The same, yet different

Agnieszka Dziarmaga talks to Rev. Msgr. Marian Janus, National Co-ordinator for Walking Pilgrimages, about the condition of contemporary pilgrimages.

AGNIESZKA DZIARMAGA: - Walking pilgrimages to Jasna Gora are regarded as a phenomenon of the Polish Catholicism because they have continued in the changing reality, despite secularism and huge tempo of contemporary life. Pilgrims have taken various routes for hundreds of years, e.g., the Warsaw Pilgrimage is celebrating its 300th anniversary. What draws people to pilgrimages? Which of the diocesan pilgrimages are the oldest?

REV. MSGR. MARIAN JANUS: - A pilgrimage is a journey of believers to some place that has been sanctified by God's presence; its aim being to pray in the atmosphere of community and brotherhood, to seek God and be with him on the hard pilgrim's path. Pilgrimages have been strictly connected with the history of Christianity, about which we can read in the Bible, and they have been made from the beginning of Christianity when believers visited the places related to Jesus' life and activities, treating them as living sources of faith. The development of pilgrims' movement is connected with the places sanctified by the martyrs' activities, the Marian cult and miraculous paintings, for instance at Jasna Gora. For ages the word 'pilgrimage' has meant a journey of a single person or a group of people to a place regarded as holy.
It should be stressed that the pilgrims' movement is a phenomenon of the contemporary religious life both in Poland and in many other countries. Despite general secularisation tendencies for the last two decades one can observe a development of pilgrimages. It is estimated that annually ca. 150 million Christians participate in pilgrimages all over the world, which is 60-70% of all pilgrims of various religions. Out of that number of Christian pilgrims 40 million (over 25%) go to 20 main pilgrims' centres. Certainly, the Holy Father John Paul II encouraged contemporary believers to seek God along pilgrims' routes as he also made pilgrimages on an unprecedented scale among the successors of St Peter. Hundreds of thousand pilgrims came to the main celebrations in which John Paul II participated, and John Paul II gave testimonies of his faith in the places of worship all over the world and through his teachings he encouraged pilgrims to follow his example, e.g., by visiting Jasna Gora. The Jasna Gora Shrine belongs to the most important centres of pilgrims' movement, besides Rome, Lourdes, Fatima or La Salette. The tradition of making pilgrimages to Jasna Gora goes back to the beginnings of the sanctuary, i.e., the year 1382. The unique element distinguishing Jasna Gora from other Marian sanctuaries in Poland and the world is masses of people in walking pilgrimages to the throne of the Mother of God. There are over 50 walking routes to Czestochowa and their lengths vary from several to hundreds of kilometres. Pilgrims have taken some routes for many ages, e.g., the diocesan pilgrimage from Kalisz began in 1637. It is the oldest diocesan pilgrimage. The Warsaw pilgrimage, celebrating the 300th anniversary this year, has a special place in the pilgrims' map of Poland. During the communist times it collected pilgrims from many parts of Poland - where it was possible to organise pilgrimages. Guides and pilgrims gained their pilgrims' skills and experiences in the community. It was the source from which many diocesan pilgrimages originated, e.g., the pilgrimage from Kielce, which is celebrating its 30th anniversary. This jubilee is much humbler but it has wonderful chapters and examples, first of all the late Bishop Mieczyslaw Jaworski who took part in 20 pilgrimages, heedless of his bad health. In fact he died several days after the 20th Kielce Pilgrimage. He was a wonderful protector and guide of the pilgrims from Kielce and his mission has been continued by Bishop Kazimierz Gurda.
In contemporary times pilgrimages enter Czestochowa in summer months - July and August because of holidays and school breaks. Every year over 100,000 pilgrims walk to Jasna Gora where they are warmly welcomed and received. One should say that in the whole Poland numerous young people from gymnasia, high schools and universities make pilgrimages. It is estimated that they constitute over 50% of all pilgrims.

- Do people's motifs and expectations concerning pilgrimages change and if yes, how?

- Pilgrimages are retreats on the way, marked by the spirit of prayer, sacrifice, community and inner change. Religious intentions, carried in hearts, and motives related to faith are the most important ones. If there are other motifs pilgrimages become forms of tourism. Worshipping God the Creator and venerating the Mother of God during pilgrimages are done in the community of faith, thanksgiving, love that all pilgrims build. Feeling as one family they get strengthened in faith as well as ties and responsibility for one another. Pilgrims learn to share bread, water and friendly gestures. They learn arm in arm to bear the difficulties of frequently strenuous marching. Pilgrimage is always a meeting with Christ and man as well as feeling close to those who cannot walk for various reasons but can offer their prayers. The role of these spiritual pilgrims and the awareness of prayers accompanying pilgrimages are very important.
Considering the motifs pilgrims carry in their hearts we can speak about pilgrimages of thanksgiving, imploring, penance and votive to fulfil oaths and promises. If pilgrimages are experienced well they surely deepen religious life through prayer, teachings, confession, Communion and full participation in daily Mass. Life in constant friendship with Christ, i.e., receiving him in Communion every day, conditions frequent changes in pilgrims' lives and the experiences during pilgrimages influence pilgrims' further religious lives. After their experiences of sacrum pilgrims return home the same yet different.

- As the national co-ordinator you are observing and monitoring the preparations to pilgrimages in dioceses. Are they similar everywhere?

- In all the dioceses the preparations, co-ordinated by diocesan priests - directors of pilgrimages, last several months. They meet other priests involved in the organisation of pilgrimages twice a year: national retreats after Easter (this year in Wroclaw) and to summarise pilgrimages in September (in Gniezno). The diocesan programmes are based on the national pastoral programme for a given year, taking into account the local needs suggested and recommended by the diocesan pastoral offices. The directors of pilgrimages prepare pilgrimages on the diocesan level, and the first and most important matters are formational ones and then the organisational ones. For example, this year pilgrimages are made in the spirit of thanksgiving for the gift of Pope John Paul II's beatification. It is worth noticing the involvement of Jasna Gora and communities of particular dioceses in receiving pilgrims. The guides of diocesan pilgrimages stress good organisations of all services in Czestochowa (I mean municipal services, emergency services, the police, etc.) and the huge contribution and hospitality of the Pauline Fathers - custodians of the sanctuary.
Let us also remember that pilgrimages are made to various parts in Poland and inhabitants of villages and towns welcome pilgrims cordially on their routes. I want to stress that pilgrims give their thanks to the Metropolitan through the priests-guides. These are praises for excellent hospitality in parishes, shown by those who prepare meals and accommodation, as well as through the priests who organise pilgrims' stays. For instance, such thanksgiving was sent by the Przemysl pilgrimage - the first diocesan pilgrimage that walked through the Diocese of Kielce. However, all organisational matters are secondary as for the essence of pilgrimage, i.e., experiencing the mystery of being with God and the Most Holy Virgin, leading to deep inner changes of numerous people's hearts. It is important that these changes should be as firm as possible and influence family, parish, community and professional life so that they are the leaven of good in the world.

"Niedziela" 31/2011

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