As the Geneva half of this fall’s Murphy Scholar presence at the United Nations, I desired a bit of extra spiritual preparation before arriving. To do this, I searched for and found a place steeped in history yet also modern, a place whose people exhibit a vibrant Catholic faith, and just as importantly a place with great food and drink. Where on Earth could that be, you ask? Why, Poland, of course!
I stayed in Kraków, the archdiocese where Karol Wojtyła sat as archbishop before becoming Pope John Paul II. I had the great privilege to meet a few locals while there, including one young man, Marek, who had lived in Kraków his entire life, with the exception of one year as an exchange student in the U.S. Showing me around his city, he exhibited a great love for the place and its rich history and medieval charm, as well as for the Catholic faith and Bl. John Paul II, a love quite common among Poles.
When I told Marek of my intention to take a daytrip to Częstochowa, he heartily approved, as it is a sort of spiritual capital of Poland. The monastery of Jasna Góra overlooking the town of Częstochowa houses an icon of the Virgin Mary known as the Black Madonna or Our Lady of Częstochowa. According to tradition, the icon was originally painted by the apostle St. Luke, traveling a long and winding journey over centuries to finally end up at this monastery in 1382. It has survived invasions and the wear of time to endure as a central symbol of Polish Catholicism.
At Częstochowa and in Kraków, I had the opportunity to attend Mass and pray alongside Poles several times. Being in places so steeped in history and heavy in significance for the faith of so many, and participating in the life while only understanding a handful of words, I grew in my appreciation for the universality and transcendence of the Catholic faith. Such an understanding is central to appreciating the importance of the Church’s voice at the United Nations. Its voice is not an American voice or an Italian voice or a Polish voice, but a Catholic voice, at once both human and transcendent. It is a great honor to be a Murphy Scholar with the opportunity to serve in a small way as that voice is presented in Geneva.
Our Lady of Częstochowa, pray for us!
P.S. Of course, Kraków has its share of other fun as well, and I certainly had my share. If you are ever in Kraków and want to find the best pierogis and a fine vodka selection to boot, all with a down-home ”swojski” atmosphere that (mostly) skips the tourist prices, I suggest the place my local friends directed me to: U Babci Maliny. Na zdrowie!