Let Us Be Saints!
Czesc!  That is, "hello" in Polish.  By the way, Polish is a very difficult language to speak because there are about a bagillion consonants all put together, so we were lucky to find English speakers!  I did pick up a couple of words!

I realize that I am almost a month behind on my blogging so you must forgive me.  The weather is gorgeous and finals are just around the corner so it has been hard for me to take the time to sit down and blog!  There is SO MUCH I could say but I will just give you the highlights. 

First of all, it was simply incredible to visit this land of my ancestors.  I am 50% Polish, so everywhere I went I felt like I was looking at my family members!  My great great grandparents came to America in 1890 from Poznan, a town between Warsaw and Berlin.  It was cool to meet a few people from Poznan, who said it was a truly beautiful place.  I was also very PROUD of my heritage because Polish culture is so incredible!  The people are reserved and quiet yet have such strength.  One can look into their eyes and see deep faith and true hope.  If any country in Europe is still authentically Catholic and not post-Catholic, I would say it is Poland!  The lines for confession were out the door and the churches were full of young people at liturgy!  Amazing!  Plus Polish music (we heard many polkas being played on the street corner and even went to a Chopin concert) and cuisine (so many great piergoies and kielbaasa!) are phenomenal. 

Our home base for the trip was Krakow, an ancient city with so much history.  It has one of the largest medieval market squares in all of Europe, and since we were there for Palm Sunday they were having their spectacular Easter market.  Our trip centered on John Paul II, who would soon become blessed, and the WWII history of Poland. 

We traveled to Wadowice, JPII's hometown, where we got to attend Mass at the beautiful basilica where he was baptized and was an altar server.  We got to visit museums containing so many relics, including his skis and vestments.  And we got to eat his favorite cream cake - cremuvka - on the street corner near his boyhood home!  So good!  Krakow was the city where he studied at university and served as Archbishop, so we got to see this beautiful Cathedral and the window from which he would often address the people, a small prefigurement of his becoming pope and addressing the world on Sundays. 

We also traveled to Auschwitz and Auschwitz Birkeneau, two of the worst concentration and later death camps of the Holocaust.  Words cannot even describe this experience - it was sombering and powerful.  I learned so many things about the horrors that took place here.  I was truly struck by looking at the photos of the inmates at these camps...normal men and women whose lives would be cut prematurely short.  Seeing piles of shoes of the prisoners and mounds of their hair were simply striking.  We stood at the platform where they would be sorted after getting off the train.  We visited the place where they would relieve themselves, just twice a day, with no privacy.  We saw what was left of the gas chambers and the execution area.  One of the most moving parts was our quick peek into the tomb of St. Maximilian Kolbe - a Polish priest who volunteered to be killed instead of a pleading married man with children.  I am not the same after visiting these camps. 

We also got to visit the Schindler's Factory Museum (know the movie "Schindler's List"?)  to learn about life in Nazi-occupied Krakow.  It was an incredible museum and I gained so many insights into life in this period both in the Jewish ghetto and for non-Jews outside.  I never fully realized the extent to which people's lives were taken over by the Nazis...postage stamps had Hitler's face on them, at schools children were force-fed Nazi propaganda.  There were so many stories of little-known heroes that surfaced too, such as the hairdresser who would die the hair of Jews to try to make them look more Aryan or the little school girl helping her Jewish friend escape from the ghetto.  Just think if you were a parent during this time...what would you say when your small child asks about the situation.  "Why does Anne have to live in that place?"  What do you tell them? 

There were so many other great points of this trip...climbing an ancient mound to get an incredible view of the city, attending a Chopin concert in a fancy hotel (wine included!), and eating dinner at a Ukrainian restaurant (Maria's ethnicity!).  The overall consensus was that Poland is an amazing place and we loved this trip!  Then seeing all the Poles in Rome for the beatification was truly exciting!

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