I had heard so much about the cool Śląsk province (Silesia) down the years, and indeed I also passed through it in 2015 and once turned down a day tour of Katowice (Śląsk’s capital city, which I have now been to) but this Polish province finally made a pin on my map in July 2017 and in special circumstances. I was here on a pilgrimage. I was here on a reader vote. I was here to be spiritually enlightened. This was another holy city.
A personal journey and quest for enlightenment, a Catholic route to the almost perfect city of Częstochowa. I nicknamed it “Chensty” in my vain attempts to actually pronounce it right and get back to learning Polish. I deliberately rocked up in Częstochowa pre dusk, pre sunrise on a train from Poland’s capital city Warszawa. I was actually fulfilling my reader vote and Poland Poll, which had voted I should visit here next. So here I was, in pure delight. On a Sunday ready for mass. Ready to pray and have my prayers answered.
“Hark! The Herald Angels sing; glory to the newborn King” – Christmas Hymn.
The Prologue to My Pilgrimage to Częstochowa, Śląsk Province
For the last 18 months of life, I have been in deep deep depression. A travel friend I put my trust in decided to be nasty and lie to me, rather than just being honest. As a man from an honest family, and one who admits and apologises for my mistakes (especially if prompted), I simply couldn’t believe it. I was always so nice, so holy, so perfect to that person. Yet their reaction to my niceness was to destroy me, to ruin my once nice travel story on a defunct blog and to send me plunging towards suicide. Even when I begged for the apology, on the brink of suicide, it never came. That person wanted me dead. But I personally wanted to live. Almost daily I went to church in Gdansk, Poland in 2016 and times had changed. God was always there for me on my travels and I prayed regularly, but being in Poland reignited it and made me realise how much of a believer I actually was. I’m the biggest church go-er in my family and friendship group.
I realised my religion was always up for debate, and something that nobody really knew about. But aged 37, I am at ease with my religion. I believe in God and therefore I am officially a Christian. However, I am not a good Christian. Down the years I made mistakes, I did wrong, I had a gap from attending church for ages. I toured many temples, churches and holy places of other religions. So nobody around me really expected me to be this holy.
Right now if I had to tick a box that shows my exact religion, I would say Catholic. Most of my old friends knew me as a Protestant and Presbyterian in Northern Ireland. But so much of the Catholic faith resonates with me. It’s more pure, more honest, more holy, more beautiful. I was kind of born into Protestantism in a Unionist area of Northern Ireland. But it wasn’t really me. I’m so holy. The Pope rules supreme, Henry the 8th killed people. Protestants tell more lies and do more wrongs than Catholics, so it seems to me.
I crossed myself in private for years, knowing that if it was good enough for Diego Maradona, it was good enough for me. After I was lied to in 2016, I felt it was because God must have been punishing me for something I had done. I wondered was it the fact that I stole an exam paper in 1994, I wondered about the teacher’s car I damaged in 1997, I wondered about the nights I drank too much and swore violently at people. I knew they were wrongs. I apologised for them and moved on. I didn’t feel I had done anything bad in life since then. I was a pure adult, I was pretty good, true and honest. I even struggled to find my own faults, which wasn’t a good thing, we should know our faults and try to correct or improve on them. But God must have seen some of them. From afar, he’s watching.
I was suicidal and depressed and I went missing, the Polish Police looked for me (though they didn’t even find my flat in Brzezno so how hard they looked, is not clear) and even got a statement from the nasty liar, but at that time in life, I turned to the church more and more. Around the same time, God was pivotal in my journey as if one person knew the truth about my life and the lives of those around me – it was God. Nobody else knew. God knows the truth. He always does.
“Great God who knowest all our need” – Vesper Hymn.
Pelplin Pilgrimage, July 2016
I began to sink into deep depression when I found out about the lies in July 2016. I was sleeping in the town of Tczew at the time and realised that the Hill of Pope John Paul II was a mere bus journey away, so I had to go. The Polish Pope made a speech here in the holy town of Pelplin, so I woke up early and made the pilgrimage. I walked alone at dawn to the top of the hill and prayed under the huge cross on a gorgeous day. I felt oddly inspired and very spiritual. It was a turning point in my life.
After Pelplin though, my depression worsened and I continued to pray daily, often in the Mariacki Church in Gdańsk, which became my church of choice in the Kashubian capital.
Christmas Mass, December 2016
After Pelplin, things changed in me and I felt God’s presence with every step I took. It also seemed like it was a sign that the depression started in Poland. It was here where realistically my 157 country journey began back in 2005, another full circle. But it was also a wake up call for me to base myself in Europe again. By the end of 2016, I had started this new blog and was trying to recover, I had a local girlfriend now, she was kind and she came from Starogard Gdański and invited me to spend Christmas with her, so I did. In December 2016, I attended the Christmas Eve midnight mass in Starogard Gdański with her – Monika. I was so spiritually enlightened and happy about it. My body felt pure and good but I was still very depressed and not coping well.
But I headed back to Warszawa the next day and continued to get back to good health. I tried and failed but luckily work was good, I was eating and drinking and watching football back normally but still with daily suicidal thoughts, all stemming from Nasty’s lies. God was helping somehow and I knew I had to visit Częstochowa.
My Trip to Częstochowa, July 2016
And so to Holy Częstochowa, a city which contains not just the Jasna Góra Monastery and the Black Madonna painting, but a few other key sights. Many Catholics do a long pilgrimage walk to Jasna Góra and have done every year since the Middle Ages, thousands of Poles go in pilgrim groups to visit Jasna Góra. Pope John Paul II visited this place over 6 times, and Pope Benedict has also preached here. In 2011, it was estimated that 3.2 million pilgrims from 80 countries around the world went to the shrine. The pilgrimage walk is on the map outside the main monastery.
The average distance for a pilgrim group to travel is about 350 kilometres (217 miles), made in 11 days. Then you’ll chuckle that I got a tram and a train here…
Though I did make the walk along the city’s famous Holy Virgin Mary Avenue (Aleja Najświętszej Maryi Panny) to attend the Sunday morning mass. I didn’t utter a word on the way and met very few people. I was attending the 7 am mass that day. Some photos of my walk in peace.
“My spirit has been purified” – Noel Gallagher.
On arrival at Jasna Gora, I had a look around and checked the time of the mass. A few others had now gathered, some pilgrims were here and I felt I was the only non Polish person. It was no time to be nervous in front of God. In I went to the mass, sat alone and just hoped I could understand a little of the mass in Polish and that God would know I was here. I did take one photo inside the church, for the memory and to post on here. The rest was simply a spiritual journey.
When I left Mass that morning, I felt really good. I toured the rest of Częstochowa, had a great coffee and lunch and then headed on my merry way back to Krakow. It was yet another moving church service and one I recommend for all Catholics, and also those Christians of other faiths.
Stay happy and keep the faith my friends. 🙂