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Jasna Gora: Pilgrimage with badges

Visited by an annual average of four million pilgrims from more than eighty countries around the world wearing badges showing the name of their town and a number indicating how many times they have come to the shrine, the Black Madonna of Czestochowa is central to Polish Catholic devotion and religiosity.

Jasna Gora: Pilgrimage with badges

By Joe Palathunkal
“The call of a son of Poland to the Cathedral of St. Peter contains an evident and strong link with this holy place, with this Shrine of great hope:  Totus tuus (“I am all yours”), I had whispered in prayer so many times before this Image.”


June 19th, 1983. Pope John Paul II during a mass in Jasna Góra monastery, celebrating the 600 years of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa painting.

These words of Pope John Paul II, the first Polish Pope in history, echo the sentiments of 33 million Catholics of Poland living in 10,000 parishes across this Catholic nation of central Europe and when they reverberated from the hill of light or Jasna Gora in south central Poland on the Warta River on June 4, 1979, the Black Madonna pointing the right hand holding the infant Jesus in the left must have smiled in approval.

Visited by an annual average of four million pilgrims from more than eighty countries around the world wearing badges showing the name of their town and a number indicating how many times they have come to the shrine, the Black Madonna of Czestochowa is central to Polish Catholic devotion and religiosity.

Counted among the most famous Marian shrines of the world, Jasna Gora is unique as a pilgrim site without any apparitions like Lourdes, Fatima or Guadalupe and it is also the only Marian shrine which has a Biblical or Gospel base.

Oral history has it that Luke the evangelist painted the Madonna on the wooden table made by her carpenter husband Saint Joseph and Mary took it with her when she moved to Ephesus from Nazareth to live with John the evangelist. Whatever may be the truth behind it, the Black Madonna or Our Lady of Czestochowa has a long history.


Pope Francis in The Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary

For the Polish people it is so important that they celebrated the 1050 anniversary of the baptism of Poland in the Shrine of Jasna Gora on 28th July 2016 with none other than Pope Francis as the main celebrant of the Eucharist and remembering the Black Madonna, he spoke these beautiful words during his homily:

“It is to Mary, then that we, who have gathered here, now look. In her, we find complete conformity to the Lord. Throughout history, interwoven with the divine thread, is also a ‘Marian thread’. If there is any human glory, any merit of our own in the fullness of time, it is she. Mary is that space, preserved free from sin, where God chose to mirror himself. She is the stairway God took to descend and draw near to us. She is the clearest sign of the fullness of time.”

It is this ‘clearest sign’ that signs from Jasna Gora to all the pilgrims and visitors that if she mirrored God we have to mirror God in our life too by leading a humane life, if “She is the stairway God took to descend and draw near to us” each one of us must become a stairway for our brothers and sisters to come to us instead of becoming hard walls that separate and distance them.

And the Black Madonna of Jasna Gora is inviting everyone to her by being that stairway who came there also through her own miracle. The icon that came to the possession of Princess Anna in 988, the daughter of the first Christian ruler of Russia, reached the hands of Prince Ladislaus Opolczyk in 1382 and he wanted to take it to his birthplace, the city of Opala.

On the way he along with his retinue spent the night at Czestochowa but the next day the horses hitched to the wagon carrying the Black Madonna refused move which prince took as a clear sign from Mother Mary that she wants to be in that city on the Warta River.

He entrusted the Madonna to the care of the Pauline monks living in the monastery of Jasna Gora where in 1386 King Jagiella (a.k.a. Wladyslaw II) constructed a beautiful shrine for the Madonna and the first miracles were reported in 1402 and the faithful began to call this mother as the, “Healer of the Sick, Mother of Mercy, and Queen of Poland.” And the flow of pilgrims began.

And the mother became a protector of Poland. When the Swedes attacked Poland in 17th century, the Poles earnestly prayed to the Madonna and they could repulse the Swedes and the siege of Jasna Gora ended. On 1 April 1656 the King of Poland Jan Kazimierz vowed to consecrate the country to the protection of Mother Mary and declared her the Patron and Queen of the lands under his rule.


Stained glass window painting of Pope John Paul II in the shrine

Almost in same line Pope John Paul II declared Jasna Gora the National Shrine of Poland and it is national in every sense. Invariably, almost all the leading political leaders of Poland have visited this light of the hill. And Polish President and trade union leader Lech Walesa and his wife Danuta Walesa along with their 13 year old son Bogdan presented Walesa’s Nobel Peace medal to the Black Madonna on 13 December 1983 during a solemn mass in the shrine.

Apart from the Nobel medal, another important tourist attraction is a beautiful stained glass window of Pope John Paul II in the shrine. And the Black Madonna of Jasna Gora tells everyone wearing a badge that it should become your life’s badge or identity as a stairway that allows to foster an understanding relationship with all your fellow men and women, and that is the greatest message from Jasna Gora visited by three Popes – John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis.

(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living in Faith)

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