Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pope Cake and a Lightning Tour

Sunday morning, we celebrated High Mass at Wawel Cathedral in Krakow. The cathedral was crucifrom, that is, cross-shaped, with the main alter in the center. The alter was underneath a canopy of black marble supported by four pillars- it reminded me of St. Peter's at the Vatican, only it was far smaller, of course. Directly behind the alter was the silver tomb of St. Stanislaus. I sat behind the alter for Mass, so that the priest was obscured from view by the silver tomb. To my left and right along the walls were the carved wooden choir seats.

When Mass was over, I walked around the church briefly. It was dark, with beautiful and ornate side chapels. I passed a stairway going down into the crypt, but it was roped off and I could not enter. I found out later that Karol Wojtyla celebrated his first Mass there in the crypt in 1946. Also, Chopin is buried in the cathedral- his tomb is to the left when you first enter the church. We could not stay in Wawel long, because another Mass was beginning. 

Karol Wojtyla's Study

Out we went into Krakow. This was my only chance to see the city before we left- we had an hour and a half. Brian, therefore, took me on a lightning tour, taking me to all the best places that he had visited the day before. We half walked, half ran through the snowy, bustling streets of Krakow- "I know you're sick, but we have to run if we're going to see everything!" In fact, I think running in the fresh air was good for me. We visited the apartments in which Karol Wojtyla lived when he was a priest, and saw some of his belongings: his soccer jerseys were on display, for example. On the desk in his study was a blank book for all visitors to leave notes and prayer requests. I wrote a note to him with a certain prayer request, and felt a delightful certainty that it reached him. 

We then visited the Dominican church of Krakow, arriving there just as a Mass was finishing. The place was packed with people; families with young children, the elderly, the youth. It contrasted with the churches I had visited in Salzburg and Vienna- in those places the congregations at Mass were small, and mostly elderly. Also, it was the first time I have ever seen Dominican priests, and I was struck by how young these ones were. After that, we visited the main square, which is the largest plaza in Europe. I bought an icon of the Black Madonna. We ate Kabobs, which I could barely taste because I was sick- but still, I could tell it was delicious. Then we ran/walked across town to the buses, loaded up, and were off to Wadowice, the hometown of Karol Wojtyla. 

Wadowice is a quiet Polish town on a hill. Outside the main square was an ice-skating rink playing American Oldies as families and children skated and whirled around the ice. The village church was small and white, and before it stood a statue of Pope John Paul II. Next to the church was a JPII museum, which we visited first. There was a timeline of his life, some quotes, photographs, and personal articles such as his cradle, scapular, even report cards (he did very well in all subjects, of course). 

Then we went inside the church. When we entered, a group of young schoolchildren were singing Polish songs under the direction of a religious sister. Hearing the voices of Polish children helped me envision Karol attending this church as a young boy. One of the most remarkable things about the church was its ceiling- on it were written the titles of JPII's encyclicals, and each encyclical had a corresponding painting of a Bible scene. 

Lastly, we all visited the little shops for souvenirs. We also bought Pope Cake, called that because the pope ate it once and remarked "We used to eat this after exams"- referring to his school years. Well, we were eating it before our midterm exams, but we didn't think he would mind. Again, I couldn't really taste the cake, but the texture was lovely- almost like cheesecake but much lighter. Overall, the visit to Wadowice was pleasant, light-hearted, and joyful, especially after Auschwitz. It was easy to see that the town is bursting with pride for its native saint, and I will even venture to say that I could almost feel his spirit there, much like one feels the spirit of Saint Francis when visiting Assisi.

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