Mountain sanctuary dedicated to Blessed John Paul II
The small church in San Pietro della Ienca in the Mountains of Abruzzo, Italy, was named after Blessed John Paul II on 18 May 2011. Between the Mountains of Pizzo Cefalone and Cima delle Malecoste there is the peak of John Paul II. A few days after Christmas 1995, exactly on 29 December, John Paul II went for a private excursion in the Mountains of Abruzzo. He stopped in a deserted village of San Pietro della Ienca, at the little church dedicated to the Apostle Peter. Unfortunately, the church was closed and the Holy Father began praying outside. Then the Pope with his companions ate some lunch. They lit a fire to warm up a little (the village was located at 1,166 metres above sea level and nights were cold there). After his first visit to San Pietro della Ienca John Paul II visited this mountain sanctuary several times. He liked that place because of the wonderful panorama over the mountains and the little church was also a shelter from the wind. He also went there when blizzards made it impossible to climb these high mountains. In the meantime the custodian of the church sent the key to the church door to the Vatican, just in case.
Ten years later, on 18 May 2005, on the birthday of the deceased Pope, during a solemn ceremony the rocky summit (2,424 m) over San Pietro della Ienca was called ‘Mount of John Paul II.’ A cross of steel, decorated with five files – one represents the Pope and his coat of arms and the remaining four – the patron saints of L’Aquila, the capital of Abruzzo, was placed on the top. The guests included the state authorities and Cardinal Jose Saraiva Martinz, Prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, who celebrated Mass there. In his homily he said, ‘As a mountain peak always makes us look up so the whole life and teaching of John Paul II are as if a finger pointing towards heaven and the limitless majesty and divine transcendence of Christ, rising above the frequently trashy and flat horizon of our lives. What John Paul II did and said through his presence in these mountains will be also continued thanks to the presence of this peak that carries his name.’
Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz often visited Pietro della Ienca. During one of his visits the former papal secretary wrote in the commemorative book placed in the church, ‘We are deeply grateful to all who wanted to honour in this place the Holy Father John Paul II, who loved mountains and came here to contemplate God in the wonderful nature of Abruzzo many times. I confirm that. Former secretary.’ The Italian Alpine Club (Club Alpino Italiano) also made ‘The walk of John Paul II,’ which leads to the papal peak from San Pietro della Ienca. Since the valley at the foot of the mountain is very deep, the elevation between the peak and the start of the trail is almost 1,300 m. That’s why climbing there, especially the steep ascend, is very tiring and requires adequate physical condition. The estimated time of climbing is 5 hours.
On 18 May 2011, i.e. on the occasion of the 91st birthday of Karol Wojtyla, there was a new, solemn ceremony in San Pietro della Ienca – Archbishop Giuseppe Molinari of L’Aquili proclaimed the local church the diocesan sanctuary of Blessed John Paul. The Mass was concelebrated by Auxiliary Bishop Giovanni D’Ercole, who worked in the Vatican Secretariat of State for many years and was a close collaborator of the Blessed Pope. Thus the ‘Polish’ Pope will be venerated in the mountains of Abruzzo that he loved in a special way. Archbishop Molinari appointed the Polish priest Fr Marcin Gajda, the parish priest of the neighbouring parish, as the first rector of the sanctuary.