By Tyler Kline
Seminarian for the Archdiocese of Baltimore
After a quick breakfast, we loaded onto the bus departing for Czestochowa so we could celebrate Mass with other pilgrims in front of the Icon of the Black Madonna. Tradition holds that this image was painted by the hand of St. Luke. The image shows us Mary as the one who leads the whole world to Jesus. As we start out on our pilgrimage, a journey to encounter Jesus Christ, it is a great blessing to go to the feet of the Mother of God and ask her to lead us to her Divine Son.
Tradition holds that the Icon of the Black Madonna came from St. Luke’s hand. (Courtesy of Matthew Himes)
The Black Madonna is housed at the Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, Poland. Jasna Gora, which means “Hill of Light,” is perhaps the most important pilgrimage sight in Poland. It was here that Saint Pope John Paul II issued the iconic painting its third canonical coronation on Aug. 26, 2005.
After touring the grounds of the monastery, including the stunning baroque basilica, we were blessed to join in Holy Mass, celebrated feet from the ancient Marian image, with hundreds of other American pilgrims on their way to Kraków.
Prior to the Mass, the group of Baltimore pilgrims were fortunate (and persistent) enough to be able to pray within the sanctuary which houses the ancient icon. There we prayed the rosary together, which Miami Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski, celebrant of today’s Mass, referred to as “a weapon of mass conversion” in his homily.
Archdiocese of Baltimore seminarians Matthew Himes, left, and Tyler Kline enjoy Czestochowa. (Courtesy of Matthew Himes)
Archbishop Wenski also referred to the shrine as the “spiritual lungs of the Polish people.” It was here that the people of Poland drew the breath that sustained them through centuries of struggle and oppression. He reminded those gathered at the shrine that we are not tourists; we are pilgrims. He reminded us that our experience of pilgrimage here should help us to remember that our whole life is a pilgrimage – a journey toward encounter with the Lord.
As we head on to Kraków, the “City of Saints,” we remember the importance of Our Lady in the life of one of those saints, Poland’s beloved son, Saint John Paul II. Having lost his mother at an early age, the young Karol Wojtyla prayed to this image of Our Lady saying, “You will have to be my mother now.”
The Pontiff maintained this close relationship throughout his life, seen in his motto, Totus Tuus Maria, or “Totally Yours Maria.”
It was in the womb of the young virgin, in that concrete place, that the Word of God took root among the human race. Praying at her feet we prayed that we too may experience the Word of God, Jesus Christ, in the concrete experience we are blessed to have here in Poland.
We remember the ancient Marian prayer of St. Bernard of Clarveaux, which Archbishop Wenski recalled in his homily:
Remember O most gracious Virgin Mary that
never was is known, that anyone who fled to your protection,
implored your help, or sought your intersession, was left unaided.
Inspired by this confidence we fly to you O Virgin of Virigins,
Our Mother. To you do we come before you we stand, sinful and sorrowful.
Despise to our petitions but in your mercy hear and answer them. Amen.