300th anniversary pilgrimage to Black Madonna of Czestochowa
CZESTOCHOWA, POLAND – His Excellency, the Most Reverend F. Richard Spencer, Episcopal Vicar for Europe and Asia of the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, joined thousands of international pilgrims on cross-country hikes to Poland’s most revered shrine to the Blessed Virgin Mary—Our Lady of Czestochowa. The shrine, located on the grounds of the Jasna Gora monastery, houses the famous Black Madonna icon, depicting the Blessed Mother with Christ Child. According to legend, St. Luke painted the portrait on a table made by Jesus Himself when He was an apprentice carpenter under the paternal guidance of St. Joseph.
In a tradition celebrating its 300th anniversary this year, an estimated 27,000 pilgrims converged on Czestochowa from hundreds of starting points throughout Poland to arrive in time for the Feast of the Assumption on Monday. Many walked for 10 days across Poland’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.
Sunday, on the final leg of his four-day pilgrimage, Bishop Spencer walked from neighboring villages to Czestochowa with 750 German and Polish soldiers and more than 2,500 university students. Along the floral pedestrian walkway leading to the shrine church, the bishop took part in a ceremonial wreath-laying at Poland’s Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. He lunched with senior Polish church and military leaders, including a three-star general with the Polish army’s Special Operations Group. Just one day earlier, the general had returned from Afghanistan where he took part in the recovery of the bodies of 38 Americans and Afghans killed in the August 6th downing of a U.S. military helicopter by Taliban insurgents.
The pilgrimage culminated Monday in a Pontifical Mass celebrated by the Apostolic Nuncio, Archbishop Celestino Migliore. The sermon was delivered by the Szczecin-Kamien Metropolitan Bishop, Archbishop Andrzej Dziega. Attending the Mass was Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski along with his cabinet officers and their families.
Bishop Spencer said: “Without a doubt—we were standing on holy ground during this pilgrimage. With sincere dedication, joy and zeal for the love of God, Church, the Blessed Mother and the beloved Motherland, each and every Pole took great pride through the sacrifices of self during this pilgrimage to pray for peace in our broken world. Throughout history, the Polish people have paid the highest price for their freedom, the freedom so close to the heart of each and every Pole—the price of the Cross. As brothers and sisters united through Jesus Christ, I was humbled and honored during this pilgrimage to carry and represent the ‘Stars and Stripes’ of the United States of America and the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA.”
Bishop Spencer is one of four Auxiliary Bishops serving under the direction of His Excellency, the Most Reverend Timothy P. Broglio, J.C.D., Archbishop of the Military Services, USA. As the nation’s only Catholic archdiocese without geographical boundaries, the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA oversees priests stationed with the U.S. military throughout the United States and around the world. Their mission is to meet the spiritual and sacramental needs of 1.5 million Catholics in the U.S. armed forces and their families as well as Catholics in VA Medical Centers and Catholics stationed overseas in U.S. government civilian posts.
For more information on the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, visit http://www.milarch.org