Polish Pope visited his Homeland for the first time

Fr Ireneusz Skubis

You desire to say, ‘How fast the time passes! 30 years has passed since John Paul II visited his Homeland for the first time. Although we all felt the terrifying breath of the communist regime then one could notice big priestly vividness, especially in student pastoral ministry, where I used to work. In that memorable year I had the chance to fly to the Vatican with the detailed information concerned the Pope’s landing in Czestochowa. The thing was that the helicopter with the Holy Father aboard landed on the square behind the cathedral, in Ogrodowa Street (at present there is a church house of the Diocese of Czestochowa, where the Catholic Radio Fiat has also its headquarters). The papal pilgrimage that began in Warsaw was not limited to the capital. John Paul II was in Czestochowa, too, and his stay here was quite long. He was so cordially welcomed in our cathedral which he called a station church on his way to Jasna Gora…As Pope he stopped at the oldest church in Czestochowa – St Zygmunt’s Church – for the first time while he was going along the Virgin Mary Avenues and he enjoyed the cheers of the crowds of the local people. His welcome in the bishops’ palace was also very cordial. The Bishop of Czestochowa was Stefan Barela who had been a friend of the Holy Father since his early priesthood. And the very place of Jasna Gora. Huge crowds. Because of many obstacles it was thought that some dioceses could come here and had their meetings with the Pope. Those were moving moments. John Paul II’s soul and heart were with the people and his words were remembered by the Poles who could enjoy the presence of the Pope. Since we thought about the Holy Father very intensively all the time. We knew that he wanted to come to his Homeland very much…
The organisation of the Pope’s visit was not easy. We lived under the communist system, had to deal with censorship and face repressions. We knew that there were various internal instructions concerning the papal visit, for example the one that said the Polish television should not show crowds and young people. They tried to convince us that only a small crowd of old people would respond to the person of the Pope. Many gossips were spread, e.g. you should be aware of the possibility of being trampled (people spoke about cars carrying coffins just in case) and of course, fainting, theft and assault. They tried to convince us not to leave our homes. The communists evoked fear and they had various means at their disposal: television, press, whole apparatus of terror and blackmail. They could bias people against the Pope and ‘cool’ the unique atmosphere, which they had actually predicted. Naturally, we experienced all those events. Every city that was to host the Pope organised committees to prepare the papal visits. Such a committee was also created in Czestochowa and its particular sections assumed responsibility for concrete activities. In Czestochowa I was responsible for accommodation and meals. The inhabitants told us how many people they could accommodate and we sent people to those places. During those days the access to Jasna Gora was not good – the communists did their best to make the life of the Shrine difficult. We could make slight changes because rebuilding the road was practically impossible. John Paul II came to his own who wanted to prepare a worthy welcome. And it was beautiful! We went into raptures over the Pope, his teaching and cordial humour we could notice in many situations. We also laughed at various gaffes the journalists made commenting on the liturgy. For instance, one journalist seeing the Pope incensing the altar explained the TV viewers that John Paul II cast evil spirits. Today we look at the album of Ryszard Rzepecki, showing the places the Pope visited, including Jasna Gora, Victory Square. We look at the extraordinary Cardinal Wyszynski, we recollect late Bishop Barela of Czestochowa. This album breathes that time, shows those days and reminds us of those experiences. The first pilgrimage was very difficult for its organisers, with many limitations and lack of similar experiences. There were no press materials that could promote the idea of that visit. But the most important thing was the fact that the Pope could speak personally and that he spoke so beautifully and with such power. We publish some of those papal texts in our little album entitled, ‘You should be strong by the power of faith!’, inserted to this issue of ‘Niedziela.’ This is a reminder and a lesson of history for Polish people that in spite of the immense disinformation our nation supported the Church strongly. May this booklet be a humble testimony and some kind of document for Poles. On 7 June we are going to insert copies of the film ‘Pilgrim.’ We will see Poland welcoming the Polish Pope and the magnificent scenes of greetings of the homeland by her Son. This film, directed by Andrzej Trzos-Rastawiecki, is also a testimony for next generations. Among other things we can see what happened in Victory Square. This is a film that testifies to the truth. Since the generation that experienced the pilgrimage passes away. This film is extremely important to our general culture, to form our awareness, historical truth and the truth about Poles’ religiousness, and we are glad that we can give the film to readers of ‘Niedziela.’ Years will pass, centuries will pass and nobody will see such days. This is history – but it is our history, pretty and the most beautiful history!

The cities that John Paul II visited in 1979 will celebrate the 30th anniversary of the papal pilgrimage.  
The Church in Poland celebrates the 30th anniversary of the first pilgrimage of John Paul II to his Homeland in a special way. The occasion to celebrate this national anniversary will be Day of Thanksgiving in Warsaw but celebrations have been planned in Krakow, Gniezno, Czestochowa and Oswiecim. In their communiqué after the session of the Standing Council in May the bishops stressed that the first pilgrimage of John Paul II to Poland was an event that ‘became a spiritual beginning of the transformations in Poland and whole Central-Eastern Europe.’ The celebrations of the 30th anniversary of the papal pilgrimage began in Krakow on 10 May, where there was held the traditional procession from the Wawel Cathedral to the Skalka Church to venerate St Stanislaus.

"Niedziela" 22/2009

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl