A multi-national military group takes a “Walk for Peace” as part of Poland’s traditional August pilgrimage to the revered Black Madonna icon at the historic shrine to Our Lady of Częstochowa, the Queen of Peace, Aug. 14, 2016.
Częstochowa, Poland – Auxiliary Bishop F. Richard Spencer, Episcopal Vicar for Europe and Asia of the Archbishop for the Military Services, USA (AMS), joined soldiers and military officers from the United States and five other nations in a “Walk for Peace.” The walk was part of Poland’s traditional August pilgrimage to the revered Black Madonna, a sacred icon preserved at the historic shrine to Our Lady of Częstochowa, the Queen of Peace.
Over the past week or so, tens of thousands of pilgrims of all ages—many of them carrying rosaries, crosses and hiking sticks—made the trek from hundreds of villages, towns and cities all over Poland, walking for as long as ten days across the country’s largely flat terrain through thunderstorms, rain showers and intense summer heat, with villagers and church-keepers providing shelter, food and water along the way. Others came in cars and on trains and buses. The six-nation military delegation comprised 843 troops and clergy from the U.S., Poland, Germany, the Ukraine, Lithuania and Latvia.
The pilgrims converged –literally in the footsteps of hundreds of thousands of youth at the end of July– on the sacred shrine, Poland’s holiest site, located on the grounds of the Pauline Jasna Góra
monastery about 125 miles southwest of Warsaw, Monday, Aug. 15—a day of significance for both Catholics the world over and the Polish people in particular. Not only is it the Solemnity of the Assumption
, when Catholics celebrate the entrance of Virgin Mary into heaven at the end of her earthly pilgrimage, but it is also Poland’s Armed Forces Day
, a national holiday created to commemorate Poland’s victory over the Soviets at the 1920 Battle of Warsaw
Upon their arrival at Częstochowa on Aug. 14, Bishop Spencer concelebrated a field Mass with Bishop Józef Guzdek
, the Military Ordinary of Poland, and more than 60 priests. About 2,500 pilgrims attended the Mass. That evening, Bishops Spencer and Guzdek drove by car, along with visiting U.S. Army and Air Force Generals, back to Warsaw for Mass the following morning at the Field Cathedral of the Polish Army
. The Assumption Feast Day Mass was attended by Polish President Andrzej Duda
and his wife, along with cabinet ministers, members of parliament and other VIPs. At noon, the dignitaries took part in a wreath-laying at Poland’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
. The ceremony, complete with marching bands and a 21-gun salute, was attended by 22,000 spectators.
Bishop Spencer said: “The universality of the Catholic Church is well represented in the partnership of these two military dioceses by participating together in this pilgrimage for peace. I stand in admiration of the Polish soldiers who practice very openly and with great pride their Catholic faith and heritage. We all can also be proud of our U.S. soldiers who completed the ten-day walking pilgrimage.”
According to tradition, St. Luke painted the Black Madonna on a table made by Jesus Himself. Pope Saint John Paul II
prayed before the icon during his historic 1979 visit to his homeland, several months after his election to the Chair of Peter. Pope Francis
also prayed before the icon during a visit to Częstochowa on July 28 while in Poland for World Youth Day 2016. His Excellency, the Most ReverendTimothy P. Broglio, J.C.D.
, Archbishop for the Military Services, celebrated Mass under the icon on July 25 while leading a pilgrimage of U.S. Military Catholics to the World Youth Day spiritual celebration in Kraków.
In a country whose population of 39 million is 96% Catholic, this year marked the 305th anniversary of the annual pilgrimage, which dates back to 1711 when the bubonic plague decimated Warsaw’s population. After the epidemic abruptly ended, a brotherhood of knights trekked from the capital to offer thanks to the Virgin Mary, and the tradition has continued ever since.