In the footsteps of Polish Pope – 5 favourite places of John Paul II
Called the Pope of the millennium, he was one of the most powerful Polish personalities whose work changed the face of the world. His election brought an end to the 455-year long domination of Italian cardinals and contributed to the dismantling of Soviet communism. Through the 25-year pontificate, he promoted dialogue between cultures and nations, in which numerous journeys helped him. The Pope visited 135 countries, but he always gladly returned to his native land, Poland. On the 100th anniversary of his birth, we present five Polish places that have found a special place in his heart!
From the former “Solvay” Soda Works to the church of the Lord’s Ark in Bienczyce and the Mogila abbey – relics of the Polish Pope can be found in Krakow at almost every turn. The most important place is the Bishop’s Palace at 3 Franciszkanska Street, where he served as bishop from 1958 and then metropolitan of Krakow until October 16th, 1978 – the day of his election to the Holy See. Above the palace entrance is the famous window from which the Holy Father greeted the youth of Krakow every time he returned to Poland.
Only 150 meters from the palace is the Franciscan church, where Karol Wojtyla often participated in masses. His favorite place was in the nave under the music choir – from there he had a perfect view of the monumental, unique stained glass window made by Stanislaw Wyspianski, “God the Father – Become”.
Another point on the papal route is Tyniecka 10, where the future cleric moved with his father from Wadowice in 1938. They lived in two small rooms on the lowest floor of the house belonging to their uncle, Robert Kaczorowski.
His scientific career is linked to two addresses. Firstly, the Faculty of Polish Studies of the Jagiellonian University at 24 Golebia Street. Secondly, the Higher Theological Seminary of the Archdiocese of Krakow at Podzamcze 8, where in 1945 he became a student, and less than ten years later, he lectured on Catholic social ethics.
Unfortunately, Krakow also witnessed some tragic stories, such as the death of his father in 1941, buried with his wife and older son in the military section of the Rakowicki Cemetery, and the forced labor in the Zakrzowek quarries during the Second World War.
During your stay, you cannot miss a significant place to Karol Wojtyla from his earliest years, the Wawel Cathedral, where he delivered his first holy mass in the underground crypt of St. Leonard on November 2nd 1946. Each of his later papal visits was announced by the beating of the Royal Sigismund Bell. It also tolled on his death on April 2nd 2005.
The best place to summarize all information about Krakow’s role in the life of Karol Wojtyla is Blonia Park. It was here where most meetings in Krakow with the faithful took place during the papal pilgrimages. Here you’ll find a papal stone, the granite block from the Tatra Mountains, laid there in 1997, on the 19th anniversary of the inauguration of John Paul II’s pontificate. The inscription placed on it reads: “you are the rock”, referring to the words announced during the call to the See of Peter.
Krakow’s district, Lagiewniki, is a seat of the spectacular Sanctuary of the Divine Mercy, consecrated by John Paul II on August 17th, 2002. Built after the beatification of St. Faustina, Legiewniki is connected to the convent where St. Faustina spent her novitiate and the last years of life. She died here on October 5th, 1938.
The complex includes a two-storey church in the ship’s shape, with the most famous image of the Merciful Jesus painted of the vision of St. Faustina, a 77-meter-high free-standing vantage tower and the Chapel of Perpetual Veneration. The lower part of the basilica houses five chapels. In 2006, during Pope Benedict XVI’s papal pilgrimage, a 5-meter statue of John Paul II was raised here.
Zakopane & Tatra Mountains
The Pope loved the Polish mountains – he didn’t rest so well anywhere else, walking in summer or skiing in winter. He used to say that he was closer to God in the mountains. Here, John Paul wandered alone or in the company of groups of young intelligentsia, friends of priests, and university professors.
During his stays near the Tatra Mountains, he lived in villa Ksiezowka in Kuznice or at the Ursuline sisters in Jaszczurowka. During his first pilgrimage to his homeland in 1979, John Paul II flew by helicopter to see the Tatras, but due to bad weather, he had to turn back.
In 1983, one of the points on the pilgrimage program was a visit to the Chocholowska Valley, known as the most beautiful Tatra valley. This opinion was also shared by the Pope, who regularly visited it when he was a priest and cardinal.
In 1997, during a few days in Zakopane, the Pope spent some time at Morskie Oko lake, visited the Ursuline sisters, celebrated a Holy Mass at Wielka Krokiew in Zakopane and consecrated the church in the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima in Krzeptowki. This temple was erected in the 1980s as a votive offering for saving the life of John Paul II during the assassination attempt on May 13th, 1981. In the treasury, there are many relics related to the Holy Father. He also made a pilgrimage to the Brother Albert Hermitage in Kalatowki and took the cable car to Kasprowy Wierch to once again delight his eyes with one of the most beloved views.
In 2002, the Holy Father allegedly revisited the Tatra Mountains. According to some reports, as he was flying back to Italy from Balice airport towards the border, the pilots flew as low as possible so he could see his beloved Tatra again.
Every year, the hometown of John Paul II attracts thousands of tourists who want to discover the places close to their favorite Pope, of which he said: “Everything began here: life, school, theatre, and priesthood.”
The future Pope was born in a modest apartment in a tenement house in the city center, at 7 Koscielna Street. Today, this building houses The Holy Father John Paul II Family Home Museum. On the four floors, the visitors can find a modern multimedia exhibition which shows Karol Wojtyla as a flesh-and-blood man, not a statue. The presentation takes you on a journey through time, touching his life and work, but also a tumultuous Polish history. The most exciting part starts in a family flat: full of old photographs and documents, but also period furniture, recreated for different stages of his life. You can even find the original skis, a rucksack, and a kayak paddle!
The next important building is situated just around the corner. Here, you will find a late-Baroque Basilica of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The church is known as the place where Karol Wojtyla was baptized – the Gothic baptismal font can be seen in the chapel of the Holy Family.
The other buildings connected with Karol Wojtyla are buildings of the schools and neo-Romanesque Discalced Carmelites’ monastery complex. Wadowice is also known for its culinary side – before the Second World War and after his secondary school final exams, John Paul regularly indulged in his sweet tooth. Today the Papal cream cakes (in Polish: kremówka) are available in the local cafeterias and are just as ‘melt in the mouth’ now as they were back then.
Augustow Primeval Forest
Apart from mountain tourism, John Paul II was an avid canoeist. He rode the rivers and lakes in a folding kayak called “Galosh” (in Polish: Kalosz); and you can see John Paul’s in the Archdiocese Museum in Krakow.
Called Uncle by the clerics (to confuse the Polish secret police during communism), he took “true tourist liturgical equipment” on every trip. A reliquary, twisted from two parts of a cup, a small brass cross, two plastic ampoules for wine and water, a small silver tray, and two boxes for his host and communicators. Each day began with mass at a field altar, made from kayaks and oars, and ended with songs and prayer by the fire. His favorite and also the longest route (140 km) started in Wigry, and led mainly through the Augustow Forest, through Czarna Hancza Lakes and the Augustow Canal to Studzieniczna village and Augustow.
For several years, The Augustow Boat Transportation Company has been organizing boat trips on this route. The cruise lasts 2.5-3 hours with a stop at the Marian Shrine in Studzieniczna, where Pope Wojtyla stayed to pray in 1999. Every year, tens of thousands of people travel along this route, admiring the virgin nature of the sites, and considering the message that John Paul II left us in his great Acts of Trust in Mary and God’s Mercy.
In 1979, John Paul II said: “It would be good to put in (my) biography the routes, all the routes that I traveled so that I would be inground into Polish soil”. We hope that our article will allow you to do the same.