Falling in the steps of the pope
After visiting the Jewish Quarter and Ghetto, Marta packed us into her car and headed out to Krakow's countryside. We were tracing the roots of Pope John Paul II. We were off to Wadowice, the birthplace of Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II).
First off, let me say this, the Pope is HUGE in Poland. Not only is he on his way to being sainted by the Vatican, he is seen and treated as a saint already in Poland (especially Krakow). He is the only Polish pope, he was a major factor in the downfall of Communism in Poland, and he tried to heal old wounds from the war. Second, I'm a "cafeteria" Catholic, my parents are devout/practicing Catholics....of course we were going to go to see where the Pope grew up! Catholicism aside, I'm very interested in the life of Karol Wojtyla. He was such an interesting man and led such a amazing life, even before he became a priest. So, I was excited to go to Wadowice.
Wadowice is located abut 40 km from Krakow. It's a quiet little town located on a hill in the countryside of Poland.
Karol Wojtyla was born on May 18, 1920 in a two room apartment. He grew up in that apartment which was right next to the Basilica of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the church where he would go every day after school to be an alter boy. I won't go through his entire life but some of his high points: after graduating from school in Wadowice he went to the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. He studied Polish language and literature and arts. He was a HUGE sports enthusiast- avid skier, swimmer and excellent goal keeper on the football field. When the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939, Karol started working at the Zakrzowek quarry breaking rocks. At night, he studied theology and he, also, acted in many underground theater productions, defying the Nazi edicts against such events. He started his seminary studies clandestinely in 1942. After the war, he continued his studies, became a priest, travelled to Rome to get his doctorate in theology, was appointed Bishop of Krakow in 1958, became a cardinal in 1968 and was appointed the 263rd Pope in 1978.
After becoming Pope, the Communist party thought they had an ally. However, they were sadly mistaken. Though Pope John Paul II never directly advocated rebellion, the message he preached about "freedom under God", etc. was only thinly veiled. In 1979, he returned to Poland as Pope and preached 32 sermons over 9 days and created a "psychological earthquake" in the masses. And this led eventually to the fall of Communism in Poland (and, yes, I'm aware there were other factors- the solidarity movement, etc., but his work led to an emotional push for freedom).
OK, Ok, I'm done with the background.
In Wadowice, we visited his birthplace and the Basilica. The museum was interesting because it contained many of his papal robes and pictures. The Basilica was very quaint and pretty- with, of course, lots of attention paid to the Pope. This was a nice little side trip and it was quite peaceful.
Ending another very long day, Marta dropped us off at the apartment and we said our goodbyes. She was a fantastic tour guide and a great person. I highly recommend that when you go abroad, try to get a local to show you around personally. It's so informative and you really get a feel for the place you are visiting.
On our last day in Krakow, we woke up a little later and went for breakfast. And then the shopping started! We went through the Christmas market and to many of the stores surrounding the square. In the afternoon, Dad relaxed at the apartment and Mom and I went and had hot toddies at a cafe while I checked my email. Then on our way back, we stopped off at the Historical Museum of the city of Krakow to see the szopa, or Nativity Scenes. Szopa are elaborate nativity scenes that incorporate the architecture of Krakow into the nativity. They are, also, covered in bright, shiny paper. Szopa were first made in the 19th century by construction workers,out of work due to the winter, who made extra money by making portable puppet shows. This tradition grew until WWI when it almost disappeared. But in 1937, the constructions returned and the first Krakow city contest was held. And it's been held every Christmas ever since. The scenes must include the nativity, but also include castles, dragons, and everything else under the sun. The winners and some other entries of this year's contest were on display at the Museum, so Mom & I checked them out. They were amazing! So colorful and fun.
For our last night in Poland, we went to a restaurant called Morskie Oko. Its supposed to be like a mountain lodge and it was very good and very fun. And there was a little band playing, in traditional garb. And the guy playing the bass, in his white leather pants (think Tyrollean with suspenders, not Loverboy tight shiny leather) caught my eye. But alas!! Mom & Dad figured out he was married...and this was after I went into the men's room by accident and walked right into him as I was on my way out!! His bandmates got quite the chuckle from that..haha!!
To round out the night, my friends from TEFL class (and now my roommates) Tristan and Alex were in town on their way to Zakopane for some skiing. So I met up with them at their hostel and we went out! Had loads of fun and didn't get home until about 4 am. And had to be up at 5 am. to catch the train for Prague.....or so I thought.