Monday, March 14, 2011

The Black Madonna

The pilgrimage to Poland was the most difficult journey of my semester thus far, but it was also the most transforming four days of my life. I was running a slight fever when we all boarded the night bus that would take us from Gaming to Czestochowa, Poland. It was a Thursday evening, the eighteenth of February. During the ten long hours of travel, I was unable to sleep, except for snatches which never lasted more than a few minutes.

By the time we reached Czestochowa at half past five o'clock in the morning, there was a sharp, raw pain in my chest, and my only desire in the world was to lie down. We stopped at a hotel and used the dining room for breakfast, but we did not have rooms there. That was fortunate- if I had had a bed, I would have slept and missed visiting the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa. So while my group ate breakfast, I napped on a couch in the lobby. 

Following breakfast was our visit to the shrine. Snowflakes were falling as we made the trek up the hill, but it wasn't bitterly cold. I was afraid that I would faint for the first time in my life, but of course I did not. I cannot describe the shrine very well- inside I remember a lot of dark polished wood, many candles, countless side chapels with shadowy statues and tombs. There was beautiful organ music and chanting when we arrived, for a Polish Mass was being said.  

When we came to the chapel containing the Black Madonna, I wept. I was exhausted and sick, and honestly...I have never been so affected by an image of Our Lady. Her eyes are penetrating, full of understanding, infinitely sorrowful, and there is something else in her expression which eludes me. Maybe it will suffice to say that she has an expression of tenderest love and deepest compassion. I cannot describe it well, but it is now the image of the Blessed Mother that I most cherish.

We celebrated Mass in the chapel. Another Mass started minutes after ours ended, so we were unable to stay there long afterwards. Moreover, we were on a tight schedule, and we used the rest of our time at a gift shop. I bought a rosary. Then we boarded the buses for Auschwitz, and I fell into merciful sleep.  

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