Miechow – Polish Jerusalem
Numerous distinguished guests: bishops and the Patriarch of Jerusalem, the Ladies and Knights of the Order, came to Miechow; a solemn liturgy and prayers for peace, a scientific session about the Polish relationships with the Holy Land and the atmosphere of a Medieval fair around the basilica – all these elements made the First Miechow Days of Jerusalem an important event in the history of this town.
Patriarch of Jerusalem in Miechow
The Patriarch of Jerusalem Archbishop Fouad Twal visited the Polish Jerusalem for the first time. The programme of his visit was very rich: he had many meetings with the group of ca. 130 Knights and Ladies of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem who came to Miechow and he awarded shells – symbols of their pilgrimages to the Land of Christ – to 40 members of the Order. He delivered a speech; presided over the solemn Eucharist in the basilica; visited the church and monastery in Miechow and during the feast day he met the local people.
In his speech the Patriarch presented the situation of Christians in the Holy Land. Christians constitute only some 2% of the population (in Jerusalem, where the Christian population constituted 25% when the state of Israel was created, now there are only 10,000 Christians; there are 450,000 Jews and 250,000 Muslims). Most Catholics live in Jordan since the heart of the Patriarchate is there. It is Jordan that has most Catholic families, schools, seminarians, students and numerous Palestinians who have found shelter there. In Madaba, Jordan, the building of the university, the origin of which was the wish of Benedict XVI, is being completed. Archbishop Twal reminded the gathered that due to military reasons the access to the holy places is limited. The Christians living in the Palestine Autonomy and in Jordan cannot visit the sanctuaries in Jerusalem and Galilee. ‘We are living in constant uncertainty, facing continuous range of various difficulties in everyday life. All of this falls on families and becomes their cross […] It is awful to mention the 700 km long wall, which separates the Palestinian people from Israel. Separation does not bring anything good for those who built the wall and for those who are living behind the wall’, he said. According to the Patriarch the only way to solve the conflict is that both parties agree to ‘dignity assigned to every person’, no matter who he or she is: Israeli, Palestine, Christian, Jewish or Muslim.
The speech of Rev. Dr. Jerzy Kraj, OFM, entitled ‘Polish traces in the Holy Land’ (e.g. in Galilee, Nazareth, Jaffa) and the speech of Rev. Prof. Dr. Celestyn Paczkowski, OFM, about the Polish traces in Jerusalem (where the Polish House is still the landing stage for Poles) completed the picture of the Holy Land.
In his interview for ‘Niedziela’ Patriarch Twal expressed his hope connected with the peace negotiations in the United States, with the participation of the leaders of Palestine and Israel, the negotiations being held at the same time as the Days of Jerusalem in Miechow. ‘We support their efforts with prayer so that the leaders take daring decisions leading to a peace project. It would be peace for all the inhabitants of this region’, he stressed. ‘Perhaps we should wait till the end of this month to understand the effects of these activities,’ he added. The King of Jordan and the President of Egypt were invited to participate in the organisational committee of these negotiations since they are moderate leaders and can give testimonies about the need of peace. The Patriarch also stressed that in order to understand the situation of Christians one should consider all factors in the Holy Land with its main problem – the lack of peace, the consequence of which is the immigration of Christians. He could see much hope connected with the Synod of Bishops for the Middle East to be held in October 2010. The synod has been initiated and directed by Benedict XVI and it will focus on the problems of the Church in the Holy Land. ‘We expect solidarity of the universal Church with the Holy Land’, he said.
The atmosphere of solidarity was felt in Miechow, which the eminent guest stressed many times. ‘I do not feel the difference of kilometres; I do not believe that we are far away’, he repeated. ‘There are many problems in the Holy Land but they disappear when we are united with God and one another. I wait in Jerusalem for you all and for your priests so that we can pray together for peace. I wish strength and courage for all Ladies and Knights’, Patriarch Twal said.
Around the mystery of the Resurrection
This theme, the most important one for Christians and strictly connected with the mystery of the empty Tomb of Lord Jesus, which has been venerated in Miechow for ages, was taken by Bishop Kazimierz Ryczan of Kielce, a member of the Order – Commander with Star, during the Days of Jerusalem. Bishop Ryczan presided over the ceremonies on the first day and his concelebrants were: Archbishop Stanislaw Szymecki, Bishop Piotr Skucha, Bishop Jan Zajac, assisted by many priests, including members of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem. In his homily Bishop Ryczan said, ‘The Resurrected never sees things as being too late. The whole eternity is waiting for the final verdict […] If someone is a non-believer it does not change anything. The Resurrection is a fact, whether you like it or not, whether you believe or you don’t believe. Neither education nor riches nor health condition can change the situation. God does not know statute-barred affairs. I am glad about the Resurrection because it confirms that our God is loving Father, caring for the least man; that he is God full of mercy and God of justice.’
In his homily during the main Sunday Eucharist Primate Senior of Poland Cardinal Jozef Glemp also referred to the empty Tomb of Jesus and his Resurrection as the biggest miracle. He stressed the necessity to worship the Tomb of the Lord because the faith in the Resurrection began from it. He noticed that contemporary people respected the Decalogue less and less, behaving like the chosen nation at Mount Sinai, and he mentioned the most important values for Christians: life, marriage, family, faithfulness, endurance. According to the Primate the long presence of the Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in Miechow was still an available form to defend God’s Sepulchre and the truth about the Resurrection.
The hierarchs and the Knights and Ladies of the Holy Sepulchre prayed for peace in the Holy Land in the Chapel of the Sepulchre and the prayer intentions were presented by Lieutenant Karol Bolesław Szlenkier, the superior of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem in Poland.
Distinctions, festivities, fairs, concerts
The Order granted distinctions and titles (the title of commander was granted to Msgr. Jerzy Gredka, the parish priest and custodian of the sanctuary in Miechow, who realises large-scale renovation works in the basilica and the adjacent buildings). The members of the Order gave the most important guests original ceramic tiles. ‘These days, graced by the presence of Patriarch Twal, our superior, have become glorious part of the history of the Order; they are also its wonderful promotion and a challenge, through media as well, to universal prayer for peace in the Holy Land’, Prof. Janusz Kawecki, Chancellor of the Lieutenancy for Poland, said to the editorial board of ‘Niedziela.’ He added that the documentation and archives of the Lieutenancy for Poland would be placed in Miechow. The local priest Fr. Dr. Jerzy Bielecki, a member of the Order and Rector of the Minor Seminary in Czestochowa, hopes that the picture of Our Lady of Czestochowa in the new robe, which he offered to the Patriarch, will be a nice souvenir and an expression of his relationship with Poland.
The distinguished guests and hosts, including Mr Marek Nawara, the Marshall of Malopolska Province, and Krzysztof Swierczek, the mayor of Miechow, met the local citizens in Tadeusz Kosciuszko Square, where the Medieval fair was held. The knights entered the lists with one another, servants stood by the fire in the gardens of the monastery; women cooked meals in pots (the Medieval delicacies included lentil soup and stew with turnip). Some smith hammered iron, some man made ropes and the knights’ horses snorted lively. There were historical performances, tournaments, horse shows and one could hear Celtic music – people could feel the mood of the Middle Ages when the Knights of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem arrived in Miechow, brought by ‘the pious and rich palatinus Jaksa’ in 1163. Here, on the pile of soil brought from Jesus’ Homeland, Jaksa founded the first church…
The evening concert in the basilica, with music, recitals and interpretation of ‘The Roman Triptych’ read by the special guest – the actor Andrzej Seweryn, completed the spiritual experiences of these two days.