According to a traditional saying, if one wishes to understand how the heart of Poland beats one must visit Częstochowa. For this reason Pope Francis began his 15th international trip with a prayerful visit to the Jasna Góra Shrine, where Polish hearts beat in unison with the Our Lady's heart. Częstochowa is the nation’s sanctuary. It is the altar, the confessional, the place of spiritual transformation, of conversion, and the point of reference that unites the whole people, as John Paul II loved to say. It was with this spirit that Pope Francis arrived as a pilgrim on Thursday morning, 28 July, spending more than three hours in the Marian citadel where the Black Madonna is venerated.
After praying in the Chapel of the miraculous image, he presided at the solemn Mass on the occasion of the 1,050th anniversary of Poland's baptism. The participation of a pope in this Polish celebration was postponed for half a century, due to the fact that the communist regime had prevented Paul VI from participating in the millennium celebrations of 1966. Therefore, during that rite celebrated by Cardinal Wyszyński and the then Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, in the presence of half a million faithful, a portrait of the absent pope was displayed and a bouquet of white and yellow roses was laid on his empty Chair.
Now, half a century later, the Argentine Pope has arrived to join the more than four million pilgrims who come here every year to invoke Our Lady. After arriving by car, Pope Francis blessed a group of elderly and sick people, and then entered the Basilica where he made his way down the central aisle to the Chapel above the main altar. After being greeted by Fr Arnold Chrapkowski, Superior General of the Paulines, the Sanctuary's officiants, the Pontiff watched as the gold and silver cover was slowly raised to unveil the icon of the Madonna and Child.
Before reciting a Hail Mary and giving his blessing, Pope Francis laid a golden rose before the image, the third to be received by the Virgin of Jasna Góra. Years ago, Pope Montini had hoped to offer her a rose before his trip was famously “denied”. Then in 1979 John Paul II offered his golden rose to her during his visit, and 10 years ago, Pope Benedict XVI made the same offering in the footsteps of his predecessor when he visited the country from 25 to 28 May. On 1 April 2005, the day before his death, John Paul II had blessed the golden crown of the image. It was before this image that, on 4 June 1979, he had entrusted his Pontificate to Mary, and shortly after, in 1982 he had given her a golden heart with the inscription “Totus Tuus”. Since 2004, the Polish Pope’s cassock has been located here, the blood-stained cassock which he had worn the day of the attack in St Peter's Square. During his visit, Pope Francis also left the gift of a chalice, and received a copy of the Black Madonna as a gift from the community.
by Gianluca Biccini
St. Peter’s Square
Jan. 18, 2018
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