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Pope John Paul II and Poland's Marian Tradition

Pope John Paul II and Poland's Marian Tradition

Abstract from the original German talks given at the German Mariological Consortium on Influece of Mary on Pope John Paul II, provided by Sister M. Danielle Peters.

Karol Wojtyla and Poland's Marian Tradition

– Joachim Schmiedl1

The human and religious roots of Karol Wojtyła can be found in the soil of his homeland. The pope’s Marian devotion was influenced by the religious interpretation of the historical experience of Poland. Politically, the year 966 marks the beginning of Poland’s nation. The baptism of King Mieszko I was decisive since under his leadership the Polish Church adopted the Latin Rite and thereby took on a bridge function between the East and West. Since its foundation in 1382 Częstochowa, also called Jasna Góra (Bright Mountain) became the center of Poland’s Marian devotion. From 1795 until Poland regained its independence in 1918 Częstochowa was also considered the spiritual capital of a nation without any state-run existence. Since the fifteenth century Our Lady has been venerated in Częstochowa as Patron and Queen of Poland.

Karol Wojtyła/John Paul II’s life was closely connected to Jasna Góra. In 1946 he experienced the solemn consecration of his nation to the Immaculate Heart of Mary celebrated in Częstochowa; in 1956 Cardinal Wyszynski inspired, prepared and officiated at Poland’s Vow to Our Lady of Częstochowa in order to initiate the millennium celebration of Poland’s Christianization with a nine-year novena. In 1957 an exact replica of the image of Our Lady of Jasna Góra went on pilgrimage to every Polish parish with the intention to deepen or awaken the bond between Mary and the parishioners. For the Polish people the pilgrimage of Our Lady of Jasna Góra meant a continuation of Mary’s Visitation recorded in the Gospel of Luke. Twenty-two years later during his first home visit as pope, this very icon reached its final destination and was welcomed by John Paul II in the parish church of Częstochowa.2

Częstochowa is not just one of many Polish pilgrimage places but its National Shrine. For John Paul II this fact meant that “one has to place one’s ear at this holy place in order to sense in which way the heart of the nation beats in the heart of the Mother.”3 From his close association to Częstochowa originated also Wojtyła’s references to Polish literature. For example, he often cited Adam Micjiewicz (1798-1855) whose central theme was the interpretation of Poland’s suffering as a participation in Mary’s suffering. Another author John Paul II frequently referred to was Henryk Sienkiewicz (1846-1916), the author of a poetic rendering of the siege of Jasna Gora in 1655.

John Paul II’s rapport to Marian pilgrimage places inspired him to speak of a geography of shrines (cf. RM 26) which reaches beyond his native Poland. During his pastoral visits throughout the world the pope always tried to visit at least the country’s national Marian Shrine with which he usually connected the entrustment of that people to Our Lady or some other devotional act as, for example, a coronation of a Marian icon or statue.

Among the Marian devotions important to John Paul II Schmiedl mentions the influence of Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort’s True Devotion of Mary from which also his motto Totus tuus originated. Furthermore, as a sixteen-year-old Wojtyła joined a Living Rosary group, an association of lay people who studied the Catholic faith in common, developed a lay spirituality and practiced a specific apostolate. Finally, there is the so-called Call of Jasna Gora which unites all Polish faithful, in particular the Polish youth. Each day at 9 pm they make a spiritual pilgrimage to Our Lady of Częstochowa and invoke her with the words: Mary, Queen of Poland, I am near you, I remember you, I watch. This daily Marian devotion can be considered the renewal of a people’s and individual’s entrustment to Our Lady a theme most prominent in John Paul II’s ministry.

[1] Mariologische Studien. Volume XVIII: Totus Tuus – Maria in Leben und Lehre Johannes Pauls II. Edited by Anton Ziegenaus. Regensburg 2004, 11-30.
[2] Cf. John Paul II. Address at the Parish of St. Sigismund at Czestochowa. June 4, 1979. In: Return to Poland. The Collected Speeches of John Paul II. New York 1979, 61-63. Here 62f.
[3] June 4, 1979.

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