About pilgrimages in Poland (2)
Antoni Jackowski, Izabela Soljan
Contemporary picture of Polish pilgrimages
The main pilgrims' centre is Jasna Gora (4-5 million pilgrims per year). Other places embrace: Krakow-Lagiewniki (the cult of the Divine Mercy and Saint Faustina, over 2 million), Lichen (ca. 2 million) and Kalwaria Zebrzydowska (ca. 1 million).
Since early 1970s the role of Niepokalanow as a pilgrims' centre (the cult of Mary the Immaculate Conception and Saint Maximilian Kolbe) has increased. In the 1980s Warsaw, with the grave of Fr Jerzy Popieluszko, became a specific social-patriotic centre.
The Orthodox Church has one pilgrims' centre on international scale (Grabarka), one national centre (Jableczna) two district centres and over 10 regional centres. The followers of Judaism regard Krakow as the main centre, especially the cemetery Remuh that draws Jewish pilgrims from all over the world. Lezajsk has maintained its international fame. The religious life of the followers of Islam focused on Bohoniki and Kruszyniany.
Most Catholic pilgrimages are connected with the Marian cult. It appeared in our lands after Poland had accepted Christianity. Since its beginnings the Marian cult has played an important role in the history of our country and nation. That was best expressed by John Paul II at Jasna Gora on 5 June 1979, 'Mary forms Poland's history in her own way'.
The Marian cult and pilgrimages were intensified after the Lwow vows of Jan Kazimierz, which he had taken on 1 April 1656. He officially announced Mary Queen of Poland. The vows were a form of thanksgiving for the miraculous defence of Jasna Gora in 1655. Most historians agree that the vows of Jan Kazimierz changed the Marian cult into the national and state worship. There was a link between the religious consciousness and the national consciousness, which was not known in any European country. The link was important during the time of Poland's partitions and during the communist rule as well. Marian shrines have always played a very important role, which united Polish people living in various places and having a different social-professional status. That was made evident during numerous pilgrimages.
Religious centres began playing a very important social role. Pilgrimages made people pursue hobbies, get to know other environments, customs, regions and places. A person who did not visit some miraculous place or did not take part in a long pilgrimage was regarded as 'a boor'. The majority of Marian centres (and other centres as well) united the Polish community at the local, regional, national and even international level (e.g. Jasna Gora). They brought together the nation, which was very often in spite of denominational or social divisions.
Walking pilgrimages, especially those leading to Marian shrines, have been assigned a special role. Walking pilgrimages are still regarded as the 'purest', 'classical' form of pilgriming. The main centre of walking pilgrimages is Jasna Gora but we can see people walking to almost all places. Poles also walk to Ostra Brama and recently more and more Poles take the route of St James to Santiago de Compostela. Pilgrims, who walk for several days, meet inhabitants of other regions, towns and villages. An invisible link of reconciliation and a feeling of community, religious, social and national, are made. The pilgrims' movement is intensive on feats, related to important church fairs. Every year there are over 450 fairs at all main centres in Poland. The most important and most popular are the fairs connected with the Feast Days of Mary: Visitation (31 May), Annunciation (15 August) and Birth of Mary (8 September) and in Poland there are additionally: Mary Queen of Poland (3 May) and Our Lady of Mount Carmel (16 July). The feast days, connected with a concrete sanctuary and a picture of Mary, are celebrated in a special way. The most famous fair is the Feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa (26 August), which is of international character. In 20 sanctuaries the feasts were established because of the pictures of Mary that are found in those places. In some places the fairs are connected with the anniversary of the appearance of the worshipped image of Mary (e.g. Lesna Podlaska, 26 September) or the anniversary of the coronation of the miraculous picture. Apart from Marian feast days there are fairs connected with the Lord's days (e.g. in Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, Piekary Slaskie, Kalwaria Paclawska, Gora Swietej Anny, Wejherowo). Some fairs are connected with saints (e.g. the Orthodox centres).
In some parts of Poland the 'regional' pilgrimages are popular and they are many a time tinged with folk elements. That concerns the highlands (especially the Carpathians), Silesia, Kaszuby and Warmia. Apart from religious content the fairs show regional customs. For ages these church fairs have been accompanied by farmer's markets (e.g. Czestochowa, Kalwaria Paclawska, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska).
About 1,500,000 foreign pilgrims visit Poland every year. If we look at the present scope of influence of particular Catholic sanctuaries we must mention Jasna Gora (500,000 foreigners from over 80 countries) and Lagiewniki-Krakow (about 500,000 pilgrims from almost 89 countries). In Lagiewniki foreign pilgrims constitute almost 25% of all visitors. This is the highest number in Poland and one of the highest in Europe (e.g. in Lourdes - 15%). In the Orthodox Church it is Grabarka that draws foreign pilgrims. The journeys of the religious Hasidim to the graves of the holy caddiqim, located in various parts of Poland, have become very popular. We should also mention Oswiecim, which foreigners often choose for religious reasons.
In our opinion the following centres should be developed as far as pastoral work, investments and economic ventures are concerned:
1. Jasna Gora. It will continue to be the main religious centre for Poles all over the world and for worshippers of Our Lady of Czestochowa whom John Paul II rendered famous all over our globe. The shrine is located in the middle of Europe, as the meeting point of the western and eastern Christianity. This location is often called 'ecumenical'. One can make European pilgrims' routes through the city, from the East to the West and from the North to the South. The pilgrimages to Jasna Gora are of international character. Walking pilgrimages, which attract an increasing number of foreigners, are the sign of this place. Because of the tradition and scale of these pilgrimages they rank among the most important religious migrations in the world.
2. Krakow-Lagiewniki. This is the world centre of the cult of the Divine Mercy, which John Paul II established. This devotion is being spread geographically and thus makes this sanctuary special among other pilgrims' centres in Europe. The pilgrims' movement expands every year, with over 2 million pilgrims nowadays. Walking pilgrimages began last year, and they include pilgrimages from distant cities. The John Paul II Centre 'Do Not Be Afraid', initiated by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, will play an important role in development of the shrine. The other places in Krakow that visitors see include: the Wawel Cathedral, the church called 'Skalka', the church Ecce Homo and the church in Mogila. Krakow is an important centre on the European route of John Paul II.
3. Kalwaria Zebrzydowska is one of the most known places of the cult of the Lord's Passion and the cult of Mary in Europe. Numerous pilgrims and tourists from all over Europe come for the Holy Week celebrations and the Marian feast day in August. The whole complex of the monastery and park has belonged to the UNESCO World Heritage since 1999. The sanctuary is famous in Europe. In the future there will be 'a pilgrims' complex' Kalwaria Zebrzydowska -Wadowice, related to the person of John Paul II.
4. Lichen. It is popular with Poles in the country and abroad. Diversified pastoral care and numerous religious initiatives favour development of the centre. This is certainly the biggest sanctuary in northern Poland.
5. Gora Swietej Anny. The visitors and pilgrims come here from Germany. They constitute a considerable number (over 10%) of all visitors. It is estimated that these 'sentimental' visits from Germany will also embrace Bardo Slaskie, Wambierzyce, Gietrzwald and Swieta Lipka.
6. Warsaw. Foreigners often visit the grave of Fr Jerzy Popieluszko and visitors from Eastern Europe come to see the relics of St Andrzej Bobola. Pilgrims often connect their trips to Warsaw with visiting the neighbouring Niepokalanow, the place of St Maximilian Kolbe.
7. Grabarka. The international fame of the place is growing. The annual youth meetings draw more and more Europeans.
8. Oswiecim is a specific 'quasi-pilgrim' centre for various religions. Ecumenical meetings are held there.
9. Finally, it is worth stressing that the Polish routes of John Paul II play an important role in development of foreign pilgrims' movement. There are a few variants of this route in our country, leading in various directions of our continent. The places of meetings with John Paul II during his apostolic journeys to Poland in the years 1979, 1983, 1987, 1991, 1995, 1997, 1999 and 2002 will become important points. More and more people will follow the footsteps of Karol Wojtyla.
We can expect that some centres, which now draw pilgrims from several regions, will systematically rise to international rank. We have already mentioned Gietrzwald, Swieta Lipka, Wambierzyce and Bardo Slaskie. We can add Ludzmierz, which has the chance to become an important highland sanctuary in Europe, Kalwaria Paclawska as a potential ecumenical centre and Trzebnica, which has drawn German-speaking pilgrims. Observing tendencies in development of pilgrims' movement one can assume that smaller centres, regional and even local, can change into places that will draw an increasing number of pilgrims. First of all it will depend on the ingenuity of the custodians of the sanctuaries as well as of the local authorities.