A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey, spending time in prayer in holy shrines and exploring new sites. It is also a kind of internal journey of self-discovery, as it provides the opportunity to take a step closer to God and to grow deeper in relationship with Him. Recently, I went for a 15-day pilgrimage with 39 other pilgrims to Eastern Europe. We visited Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.
It was my second pilgrimage to these countries, after 15 years. All these countries have experienced war in the recent past, being subjected to communist regimes for ages. Poland seems to be the only country which has come out of those wars successfully. Now they are new members of the European Union, adding to its richness of culture, religious traditions and churches.
We landed at Zagreb, the capital of Croatia and began our road trip pilgrimage. A wonderful panoramic scene welcomed us, winding roads along the loveliest shores. I was reminded about the FIFA World Cup 2018, where Croatia came close to winning their first ever World Cup.
After Croatia, we travelled to the Shrine of Our Lady of Medjugorje – meaning the “Queen of Peace” – located in Medjugorje, a town in the Herzegovina region of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Medjugorje is a place where the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to six children in June 1981. It is the next well-known Marian pilgrim center in Europe after Our Lady of Lourdes, in France and Our Lady of Fatima, in Portugal. We had a wonderful spiritual experience praying the Rosary while climbing Apparition Hill, at an altitude of 200 meters above sea level and also spending an hour with the Blessed Sacrament at the square in the Church of St. James, Medjugorje. St. James the Apostle is the Patron Saint of Pilgrims.
In May 2019, the Holy Father, Pope Francis gave the “green light for priests and bishops to lead pilgrimages” to our Lady of Medjugorje but the Vatican said “studies into the authenticity of the alleged apparitions are still ongoing” and “still require an examination by the Church.”
As we traveled up north to Hungary and the Czech Republic, we visited two historical cities – Budapest and Prague – known for their two prominent kings who are saints of the Church today – St. Stephen of Hungary (975-1038 AD) and St. Wenceslaus, Martyr from the Czech Republic (921 AD). Both saints were just and charitable towards their people and religious kings during their time.
St. Wenceslaus’ monument can be found in the Cathedral of St. Vitus in Prague Castle. He encountered many challenges in ruling his kingdom and in promoting the Christian faith. We celebrate his feast on 29 September every year. St. Stephen of Hungary’s feast falls on 16 August. He established many dioceses and strengthened the life of the Church. His right arm is still intact and kept in St. Stephen’s Basilica, Budapest.
Our last destination in the Czech Republic was at the Infant Jesus of Prague, a well-known statue in Europe. It is a 16th century wax-coated wooden statue of baby Jesus holding an orb and cross or globus cruciger. The statue is kept at the Carmelite Church, where we had a wonderful Eucharistic celebration with the Christmas readings and liturgy.
Among all the places we visited, Poland was the most enthralling place for me. We were in Krakow, Wadowice (birth place of St. John Paul II) and we visited the Divine Mercy Shrine as well as the Auschwitz Concentration Camp site.
Saint Pope John Paul II, who became one of the longest reigning and most charismatic Pope in history, had strengthened the faith of Christians in Poland as well as the Universal Church through his leadership, teachings and writing. He was the first Pope to initiate World Youth Day and World Day of the Sick. During his papacy, the devotions of Divine Mercy Chaplet and the Luminous Mystery of the Rosary were introduced in the Church. The first time I was in Poland in 2004, my pilgrims and I prayed for his health. This time around, my group and I asked S.t John Paul II to send God’s blessing down upon us all from heaven’s window. I admire Pope John Paul II and his zeal. I thank God for this fruitful and wonderful experience, and to have my spirits refreshed and renewed once again.
Rev. Fr. George P.