Krakow - city of prayer, reflection and meditation

Antoni Jackowski

The Jubilee of granting Magdeburg Rights to the city of Krakow made mass media focus on the city, and encourage Polish people and foreigners to visit it. First of all, they advertise the unique atmosphere of Krakow, its monuments and perhaps the possibility to have fun here, to entertain or visit several hundred pubs. In this mass of information about the city one could miss the fact that for centuries Krakow has been an important religious centre. Krakow has always been a city of deep prayer; visits to our local churches make people reflect and meditate. Contemporary man needs moments of being separated from the noise of daily life, its troubles and increasing hurry. 'Calming' stays in the Benedictine abbey in Tyniec testify to the need for seclusion. There are almost 160 places and objects of religious cult in Krakow. Their range of influence varies. Six canonised people and eight beautified ones were buried here. Krakow's tradition as a religious centre goes back to the 12th century. Pilgrims have come here for ages; they have visited the graves of the Krakow saints. The main religious centres have always been the Wawel cathedral and the Skalka church. The new epoch of Krakow pilgrimages has been connected with the Divine Mercy shrine in Lagiewniki and the cult of Saint Faustyna Kowalska. The culmination of pilgrim movements fell in the 15th century where 17 loca sacra were registered in the city. The fifteenth century old Krakow was called 'Felix saeculum Cracoviae' (happy age of Krakow) and the name resulted from the fact that six men lived here and they died in the fame of sanctity: Jan Kanty, Izajasz Boner, Michal Giedroyc, Swietoslaw the Silent, Szymon of Lipnica and Stanislaw Kazimierczyk. Moreover, many pilgrims went to the places connected with the cult of Jacek Odrowaz, Salomea, Jan Prandota, and Queen Jadwiga. Because of the numerous churches, holy places connected with relics and miraculous pictures there appeared the expression 'Cracovia altera Roma' (Krakow was the second Rome) in the 16th century. This term is used nowadays as well. Since apart from Rome there is no place the space of which is 'so filled' with sanctity. The description of Krakow as 'the second Rome' became significant in the context of the ministry of John Paul II. Karol Wojtyla was connected with the holy places of Krakow from his youth. Then as Metropolitan of Krakow he maintained the tradition of pilgrimages in Krakow.
Currently, the key objects of religious cult are: the Wawel cathedral (cult of St Stanislaus and Saint Queen Jadwiga), the Divine Mercy Shrine in Lagiewniki and the Holy Cross Sanctuary in Mogila, the most famous cult of the Crucified Jesus in Poland. One should mention that over 10 pictures of Mary received papal crowns. The tour of John Paul II is being formed. The cult of Divine Mercy is connected with Saint Faustyna Kowalska (1905-1938. Pilgrimages to Lagiewniki began during World War II. The feast of Divine Mercy is celebrated on the first Easter Sunday. Sometimes even several hundred thousand people from various Polish regions come to Lagiewniki on that day. There are numerous foreign pilgrims, too. John Paul II beautified Sister Faustyna in 1993 and canonised her in the year 2000. 'Our' Pope visited the shrine in Lagiewniki twice: 7 June 1997 and 17 August 2002. The aim of the last visit was the dedication of the Divine Mercy basilica. The visit in 2002 was a great call for God's Mercy for the contemporary world. That was expressed in his moving act of entrusting the world to God's Mercy. In his homily delivered on that day he said, Today, therefore, in this Shine, I wish solemnly to entrust the world to Divine Mercy. I do so with the burning desire that the message of God's merciful love, proclaimed here through Saint Faustina, may be made known to all the peoples of the earth and fill their hearts with hope... This spark needs to be lighted by the grace of God. This fire of mercy needs to be passed on to the world. In the mercy of God the world will find peace and mankind will find happiness! I entrust this task to you, dear Brothers and Sisters, to the Church in Kraków and Poland, and to all the votaries of Divine Mercy who will come here from Poland and from throughout the world. May you be witnesses to mercy!'
John Paul II's visit to Lagiewniki and the canonisation of Sister Faustyna made this centre play a more important role in the world pilgrim migrations. Each year over 2 million people come here, which makes it the second biggest sanctuary in Poland (after Jasna Gora) and one of the thirty most important religious centres (not only Christian ones) in the world. Pilgrims come from almost 90 countries, including the distant ones. None of the present day religious centres in the world has such huge geographical range. The sanctuary in Lagiewniki is a big gift of Lord God for contemporary man. This unique and precious gift should be enriched by our activities aiming at fulfilling the spiritual testament of John Paul II to make this place the world centre of Divine Mercy. All signs show that the number of pilgrims, especially foreign pilgrims, will grow in a systematic way. Today, travels to Lagiewniki are offered by all important tourist agencies in the world. The John Paul II Centre 'Do Not Be Afraid', initiated by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, will undoubtedly play an important role in the development of Krakow-Lagiewniki.
The purpose of our reflections was to emphasise the unique value of Krakow as a big religious centre. On the one hand it is formed by a network of holy places and on the other hand by the awareness that the city was the place of John Paul II. Thanks to its extraordinary sacral space Krakow should invite people to come here and reflect on their lives, to assume different perspective towards daily problems and to meditate. But first of all, Krakow should invite people to pray. Apart from Rome no European city can offer such a value. Let us remember that...
The article was published in 'Dziennik Polski' on 4 June 2007, on the occasion of the 750th anniversary of granting Magdeburg Rights to Krakow. The author is a retired professor of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow.

"Niedziela" 27/2007

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