are hidden by the tactical location of Ukrainian graves, which usually stand in front of them, or make the Polish tombs hard to access. Strolling up the hill and through the woods, we finally reached the Polish “Orląt” cemetery. I was struck by the size of it—later I found out that it contains over 2,500 graves. The graves mark the resting places of the Polish children, teenagers, and students who were killed during the civil war which broke out after the First World War. The Bolsheviks and partisan Ukrainians wanted to spread the revolution in this city, while the Polish civilians and military officers fought for its independence. The reality of what had happened struck me upon finding the grave of a ten year old boy, whose grave it well taken care of by an 80 year old woman, who comes to leaves flowers and light a candle regularly. In the chapel, located at the top of the sweeping and expansive neo-classical catacombs and stairs, I found a small picture display of the cemetery from the 1970’s. Built in the 1920’s, the cemetery lasted through both World Wars, only to be deliberately destroyed by the local communists and people sympathetic to them, who pulled down the colonnade and chiseled off the angels from the walls near the catacombs, simply because it was Polish. The catacombs were turned into a stonecutter’s shop, which produced Ukrainian tombstones for the locals. The graves grew over with trees, bushes, and were often deliberately destroyed. Only in the 1970’s did the local Polish population, small though strong, begin to care for the heritage and the history of the cemetery. Only in 1989 did the “changes” allow for a full cleaning and rebuilding of the cemetery. However, much anti-Polish sentiment still remains, and political reasons make it impossible to rebuild the entire colonnade at this point. The cemetery was, however, officially re-dedicated last year, with the Polish president taking part in the ceremonies. Each year, the two local Metropolitan Archbishops (Roman and Ukrainian rite) hold a day of reconciliation and unity in prayer there, to pray for an end to sectarian hatred and nationalistic ideologies.
These ideologies seem to be deep-seeded, however. Just beyond the wall of the Polish cemetery, stands a large Ukrainian monument, dedicated to the “national heroes of Ukraine” (from what I could gather, the Ukrainians who were killed by the Poles who lie across the wall). The cemetery that is in the process of being built next to the monument seems to be a deliberate anti-Polish statement, and it is quite sad to see such official animosity existing between the two cultures, even though it is mostly one-sided. The aging Polish population has to suffer much, yet courageously and bravely endures all of the anti-Polish, pro-Ukrainian policies.
After visiting the cemetery, my new friend led me to a nice, cheap, and clean restaurant that he had found, called “Puzata Hata,” or “fat house.” It was wonderful, because the food was good (an assortment of local Ukrainian specialties), the prices were Ukrainian ($4 for a full dinner), and the atmosphere was clean and pleasant. Perhaps that is why I ended up eating there three more times…
Now, it was time to head out to the airport—more on that later!
Thursday, July 06, 2006
While I was at the Greek Catholic Cathedral, I was able to visit the tombs of their patriarchs, whose tombs are in the crypt under the main altar. There lies Cardinal Szeptycki, whom I later learned is seen as a national and religious hero. It was he who was responsible for strengthening the position of the Eastern Church in the early 20th century, and who founded the Lviv Theological Academy, which is now the Ukrainian Catholic University.
On my way back from the cathedral, I was able to find a beautiful old Roman Catholic Church, the neo-gothic St. Elizabeth’s Church. Clearly neglected during the years of the USSR, the church has recently been re-opened, after the interior was gutted, and serves as an Eastern Catholic Church. It is very interesting to see an iconostasis and Eastern Catholic interior furnishings within the long, gothic nave. This, of course, was the first of many old Roman Catholic churches that I would visit, which since the end of the Soviet Union, have been returned by the government to the Ukrainian Catholic Church.
The afternoon was filled with another adventure. I decided to go to find the Ukrainian Catholic University, on “Sventitskoho 17a,” which I later figured out translated into Polish as, “Świencickiego.” The whole time I was in Lwów, it was fun to read the names of streets on my Polish map, and then try to decipher what the heck they were in Ukrainian—all of the street signs are in Cyrillic. I decided to walk towards the university, which is located about twenty minutes on foot away from downtown. It is a nice stroll that takes one down Iwana Franka street, one of the main boulevards going south from the center of the city. On the way, I passed by a local market, and decided to step inside—in order to get an experience of the real life of the local people. What I saw absolutely shocked me, though it was not completely foreign. I was greeted by the smell of raw meat, which was displayed on large blood-soaked pieces of cardboard. The sun-soaked raw meat was also covered with flies, which must have been enjoying the pig intestines, pig’s head that was chopped in half, as well as the cow liver that I saw (from which people could slice off pieces according to the desired size). Next to the meat section of the market, I saw piles of various fruits and vegetables—from pineapples to black currants, which were all sold for incredible prices. I am not sure how the local people can afford to eat fruit or vegetables, which are very expensive. Perhaps that is why it seems that there is not much to choose from in this area in the restaurants. The market brought back memories of Poland in the early 1990’s, combined with recollections of pictures that I had seen in National Geographic magazines, of street markets in developing countries. Here, I could buy laundry detergent, a pig’s brain, and bananas—all in one spot!
Having seen enough of the market, I worked my way towards the university, which, although the address is on Sventitskoho, was actually not located on this street, but on the one parallel to it. I was going to the university to see if I could meet up with some friends of mine, who would be teaching at the Ukrainian Catholic University’s Summer School of English. All of this seemed a little surreal to me—here I was in Lwów, with the possibility of meeting a Notre Dame friend, whom I had not seen for about a year. It really made me aware of how small our world is really becoming. Although I could not meet him then, I finally found out over a telephone with one of the organizers of the school, that my friend would be coming the next day…so off I went, back to the city. I decided that I would surprise him and meet him at the airport, where he wouldn’t expect me at all.
Upon returning to the city, I visited the Lwów Opera, one of the most famous opera houses in Central Europe, and known especially at the time it was built as a cultural gem. The opera house itself is not that old—it dates to the late nineteenth century, when it was built by the Austrians, who were in charge of the city at the time, as it was the capital of the Independent State of Galicia, an Austrian puppet state carved out of the Habsburg part of the Polish partition. Although what is supposedly the world’s most beautiful theater curtain was pulled up, I did get to see the rest of the interior. The seating hall with levels of balconies is simply breathtaking, and is complete with wonderful private viewing booths, which surely served many a wealthy city aristocrats of the era. The hall of mirrors, which is located at the top of the colorful marble and wooden grand staircase, is painted with images of the Muses and other mythical figures, which adorn the ceiling and look down upon the bronze busts of famous local actors.
The day ended with strolling through the narrow (and dirty) city streets, where I visited many Orthodox Churches, and was awed by the beauty of the Baroque Eastern Catholic Churches. One of the most amazing churches that I visited was the Church of the Holy Eucharist, the former Dominican Church in Lwów, which was attached to what was once the largest Dominican Abbey in this part of Europe. Unfortunately, with the coming of the Soviets and the Germans, most of the Poles were either deported from the city into Siberia or fled to the western parts of Poland. This dramatic Polish depopulation, of course, ended up in the “de-Romanization” of the city, because most of the Poles were Roman Catholic. With the departure of the Poles, the Roman Catholic orders left as well, and left behind them their churches—silent witnesses to a sad and dramatic history. During the communist times, of course, most of these churches were desecrated and destroyed (the Carmelite Sisters’ church was changed into a basketball gym). Currently, the government is returning the churches to the Catholic Church, however, only to the Ukrainian Church. Thus, the former Carmelite Church is now the church of St. Michael the Archangel, and is run by the Studite Monks. The Bernardine (Franciscan) Church is now run by the Order of St. Basil the Great. The Jesuit church is closed to this day, although it was just officially given to the Ukrainian Church. St. Mary Magdalene’s Church functions to this day as the local symphony hall. It will surely be a long process before all of the church buildings are returned to the Catholics.
After a long day out in the city, I returned back to my lodging, just in time to make it before the city water is shut off in the evenings at 9:00 p.m. Of course, then I had to watch the quarterfinals of the World Cup.
This "Archcathedral Basilica" is the oldest church in Lwów, ironically, since it is now also the only Latin-rite church left in the predominantly Ukrainian Catholic city.
Tuesday, July 04, 2006
Here is a view from the top of "Wysoki Zamek," the highest hill in Lwow, Ukraine. The large dome is the former Dominican Church, now the Ukrainian Catholic Church of the Holy Eucharist. The tall tower is on the left part of a XIV century Autocephalous Orthodox Church.
So.... I finally found the AMAZING Gothic-Renaissance-Baroque cathedral, the siteof many poetic inspirations, and most famous for the 1656 vows of King JanKazimierz, who entrusted the Polish Nation into the hands of Our Lady, afterthe Swedish Deluge. The image of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in themain altar, a tiny image painted on canvas, most likely, which is surrounded byfat cherubim and pompous patriarchs, who dominate the Roman Baroque altar.Above and around, the polychromy of the Polish artist Jozef Mehoffer glories inMarian-themes frescoes and paintings--strikingly similar to his work in the Franciscan Basilica in Krakow.
Upon entering the church, I was greeted by traditional Polish piety-- a packed church participating in a Eucharistic Procession around the three-naved church,led by flower girls, banner-carrying teenagers, and a large statue of the Sacred Heart. Thinking it was still 6:00 p.m., and hoping to attend Mass after theprocession, I joined in and followed around the gray, incense-filled nooks and chapels of the cathedral. I felt so at home--the traditional hymns were the same as in Warsaw, or in Krakow--a pleasant, perhaps nostalgic feeling, very welcome after a few hours of a foreign language, and a feeling of complete helplessness due to my Cyrillic illiteracy! After the procession, I asked if there would be Mass, only to find out that it had already been celebrated, and that there had been a time change when I crossed the border! Oops. So, here we go. I prayed that something would work out for the night, since I was still homeless, and the sun had set and dusk was slowly giving way to darkness, the period of stillness, as the day crowds have gone inside, and the night-partiers have not yet emerged from their dens. I was immediately met by an alcohol-breath Ukrainian, who spoke broken Polish, and asked if I wanted aroom--no thanks, creepy...
I wandered around a bit, and found the Polish Association--a group that helped Poles in the Ukraine to find places to stay, etc. But it had closed an hour before, since I still thought it was six, and not seven. Going back to the church, I knew that I had to find something soon--Our Lord would not havegotten me here, only to be left out in the street. So, dodging a few more street peddlers and beggars, I finally asked a sister of the Family of Mary,which I took as a sign, since this is the order which my great-great-great-grand-uncle, Blessed Archbishop Felinski, founded. The sister recommended that I ask "the man who is always outside the cathedral asking if people need rooms," which I was relieved to hear. Indeed, the creepy Ukrainian had been an honest person, and after the sister's recommendation, I went out and found him again. He led me about 100 feet down the road, into a rowhouse that, upon entering, I thought would collapse at any moment. Climbing to the second floor up the used, wooden, creaky, stairs, accompanied by thesmell of dampness and what seemed like urine, we came to a door--number 5. An old Polish-Ukrainian lady opened, and led me in--finally, a place to stay, with what seemed like a nice family. I was immediately led into conversation with a Polish doctoral student of history, who, let's just say, was very starving for conversation with a Pole, after being in Lwow for a week. I found my bed--inthe same room, with him, and next to another room that had an additional six beds in it. Here I would take up my humble abode for the next few days. Only to find out about the running water situation, and about the toilet that does not flush well...
My night was very good, surprisingly. All the people in the city must have watched what was a quite embarrassing loss by Ukraine to Italy, in the quarterfinal of the World Cup. The streets were surprisingly quiet after the 3-0 loss. Too bad--I wish that this country that appeared for the first time this year in the World Cup would have made it further with an upset.
This morning, I attended Mass at the Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady--the above-mentioned Roman Church. Holy Mass, celebrated in a local Polish dialect, was followed by the pipe-organ-accompanied singing of the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary for the Immaculate Conception. I stayed for this, and then walked the 30 seconds back to my lodging. Packing up for the day, I was able to leave my stuff there, and only take what I needed. The couple I am staying with is very nice--and I can understand their living situation. The average retirement pension here is $60 per month, and with prices not much lower than in Poland, it is a very hard life--forcing many older ladies into the street to beg for a daily living, simply enough to buy medicine and basic good .
I went immediately to McDonald's, after hearing not-so-good stories of what happens after one eats the local food--and since I can't read Cyrillic, it's easier to go there and look at the pictures! So, I had an unprecedented nine piece chicken nuggets and French fries, with Fanta and Coffee for breakfast--and the ability to use a fairly clean restroom!! This was definitely a relief ;o) After McDonald's, I decided to walk in the direction of the Cathedral of St. George, which, from what I eventually figured out, is the Greek Catholic Cathedral in Lwow, and also where the Holy Father stayed when he was here in 2001. The rectory is very nice, and newly renovated. Unfortunately, the Roman Catholic clergy and Cardinal Jaworski do not have such nice accommodations--from what I gather, a few rooms attached to the sacristy ofthe cathedral.
The day has been filled with taking in the sights, sounds, and sometimes not-so-pleasant smells of this beautiful renaissance, Baroque and neo-classical city--much of which is still the way it was built by the Austrians in the 18th and 19th century. I have visited many churches, a synagogue, and am wandering around--glad to finally have found this Internet cafe!
In the past four hundred years, this city has changed names constantly--from Lwow, to Lviv, to Lemberg, and also Leopolis. It has been under the possession of Lithuania, the Kingdom of Poland, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Habsburg Empire, theIndependent State of Galicia, the Republic of Poland, the Ukrainian SocialistRepublic, the USSR, and finally an independent Ukraine!
I finally arrived last night after a ten-hour journey! This seems proper to such asubjectively long journey, into a different country, but I have only really traveled about 200 miles! The train from Krakow arrived without any problems, and I had an hour and a half to walk around Przemysl, a beautiful Polish city near the eastern border. I found Jesus exposed for Adoration at the local Franciscan Church, and began to pray the Rosary there, as I made a short pilgrimage to the various other historic churches. When I walked into the cathedral, I found the tomb of St. Bishop Jozef Pelczar, who was canonized recently! I didn't know that he was buried there!
I was able to catch a bus (for $6), and four hours later, I was in Lwow. This, of course, was a VERY long period of time, since it was only about 60 miles from Przemysl. However, due to the fact that we were leaving the EU, and that much smuggling happens on the border, we sat in the no-air conditioning bus forabout an hour and a half before they let us through, and after the "amerikanin'' was called out of the bus (me!) Apparently, the bus driver did not give the people my VISA form that I had to fill out at the border, and they were wondering where it was, and what I was doing. So, I finally climbed over the bags of onions, cucumbers, pantyhose, and whatever else was being taken over theborder and stored in the aisle of the bus, and made my way back to my seat--heavily laden with an odor of fresh kielbasa from the market, which apparently must be cheaper in Poland than in Ukraine, for the lady next to me was taking back about ten pounds, at least!
Well, finally all was ready to go, and we began our ride through the countryside of the Cossacks, the wild pagans and Orthodox Christians responsible for the martyrdom of St. Andrew Bobola, and the attacks upon many Polish and Ukrainian Catholics. As I looked out the window of the bus, while driving along the pot-holed main "highway,'' I saw many cottages with roosters, hens, goats, and cows wandering randomly around the yards, as laundry that had been hung up to dry was again soaked by the falling rain, and where babushkas chatted to their grandchildren in the potato fields. WOW! It is amazing difference a simple border can make--what was once the same land, inhabited by the same people, has no been separated off, and a separate "world" within a world exists here. As one person that I met later noticed, a Pole here in Lwow, mentioned, "it's as if everything stopped in the 1930's.'' I would generally agree with this, although I think the state of the city was better in the 1930's. The churches, now-turned offices or into the symphony, at least drew large crowds of faithful. The water utilities worked fine. Now, the city has no running water at all, except between 6:00 and 9:00 a.m., and between 6:00 and 9:00 p.m. The old Polish waterworks are still in place, and due to water breaks, rusted pipes, and the fact that the city is on a hill, far from any water; there is a severe shortage of water, with no end of the plight in sight, at least in the near future. Water to the city is pumped from about 60-70 miles away, uphill! Back to my journey, though--I arrived at the main bus terminal here, a clear remnant of once-prosperous Soviet times, when the block socio-realism was in style, and when a hotel was a rare commodity. Now, the communist hotel is closed and abandoned, and the bus terminal is falling apart--steel pipes androds protrude from the walls, and broken glass covers the ground, where people line up to buy their bus tickets. Mafia-run taxi companies park their cabs nearby, with the hopes of ripping off hapless and confused tourists (like me). At least, I knew that this was the case, and stayed away from these ''unofficial'' taxis. I was in a predicament, however--imagine being placed in the middle of a city larger than Krakow, without knowing the language, or the alphabet!! I thought that at the MAIN BUS TERMINAL, they would have at least have signs in English--yeah right! After wandering around hopelessly, notknowing which number of trolley-bus to take to downtown (the bus terminal islocated out in the fields outside of the city, in the middle of communistapartment buildings), I finally walked up to a city taxi. Luckily, Slavic languages are all related, and between me talking Polish and the man speaking Ukrainian, we figured out a rate ($5), to take me to the middle of the city, to the ''Latin cathedral.''
Driving about seventy miles an hour, going through a few red lights, and barely missing a few trolleys and busses, while near to losing our undercarriage on the cobblestone roads, which were still ''paved'' by the Poles in the 19th or 18th century, and are now full of potholes, we finally made it to theBernardine Church, near the cathedral. Here began another series of novenas and acts of trust--Lord, help me find somebody and somewhere to stay! I looked into the Flemish Baroque Bernardine Church, now the Church of St. Andrew and Greek-Catholic Church run by the Basilian order, since the Byzantine chantpouring out of the doors was just too much to stop me from walking bynonchalantly. I was struck by the amount of faithful--young, old, babushkas, nuns, and scantily clad girls all attended the Marian Devotion, which includedbanners, flags, lots of incense, chant, and icons!
I then walked down the street (oh yeah--forgot to mention that I DID find a Polish map of the city at the bus station) to the Latin-rite Cathedral.
On Saturday, I decided to finally make a trip that I had been planning for a very long time, but had never been able to. The weather was beautiful, and so I took the opportunity to go out on a bike ride through Kraków, to Zakrzówek, an area on the south bank of the Vistula, located in the “Skałka Twardowskiego Nature Preserve.” Since I bought a book back in February, entitled, “Kraków: City of My Life,” I have been trying to visit most of the places described. The book documents events from the life of Karol Wojtyla, from his life as student, bishop, and cardinal in Kraków, and describes all of the places that have something to do with his studies, his ministry, pilgrimages, etc.
This time, I chose to finally make it out to “the quarry,” called “Zakrzówek,” where young Karol Wojtyla worked in 1940-1941 as a manual laborer. During the war, the Germans required all men of working age to provide documentation of their employment, otherwise they would be taken to one of the Nazi work camps in Germany. In order to have this documentation, and to provide for himself and for his sick father, Wojtyla worked in the rock quarry, which provided limestone for the Solvay Soda Factory, in southern Kraków (where he also worked later in his life as a student). It was here, that he worked blasting, digging, and on the narrow-gauge railroad. In what would be a formative experience for the rest of his life, here he learned the value and dignity of human labor, and the time even became an inspiration for some of his poems (such as the aptly named Quarry.) Seeing his bright intellectual future, his fellow workers sought to aid him by relieving him of his load, so that he could read the books with which he could constantly be found.
This time in Wojtyła’s life has always been an inspiration for me, and so I especially wanted to visit this place where so much sweat had poured out from the hard work in the midst of the war. The quarry ceased functioning after the Second World War, when the Solvay Factory was closed. Eventually, the factory was torn down, and the Church of Our Lady of Victory stands on the spot.
Arriving by bicycle to the nature preserve that now surrounds the grounds of the former quarry, I was shocked by the little enclave of peace and quiet within the hustle and bustle of the city. Located only about four miles in a direct line from downtown, the park is a much-needed and well-loved place of relaxation for many people, who come there to tan, to jog, to read, or simply to get away a little from the noise of the city. Perhaps one of the most popular activities is the “illegal” swimming, since officially it is not allowed, but all of the police officers and officials must pretend they don’t see it happening. In the middle of the park lies a blue-green lake, in perhaps one of the most picturesque settings I have seen. In the early 1990’s, the ground water from the old rock quarry pit rose, and the entire old quarry was filled with water, creating a large lake, surrounded by white limestone cliffs and beautiful scenery. The views are breathtaking. I rode my bike up a trail that led through the marshy areas of the outskirts of the nature preserve, and suddenly, I reached a fence, which separated me from about a 150-200 foot drop, at the bottom of which glistened the aquamarine water, lit by the summer sun. Needless to say, going down to swim in it was a very tempting proposition, but I refrained and decided to ride my bike around the perimeter of the lake. Just to have an idea of how big the quarry was, the lake that know fills it is about a half a mile in diameter, and about a mile and a half in circumference.
Though a fence surrounds the entire area, in typical Polish style, many people climb it or find holes in it, in order to go to the very edge of the cliff, or to climb down the lower parts to the edge of the lake. It was amusing to see one person lying on a big air mattress in the middle of the lake, tanning in the sun. I know that many people have drowned at the lake, due to odd currents that sometimes create funnels that pull people down. Apparently, these are not the only dangers there, since upon continuing around the lake, I found a memorial plaque on the fence, which was surrounded by candles and flowers. Sadly, a Ukrainian student from the Kraków Music Academy had been there with his father last year in May, when he fell to his death from the edge of the cliff. Apparently, he was one of the most promising young voices at the academy, and had a bright future ahead of him. The sad reality reminded me of the true fragility of life, and how one can really be taken from this world at any moment!
Continuing on, I eventually passed “Elvis Presley Way,” a small asphalt path in the trees, named for the American for some odd reason. This north side of the lake was the most heavily wooded, and part of the original nature preserve that had been planned there already in the 1930’s. Exiting from the dark and deep woods, which I definitely enjoyed for the shade, I came out into the open fields again, which provided a beautiful view of the southern parts of Kraków, including the Divine Mercy Shrine in Lagiewniki, as well as the new apartment complexes that are quickly rising as the city expands.
Returning back to the place where I started, I rode up another hill, and there I spent a few hours, enjoying the beautiful view of the entire city. Before me stretched the Vistula River basin, with Wawel Hill and the Royal Castle dominating the landscape in front of me. A bit farther, rose the uneven twin towers of St. Mary’s Church, the ancient guardian and protector of the city, from whose tower the bugler plays his melody every hour. To my left, stretched Blonia Park, the ancient pasture land, now the largest open meadow in any European city, and the site of multiple papal pilgrimages and Masses. As if to crown the fields, the Kosciuśko Mound rose above them, topped with people, like little ants on their anthill. To my right, stretched the hills of Kraków, and if the smog were not as thick further out, then I would be able to see the peaks of the Tatra Mountains, a mere sixty miles south, and in a completely different, snowy world of their own.
I could imagine the young man who would be the pope working down there behind me, somewhere at the bottom of the current lake, sanctifying his work and learning about the dignity of man through direct experience with the physical suffering of hard labor. It was from this incredible spot that he had taken away so many memories and formative experiences. Would it be the same for me? I had come to Kraków, as I think I put it back in February, “to grow closer and deeper in my faith life, particularly coming to better know the saint of our modern times, Karol Wojtyła, in whose beloved Krakow I will be studying.”
It appears that this visit to the quarry, which formed young Wojtyła may be one of the last places outside of downtown related to his life in Kraków that I may be able to visit. This week I am traveling, and am currently in Warsaw. I will be going to Lwów (Lviv, Leopolis), Ukraine, next weekend, hoping to visit and see this classic and culturally Polish city. More news to come…
The week that followed the hiking was quite intense, and included my last exam, in my Theology of the Body course, which is taught by Fr. Jarosław Kupczak, a Polish Dominican who studied at the John Paul II Institute in Washington, D.C. My exam went well, and with it, I finished up the official schoolwork for the semester, which was quite surreal, and it took a while for me to realize that I am done! I guess it didn’t really hit me, since I am not going home yet, until July, and so while I am still here, I still feel a little as if I am “studying abroad.” Indeed, I do have a lot of things to do still, but not really related directly to school and exams!
After my exam on Wednesday, I was able to take my friend out to breakfast, to an American restaurant called “Jeff’s.” Apparently, it is a chain in Florida, and the one in Poland has a license to operate under their name. I was actually quite surprised when I walked in to find the walls plastered with license plates, random paraphernalia, TV’s playing CNN Headline News, and rock music in the loudspeakers. I have to admit, that it was actually kind of nice to feel a little bit like “back at home,” in a restaurant that was similar to Chili’s or T.G.I.F.’s. What did also strike me, though, was the complete emptiness of our materialist, consumerist culture. This restaurant was truly like any American restaurant, and after being away for so long, I guess I grew unaccustomed to the “American style.” It was interesting to reflect on how American culture must be received in Poland, and in other countries as well. If our country’s modern culture is what I was seeing here, then, honestly, “no, thank you.” Yet, why did I have such a reaction when seeing all of this? I had eaten countless times in places like this, and greatly enjoyed going out to eat at them.
Yet here, there was an aura of falsehood. It was all fake—here in Poland, the land of kings, of churches, of a thousand year history, this 1960’s pop culture restaurant just does not fit. What was even worse, was the dress of the waitresses, who all seemed to have the same “dress” code, or rather, lack thereof. Let’s just say that my shirt might have weighed more than their total attire. It was really sad to see this—is this the image that we Americans project to the rest of the world? Or is this only a misinterpretation of our culture, which is not all based on skimpy dress, bad music, and television? I would hope that it is the latter, since I tend to rather be a strong American patriot, and know that our country does have more enduring values than those that are projected abroad. Yet, it is no wonder that many people have a stereotype of Americans as the immoral, materialistic, obese, and obnoxious people that only some of them are. The pop culture is so strongly projected, that Britney Spears becomes the model of every American girl, and recently, in the wake of all of Chuck Norris jokes, he has become the American man—brutal, tough, and uncivilized.
Honestly, I was very satisfied with my American French Toast, my maple syrup and ham, and my American mug of coffee, but I was also quite relieved to leave the place. It is such a foreign concept here in Poland, that I am surprised that the place actually has customers—of course, there is still a sort of concept that views everything American as good and worthy to be imitated (unlike in Western Europe, where we are not exactly perceived the same way!) What happened later the same day, of which I had no idea, however, would redeem the experience of the morning.
In the early afternoon, I had to take some papers to the Cardinal’s secretary at the Metropolitan Curia. After finally getting in through the double sets of doors, and waiting my turn, I approached Fr. Raś, the secretary, and gave him a my packet of papers, only to be shocked by his question, “You know, perhaps the cardinal himself would like to talk to you. Then you can explain what exactly it is you need. Why don’t you come back in about an hour and a half?”
My mouth dropped—I would be able to see Cardinal Dziwisz, perhaps one of the best-known cardinals in the world, for his forty years of service at the side of Bishop Wojtyla, and then Pope John Paul II? Wow. Lord, what are you doing to me? So, I ran back home to grab my camera (typical American, right?), and then came back. Walking past some dignitaries from the Polish government, as well as new reporters, I walked up to the secretary’s office, and rang the doorbell. A few minutes later, the secretary walked out, looked around, and took my in—leaving the rest behind. Leading me through the cream-colored room, to another similar one, overlooking the courtyard of the Curia, he asked me to sit down and wait on a red tapestry Victorian sofa. Countenances of popes and cardinals watched me from their gold-framed spots on the walls, and the deep voice of Cardinal Dziwisz could be heard from the other room. In a moment, he walked out of the room, and looked at me, signaling that I would be next—only to get stopped by Fr. Nęcek, the press secretary, who had a pressing issue with “Father Cardinal,” as he is known in Polish. So, sitting down to wait again, I went over and over what I wanted to say to the cardinal, who would come out momentarily.
Returning out of his office, Cardinal Dziwisz came towards me. I expected that he would lead me to his office, where I would probably be seen from behind his large desk—but now, he came over to me, and grabbed my arm. “What can I do for you?” he asked, as I knelt to show the proper sign of respect for a Prince of the Church. Holding my hand with his firm, fatherly, fist, he led me over to the couch where I had been sitting, and asked me to sit down. Pulling up a chair next to me, and sitting about a foot and a half across, he began to ask me questions about who I was, where I was from, what I was studying, what I planned on doing in life, who had taught me this semester, etc. Somehow, all of the things that I had planned to say slipped from my mind, as my heart pounded out of temporary shock that this was actually happening. Even though this man had served at the side of John Paul, had been one of the most televised and photographed people in the world, because of his assistance to the Pope, and is a cardinal of the Roman Catholic Church, he still had the time and interest to talk to me, a simple student! As I noticed by his simple presence in March, at the Ingress to the cathedral, he is a man of deep humility and sincere simplicity. I am sure that much of this is also due to the fact that he is from a small Polish village, Raba Wyżna, in the hills south of Kraków. He has never lost the ability to simply communicate on a very personal and direct level.
After talking to me for a few minutes, his secretary came in to take him away to what were more pressing and urgent matters, I’m sure, but I couldn’t complain. What had started as a day on which I would be taking my final exam, turned out to be the day that I would personally meet on of the Princes of the Church, a voting member of the College of Cardinals, and perhaps a future pope. Ok, that may be complete speculation, but it’s possible…I was definitely reminded of the well-known saying, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him what you’re doing tomorrow.” We may plan our lives, but God manifests His blessings in very unexpected ways, and makes Himself known in our lives in very visible ways at certain times!
Again, the month of June seems to have flown by, and here I am in Warsaw, thinking about all that has happened in the past few weeks. The weather has turned from the cold, damp, and windy late spring that seemed to plague the beginning of June, to hot and humid continental weather. It’s been in the 90’s recently, although I can’t complain too much, since the humidity level has been not very high, which is definitely an unusual situation here in the summer. Being from Utah I am used to dry heat, so while others are complaining about the weather right now, I can only rejoice and be glad that summer is finally here!
A week-and-a-half ago, I went hiking to the Polish Beskidy mountains with some of my friends from my residence. Our destination was Babia Gora, “Grandmother’s/Old Maid’s Mountain,” which is the highest peak in that mountain range, and is actually a long ridge, which stretched across the Polish-Slovakian border. The highest of the peaks is aptly named, “Diablak,” something to the extent of “little devil,” since the top is known for its hurricane-force winds, sudden changes of temperatures, and steep ascent.
In order to get to the mountain, we had to drive through a series of Polish mountain towns, including one of the highest towns in Poland, Zawoja. After driving through this last in a string of towns, we entered a national park, “Babiogorski Park Narodowy,” a beautiful and pristine wilderness, full of lush aciduous trees and small streams. A mere two hour drive from Kraków, one of the largest cities in Poland, I found myself in a completely different world—the world which inspired the poems of Karol Wojtyla, which speaks of God’s grandeur, and which even drew Emperor Franz Joseph there during the Austrian partitions. Here, the world was quiet, yet filled with the chatter of birds, the trickle of streams. Here, where there was no civilization, was a world of a different kind. The green ferns that provided a ground cover provided safe-haven for various life forms, the open skies were perfect for the keen eyes of the raptors that circled above, and the streams provided fresh mountain water to deer that wandered through the forest.
It was upon arriving here that one of the first things we saw was a sign, which commemorated “Cardinal Karol Wojtyla’s last hike before he was chosen as the successor of St. Peter.” This sign only made me laugh to myself—how many times did I go somewhere and unexpectedly run into something that had to do with that man’s life? But then again, I thought that if I had seen so much in a short five months, then of course it must be possible that he, as a person who lived there his entire life (or at least fifty eight years of it), must have been everywhere. Seriously. No matter where one goes, throughout the various streets of Kraków, or in the sharp and rugged Tatra Mountains, or here, in the rolling Beskidy mountains, there are always signs that relate stories from different “phases” of the man’s life. Of course, now that I am here in Warsaw for the week, the streets are also pasted with plaques and memorials that can even commemorate something like “Pope John Paul II prayed here on June 6th, 1979,” or something to that extent. And rightly so. Poland has much to be proud of in this son, who, as one friend of his put it, “was to great of a man to remain in Poland.” Or as Fr. Stan raps, “what a shock, Polack, from the eastern bloc…”
Starting at the memorial plaque, we climbed the mountain in what probably turned out to be record speed. Though all maps and other signs and indications specified a hiking time of two and a half hours to the top, we made it up in an hour and fifteen minutes! Of course, there were side effects of such a grueling pace. Not to get into the nasty details, but we were so sweaty, that swarms of flies kept attacking us for the entire way up! I am not kidding when I say that I have not seen so many flies in one spot at the same time (actually, now that I think about it, I think only the brine flies on the beach of the Great Salt Lake exist in larger numbers…but then again, the Great Salt Lake is really nasty, so what does one expect?) Having reached the top, we all finally breathed a sigh of relief when the wind picked up and blew the flies away—the constant and excessive buzz around our ears had become quite a nuisance!
Upon reaching the top, I found—what do you expect—another monument commemorating John Paul’s last “visit” to the top of the mountain, when his helicopter circled above it in a fly over in 2002. He had climbed the mountain many times, and wanted to see it for one last time when he left his homeland for what would be the final time. This monument was located on the Polish-Slovak border, which runs across the top of the mountain—so one side was in Slovak, and the other side in Polish.
We chose to return back to our car via another route—the steep and sometimes fatal trail, known as “Academic Ridge,” probably for the large number of college students who choose to either ascend or descend via this route. Though technically not too challenging, the main danger lies in the steepness of the slope, which can very easily become very hazardous during a slight rainstorm, or with snow cover. After the initial part, though, we did reach a few cliffs, were we had to climb down with the help of metal chains and ladders that had been permanently placed there by the park service. Having descended on these, we reached a few last snowfields, were we had to have the initial snowball fights. These all were fine, until I accidentally through an ice ball at my friend camera! Luckily, after it all dried out, it was fine and kept being able to document our journey!
One of the best things about Poland, and especially “Little Poland,” which is the southern region of Poland, are the small distances between everything. It’s still hard for me to get used to the fact that everything is so objectively close, yet seems to be far away. Coming from the western United States, where one has to drive twenty miles to Church, and easily commutes over a hundred miles a day, it is still hard to get used to the fact that sometimes within very small distances, there can be a very diverse number of climate changes, different towns, and local customs. Having descended from the mountain, we reached our car and saw that we still had a few hours, so we decided to go to Wadowice for a dinner and, of course, papal cream pastries. Without a car, especially, it would seem that these two places were very far from each other, and very separated both by climate and by culture. The one being a small industrial town, and the other being a semi-remote national park, it would seem that they would not all be within about thirty or forty miles of each other.
I was shocked to learn that two of the friends that I was with had never been to Wadowice, which was ironic, since I was the one from the U.S., and I had already been there a few times. So, we decided that they needed to go there. We were able to visit the main church, St. Mary’s Basilica, and pray at the baptismal font of the little “Lolek,” which was followed by eating up probably all of the calories that we had burned up on our hike—two cream pastries a person! Seeing that I have not recounted this story before in this journal, perhaps I should share it, since not all readers will know what “papal cream pastries” are and why Wadowice is now famous for them.
The Holy Father’s visit to Poland in 1999 was perhaps one of the most memorable, since it included many situations in which the Holy Father improvised and digressed from the written speeches that he had prepared. This was especially true in Wadowice, where he reminisced about his childhood days, naming some of the friends he remembered from school, and recounting memories from those times of his childhood.
“Over there on the corner is where we would go for “kremówki,” (cream pastries) with my friend, after we finished high school,” recalled the Holy Father with a wide grin and smirk on his face. Upon seeing the crowd’s reaction, he also laughed, and leaned over to the side to laugh discreetly.
What people learned later was the full story—Karol and his friends used to go to the pastry shop and make bets on who would eat the most “kremowki.” They did this not only for the taste of the delicious and fattening pastries, but also because they had rum in them, so in reality, one might say that they wanted to see who would get a little boozed off of them first. Realistically, this would not be very easy, and I’m not sure how many one would have to eat, but the future pope lost the bet, since he “only” ate seven.
Needless to say, after this improvisational commercial for all of the bakers and pastry shops in Wadowice, “Papal Kremowki” became a huge and popular success, and now every shop in Wadowice sells the “original” papal cream pastries. (I hear that the same is starting to happen in Marktl am Inn, where the local pastry shops have been baking “papal chocolate torte,” apparently a favorite of Joseph Ratzinger. It will be interesting to see if this is mentioned when he visits his hometown in September).
After this long day of hiking, of visiting, and of eating, we finally came home in the evening, satisfied, if not a bit tired, but thankful for a wonderful day—a sort of unexpected pilgrimage in the footsteps of Karol Wojtyla. The fact that we were tired, though, did not mean that we refrained from having a traditional Saturday night grill, with chicken and Polish kielbasa, with all of our friends from the residence, and others as well.