We were invited to Poland by our friends Tomasc and Agnieszka Talaga (pronounced Thomas and Agnes in the US) through Domestic Church to meet in Rome of the canonizations of John Paul II and John XXIII then drive up to Poland to give a retreat. We discerned this for a long time knowing that is would be a long trip away from the kids. Here is the trip in a very small nutshell...
We flew overnight (thank you Zquil) and landed Saturday afternoon where were were greeted by Thomas and his 2 sons Jacob (15) and Philip (17) carrying the Polish and American flags with jumping and singing. We looked famous. We headed strait to the North American College to meet our friend John Souder- a seminarian for the Diocese of Lake Charles. We decided to take a little walk around to see how the party was getting started.
By 7:30 we decided to park it in front of some barricades that were on the Via Conciliaciones (The way of Reconciliation) which is the big street that leads into St Peter's Square. We had heard through the grapevine that 1) camping out was a surefire way to get into the square for the Mass 2) Though lots of people were camping on side streets, the Carabinari (Italian Cops) weren't going to open those barricades, leaving the only way into the square was where we were. We were a shoe in. All we had to do was keep our spot... all night. So we sent the boys to get reinforcements (water, rice cakes and ground pads). I decided to find a potty at around 10pm just in case the crowd got thicker later... which it did. I decided to tell some English speakers that I was pregnant and really needed the bathroom, because it was nearly impossible to move the crowd. Tents, ground pads, Polish people outnumbered every other culture FOR SURE. And where there are Polish people there are joyous people singing... all night. In a word- Sardines.
Though the thickness of the crowd was insane, there was an excitement and a joy- a solidarity that we all felt. We were all there because we loved theses two popes and because we loved the Church. This was a feeling we will never forget.
They opened the gates at midnight and the cattle began to be moved through the street. There was periodic yelling of "stop please" and "help me" (none of which was in English, mind you. We came to a hault. Then it began. Every 30 minutes to an hour there was some movement; about 20 yards each time, I would say. The flags would wave, the excitement would rise, the Poles would sing, and people would stand up from the 1 square foot in which they had to crouch down, and we would move... a few feet. Then we would stop for another 20 minutes to an hour. By 3 am we had stopped moving. The closer we got, the tighter the crowd. I wanted to cry for some of the children there. Between 3 and 7 we didn't move. Our little group took turns sitting and sleeping in 5 minute increments.
They passed out water (with fizz in it, of course) at around 2 am, and we ate rice cakes and berries. It felt like we were sacrificing for these Popes who had loved and sacrificed and given themselves to us and to the church for years. And the feeling of solidarity never waned... until about 7am. Everyone in the crowd had been awake all night, then crowd was only getting thicker and everyone seem to have the realization that their chances of getting into the square were getting less and less. We found out that they had opened the side streets and were only moving the main barricades a few feet at a time, so the side streets had people pouring in in front of us. At 8am we decided that it was not longer worth it and that the NAC where John lived had a theater room with 45 recliners in it. We decided to leave... which was its own battle, and I will leave that to your imagination.
We returned to the NAC where John made us coffee and we visited for a while before the Mass started. We watched the canonization (in Italian... thanks for translating, John) on a giant tv, and once Pope Francis declared them saints... we fell asleep in the recliners. It was glorious. I am still chewing on this experience. We found out over the next days that so many people got in who didn't put in half the effort we did, so many people just woke up at 4 and went in without a hassle. It's confusing that it was God's will for some and not for other... like us. It will take me a while to process, but like my mom says, we were there in the crowds, we were in the Eternal City as it was happening, and we were able to spend time with our precious friends! It WAS a gift!
We left at around 10 and headed east to a town called Lanciano where we attended Mass at the church one of the oldest Eucharistic Miracles in the world. That night we slept in a bed for the first time in over 48 hours. The only casualty was my Dohm noisemaker which burned up when the converter didn't function properly. Oh well. Bed=happiness.
The next day we went to Manepello to see the Holy Face of Jesus in the form of His facecloth. The next miracle...
Then we began the drive to Poland. It took us into Austria where there are the Austrian Alps.
We drove from Austria into Czech, and into Poland. 5 minutes before the end of our destination, the transmission in the borrowed Passat went out (yes, we were 5 grown bodies in a Passat between Rome and Poland). God is so good- it could have gone out anywhere, and it only did once we arrived at our destination.
We arrived in Lodz (that's pronounced "Woodge") at 10 where we caught a nap (well, I emailed, don't ask me why) and we packed up and headed to see a beloved friend- Father Peter Kleshcz ("Klesh-ch") a Franciscan Friar who directs a Polish children's choir that my children absolutely adore.
We then traveled a few hours (it took a few hours to get everywhere; Poland is about the size of Texas) to Torun (not Turin like where the Shroud is from, but "Toe- run") where we were guests of a radio show on Radio Maria. Their Radio Maria has a few million listeners and the radio station is like a hotel with a chapel, dining room, rooms to stay, studios coming out of their ears. We were informed not to speak ill of any communist anything, bc apparently they still linger around the radio station waiting to pounce. This was very sobering for me. I thought communism was over in Poland, but apparently it still runs things when it comes to media, etc. The Polish is so holy, I believe because they are always in the midst of some sort of suffering, and so their trust in the Lord is leaps and bounds ahead of most Americans (especially our generation). There's my soap box... done. So we went on the air at 9:30 pm until midnight. We slept very well that night (Remember 3 am from Vienna until midnight with some napping here and there).
We went into the old part of Torun. This is where Copernicus is from (the guy who said that the Earth rotates around the sun and not the other way around- pretty important guy). They are famous for their gingerbread, and we visited 3 churches. 2 of them floored me. One was in Gothic Style which I have only seen in books, and one was filled with statuary and side altars that far outdid our American cathedrals...
And before we headed to the retreat house (this is Wednesday, by the way) we stopped for a late lunch at Thomas' parent's "flat" back in Lodz ("Wooge"). They live in one of the "block houses" that were built during communism. The people are allowed to own them now, and they have been painted to look a little nicer, but they used to be all gray.
We went to the retreat house after this, which brought us through the Polish countryside... hardly the words to describe how beautiful this is! In general, Poland has grottos and crucifixes all over the place, but in the country, there are places to pray and venerate on almost EVERY corner and crossroads. I could believe how many there were. They would be taken down in an instant here, I think.
Onto the retreat... I didn't take pictures of the wonderful people and families that we met, but I will share one story: There was a family who lived in NOLA for 5 years before returning to Poland. She said that we looked familiar, and after sharing a talk, she said that remember MEETING US before at a Camp Joshua talk in Lake Charles in 2010! Can you believe that? As Thomas says, "the world is an apple" (which is the Polish version of "small world").
We took Friday to go to an important meeting with the National Circle of Domestic church (no need to explain, just know that it was a momentous occasion) and we stopped on the way to visit Jasna Gora which is the home of Our Lady of Czestochowa
And after our meeting at the home retreat house for Domestic Church in the town of Kriszczenko...
Isn't it just breathtaking?
We went to the Shrine of Divine Mercy...
Jezu Ufam Tobie (Jesus I trust in you!)
We arrived back at the retreat house just after 11 than night and continued with the retreat until Sunday evening. We went strait to Lodz where we gave a talk to about 200 people about the Sacrament of Marriage. It went really well, despite always needing translators through everything we did.
We grabbed some supper at a restaurant in Lodz and then returned to Tomas and Agnes' house to sleep a full 3 hours before getting up to get to the airport in Warsaw, which is a few hours from their house.
While the trip was absolutely unforgettable and life changing, there was one underlying event that made it difficult to enter in as best as we could. We received a call from my OB the day before we left town. He told us that despite taking progesterone, my levels were not high enough to maintain the pregnancy and that I should expect to lose the baby some time during the trip. While this was devastating to hear, it isn't our first time to hear the news, and it allowed us almost 2 weeks to prepare for the lost.
Would you believe that I did not begin to miscarry until Sunday night RIGHT before I went to sleep before getting up to leave Poland?!?! That sweet baby hung in their throughout the entire trip! We really believe it was in order to allow her life to be a witness to the gift of fertility and openness to life! We have named her Elizabeth Anne, and we lost her at 6 weeks. I am not in a lot of pain, and we are grateful for her short time on earth.
David and I got to our house at 11pm Monday night after 24 hrs of traveling, and Tuesday morning, we were able to bury her next to the first baby that we lost, who we named Andrew. That gives us three children in Heaven and we can't wait to be a full family in Heaven together!
If you hung in there through the longest post EVER, give yourself a pat on the back!