Thursday, July 7, 2016

Random thoughts on Marian Valley, Czestochowa, Krakow & World Youth Day

Getting to Czestochowa on the bus from Krakow

When I arrived in Brisbane to be inducted Rector of All Saints’ Wickham Terrace on 31st May, 1995, the Churchwardens, Trustees and I had the sense that we were pretty well starting from scratch (again!). We certainly had our challenges, and it was hard work. But by the grace of God, over the next ten years we saw lots of lives touched by God - especially young people - many of whom have gone on to serve the Lord in a variety of Church communions.

Very soon after arriving in Brisbane I became aware of a fledgling Shrine of Our Lady, a short drive from the city into the bush - the hinterland above the Gold Coast. The Shrine was dedicated in that same year. It was set up by the Pauline Fathers, whose vision was more than matched by the generosity of benefactors. The Prior at the time was Father Michael Szymanski who worked so hard with his own hands. As well as praying the Divine Office and celebrating Mass he was building, cleaning, gardening, working on the tractor, chopping wood for the combustion stove, and doing all the cooking without electricity. As priest and Prior he lovingly ministered to pilgrims who made the journey to the Shrine. After a few visits to him, I realised that my task at All Saints’ was fairly straightforward compared with what he had to do there in the bush. But it was so inspiring over those years to watch “Marian Valley” develop into the amazing Shrine it is today. That really encouraged my faith as we laboured in the heart of the city! 

Father Andrew Joachim Dembicki succeeded Father Michael as Prior, and then Father Columba Macbeth-Green, who two years ago became the Roman Catholic Bishop of Wilcannia-Forbes. Father Columba was particularly sensitive to the needs of Forward-in-Faith Anglicans and Continuing Anglicans, and was enormously hospitable to us. I conducted two retreats and a number of quiet days there during his time, and whenever overseas visitors came to minister in the parish or for Forward in Faith, a drive to Marian Valley with prayer at the Shrine was par for the course.

Go to the Marian Valley website for more information, and also to see photographs of the property. The main church “the Black Madonna Chapel” seats 500 people under the roof, and has a true copy of the Miraculous Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa. The other chapels, the monastery, the Stations of the Cross are all beautiful. And that's not to mention the special feature of Marian Valley - the individual Marian shrines set up and paid for by different ethnic groups who are now part of Australian society - shrines of Our Lady under the titles by which she is known across different cultures. So, the Vietnamese community has a shrine to Our Lady of Lo Vang, the Indian community, Our Lady of Vailankanni, the Polish community, Our Lady of Jasna Gora, and so on. These shrines come alive on national feast days.

The Pauline Fathers began as a monastic order in Hungary in 1215 under the patronage of St Paul the Hermit who had lived the solitary life in Egypt 870 years earlier. The Monastic Order of St Paul the First Hermit was founded in 1215 in Hungary. The Order drew many saintly hermits into monastic communities. It spread rapidly through Hungary and then into Croatia, Germany, Poland, Austria and Bohemia. There was a time when there were over 5000 Pauline monks in Hungary alone.

In 1382 the Order became the custodians of the Icon of Our Lady, believed to have been painted by St Luke the Evangelist. A Shrine for it was established on a hill “Jasna Gora “in the small Polish town of Czestochowa. Today this Shrine is the mother house of the Order, and is also its largest monastery, with over 100 Fathers and Brothers. More than four and a half million people from around the world go there on pilgrimage each year.

I knew about Our Lady of Czestochowa long before going to Brisbane. In the lead-up to my ordination to the Diaconate in 1979, Bishop Hazlewood introduced me to Father Kevin Joyner, a mystic, spiritual director and intercessor, who had lay people and clergy visit from far and wide, knowing that Father Kevin had the patience and wisdom to help us deepen our spiritual lives. He had visited Poland, and he once said to me that his favourite Shrine of Our Lady was Czestochowa, and that everyone should try to go there on pilgrimage before they die!

The echoes of Father Kevin’s words, together with all I had heard from the Pauline Fathers in Australia, meant that when I was in Krakow for a week during Lent 2011, I knew that I had to visit relatively nearby Czestochowa. I worked out a day trip, getting there on a very early morning bus, and returning in the evening on the last train for the day. For me it was an overwhelming experience. The Shrine was so small compared with what I had expected, and compared with, say, Lourdes. One of the English speaking brothers explained that when they have big celebrations with tens of thousands of people - or more - they use the sloping hill away from the shrine itself. The intimacy of the Shrine is part of its magic. 

As I went into the church for Mass, there was a small group of pilgrims - an ordinary parish group - singing gently and spontaneously a praise chorus to the Lord, the tune of which I knew from back in the 1960s and 70s charismatic renewal. Now, I know that every Mass takes us to Calvary as well as to heaven. But that Mass was one of the special times of my life. Everything about it imparted a real sense of the anointing of the Holy Spirit - the singing, the preaching, the prayers, and the Communion. It was VERY traditional and reverent (and all in Polish); but it was also full of spontaneous joy in the Lord. I left a great number of intercessions for family and friends at Our Lady’s feet in that holy place. And I still add my voice to those who encourage as many as possible to make a pilgrimage there.

In 1992 Pope John Paul II held his third international World Youth Day in Czestochowa, and an estimated 1.5 million people came from 80 countries. In three weeks time, 26th July, the 31st World Youth Day in Krakow will be launched. Its motto is “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7). I notice that most diocesan pilgrimage groups of young people are including a visit to Czestochowa in their itinerary. I have met so many people whose faith has come alive through one of the World Youth Days. Let us join our prayers with the intercession of Our Lady of Czestochowa, that the Holy Spirit will so anoint the pilgrimage that every young person who attends will return home knowing that they have encountered the risen Lord Jesus in a special way.


One of the brothers took this - just to prove I was there!

Inside the Shrine Church

The Shrine Church and its hill

Which way?


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