Fran Wall lives in Tama and is retired from work at St. Patrick Church in Tama. Her grandparents came from Poland to the United States before World War II.
Patty Henle is a teacher associate at the South Tama Middle School and has been for 10 years. Her mother, the late Joann Hogue, came to the united States as a WW II bride and was very dedicated to her new country. Patty's father, Charles Hogue, lives in Toledo.
It is October 15, 2012, and I am on the plane to Poland, this was the first time I have ever left the USA. It seems like a dream that I would be going over to the country where my mother was born and lived until she had to run for her life during WWII.
Fran Wall and Patty Henle
I went to Krakaw, Poland, with a Catholic pilgrimage group of 40. We landed in Krakow about nine hours after leaving Chicago. The weather was like Indian Summer the whole time we were there. Warm, sunny days and cooler evenings, it only rained a little the first day. Then so foggy the day we left for home that we had a two-hour wait at the airport, than another lay over in Warsaw, caused by more fog. I think the whole country of Poland was under fog that morning.
From the air the land looks a little like an Iowan farm at first. A closer look tells me that these farms do not have fences. The cow - most farms only have 1-10 cows - are tied out to feed in different areas each day as they do not fence in livestock. The people walk out to the cow for milk. They might have a horse and of course, dogs and cats.
The roads in Krakow are very narrow and the sidewalks are wide, except for the big highway that are similar to our four-lane highways. In the evenings they park on the sidewalks, so be careful you are not run over.
Style of dress is similar to here in the states. Although they do wear dark colors, the younger adults wear the bright colors. Everyone wears scarves and they usually are a little more colorful.
Our tour bus and guide picked us up every morning about 8 a.m. and we traveled all day returning to our hotel in Krakow for bed about 9 p.m each night. The bus driver only spoke Polish.
I have now been in more churches on this trip than in my whole life. Poland is a very Christian country. We saw the most beautiful, old and huge churches from as far back as the 10th century. They are well cared for and being renovated all the time without changing their appearance. Pope John Paul II has visited all the churches at one time or another. The Pope has been a major influence on the churches in Poland being saved during and after WWII or new ones being built.
They are very ornate with ceilings that rise so high you have to lay your head far back to see the ceilings. They were cool in temperature, as it costs a lot to heat them. No fancy cushioned seats - hard wood seats to keep you awake.
We had a young Nun give us the history of the Divine Mercy and St. Faustina Convent chapel where Sister Faustina lived as a nun and is now buried. At the monastery in Mogita (a Trappist Monastery) we had a young Monk who guided us around explaining how they live as well as the history of the monastery. He had been there only one year and already was a Monk - he would get to see his family about once a year. He told us a lot of history about this particular monastery. There are not very many Monasteries in Europe.
Wawel Cathedral castle in Krakow pronounced (Vavel) is really a sight to see. It is located on 15 acres of land on the banks of the Vistula River and is a grand site so see. Our tour guide was so good at recalling the history about the castle area. She took her time showing us each room and explaining the detailed story for them. Here we were walking around a building that had been built in the 10th century and it was in amazingly good shape. Back in Iowa we readily tear down old buildings rather than restore.
The Salt mine in Tieliszka was a fun visit also. We were lowered to the second level by elevator. Only nine people per trip, and it was not like the hotel elevators. This one had two sections on top of each other. It was fast and loud!
Next we traveled down about 500 steps stopping at each level to
learn a little history about the making and working of the mine. There are worship areas, a huge coliseum where numerous events take place. There is also a hospital down there for people with breathing illnesses. We were not allowed to venture there. Four of our group got disconnected from us and had to work their way back to us by other tour groups. It was a little funny later as there is more to that story.
Pope John Paul 11 had even visited this mine and held a mass. This mine is no longer a working mine, it is for tourists. Later in the evening we concluded with a dinner at a very nice country restaurant. One evening after a long day of travels we were allowed to go shopping. We were reminded that we not in Poland to shop but to experience history.
One evening some of us choose to walk about 20 minutes to the local square. This is a very large area that has lots of shops along the sides and in the center. There was also a very old church that was 700 years old from the Gothic era. You can also take carriage rides around this shopping area. There is a story about how the village was being protected by a person in the watchtower.
If danger came he was to play his horn to warn the villagers. In the middle of the evening when danger came he began to play Hejnal Mariachi every hour. In the middle of his song he was struck by an arrow in his throat and died. To this day they still have 2 men stay in the tower every day for 8 hours at a time. Then in the evenings, each hour on the hour one of them will play the horn facing north, south, and east and then west. Just as the man did many decades ago. We got to see him and after lie had finished he waved to us.
Venturing up the Zako-p'an-e village resort up the mountain in the Tatras region made for a full day.
Fran and I took a carriage ride around the village. Some went up the ski lift to the top for the day. It was a warm, relaxing day. That evening we gathered a local Zakopane restaurant for dinner and music. It was Fran's birthday so we had everyone sing with the band. Some even danced the Polka.
We also ventured to the lower part of Krakow where the person who wrote Schindler's list was from. It is about how the Jewish part of Poland made it through the war. They have a large park area with empty, straight-back chairs to symbolize the people who were lost in the holocaust. I guess there is still controversy over the film and Schindler. We all enjoyed lunch at different out door cafe's and visiting shops.
We also visited Czestchowa at Jasna Gora, to see the Lady of Czestochowa, also known as the Black Madonna. Czestochowa is the 3rd largest Catholic pilgrimage site in the world. This is the home of Poland's beloved miraculous icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa, the center of Polish Catholicism. There is so much history surrounding the Icon that it would take too much space to include now.
This was a real high point for us as She is the Polish Madonna from way back in the 13th century. The scar on her right cheek is from when a non-Christian soldier tore down the painting and slashed her face with his sword as defilement to Christians and assaulted the church. After her recovery when the church was built in honor of her,the walls around the area were built like that of a castle to protect Her from more assaults. It is a very large area that is visited by Christians from all over the world.
Our group had a priest show us around. It was quite difficult to follow because of the huge throng of people there for each service. There are more people in that one area than ever go to our Iowa State Fair in one week.
Try to picture one week of the Fair and those people at this church in one day. Elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder and not giving up one inch for one to pass them by. On top of that we had to be as quiet as possible at the same time.- The mass seems to be continuous, as you do not see people leaving. The pipe organ was immense and sounded real good. Fran & I thought we noticed people that looked like they may have been related or that we looked more Polish.
On another morning we went to visit the village where Pope John Paul II was born. Wadowice (Vad-o-vice) is the birthplace of Karol Wojtyla. We stood outside the building where he was born that is being turned into a museum The church he was baptized in was beautiful. There were many pictures of hum, even one with his mother when he was baptized.
Someone had carved out of wood a life-size sculpture of Pope John Paul II sitting - awesome.
Later, the group had a nice lunch in a local restaurant. For our dessert we were honored to be served a special cake called "Papal Cake." It was pope John Paul II's favorite delicacy, so it was renamed as Papal Cake meaning the Pope Cake.
The very last place that we visited was the German Nazi concentration camp in Poland. I will not elaborate on this visit, as the whole world knows about this by now. And if you do not, you should become knowledgeable about it. The one thing I remember that was not sad, was a sign that everyone should read. It said: "For those who do not remember, this will happen again."
We were all very sad and somber after the two-hour tour. Our tour guide was very informing. This was a very sad trip. I was glad it was on the last day. We got to see where St. Maximillian Kolbe was imprisoned and died. At the small Martyrdom Museum we all said prayers.
In December we all met for a reunion in Cedar Rapids to exchange pictures, videos and remember each fun day we had together. There are many stories that I have not shared with you, again it would make this article much to long and boring for you. I would go to Poland again in a heartbeat. I felt comfortable there and wish I could have visited Mom's village of Poznan. Fran wished she could have visited hers also. Thank you for letting me share my new adventure with you. I thank Fran for talking me into going. We have so many pictures and videos and great memories.
Thank you Jesus for letting us have a safe trip over and back home.