Golden chapter in the history of the Visitation of Our Lady of Jasna Gora
Zachariasz Jablonski, OSPPE
The Golden Jubilee, fifty years of the Visitation, fifty years of the Mystery of Salvation - these are not only material, empirical events or even only spiritual and intellectual events. Let us look at them as some whole, analysing particular stages of the Visitation.
The idea of that great work, born in chains, which the Primate of Poland Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski carried for the sake of the Gospel (Komancza, 1956), was a surge of the spirit, flowing from the authenticity of his total dedication to Mary (Stoczek Warminski, 1953), with concern for the Church and the nation enslaved by the communist authorities. The perspective of appropriate preparations to the Millennium of Christianity in Poland was the urgent circumstances. The Visitation was to carry the programme of religious-moral renewal of Polish society, included in the Jasna Gora Vows of the Nation, took on 26 August 1956 at Jasna Gora.
She took the roads of the Homeland
The blessed work of the Peregrination was one of the acts - enterprises the effects and vividness of which were hard to foresee, which was expressed in the stand of the Polish Episcopate - the 45th Plenary Conference, 11 April 1957, approved the idea with the condition that the responsibility for that initiative fell only on the Primate. It is worth stressing that the whole pastoral strategy of Cardinal Wyszynski was rooted in his deep faith. It was accompanied by particular paramilitary rhetoric. The following fragment taken from his sermon preached in Warsaw can illustrate that, 'We are on the front of the clash of two great forces: Christian culture and some indefinite and materialistic force. If one is at the front and wants to win the flight one must obviously seek allies. Since the real truth is that in the history of the Church in our homeland, in Polish religiousness, spirituality and culture the presence of the Blessed Mother is the best basis for religious mobilisation, i.e. preparation to the resistance of the nation (Sermon delivered during the peregrination in the Archdiocese of Warsaw, 12 September 1957). Today the great animators of the Visitation: the Servants of God Cardinal Stefan Wyszynski and John Paul II are dead. The Primate explained the sense of the Visitation, its biblical roots, referring to the visitation in the house of Zechariah and Elizabeth where Mary carried Christ. He stressed that Mary, who became the temple of God on the earth, did not keep Jesus to herself but she ran in a hurry to carry him to her relative, to share God who lived in her. In his sermons he showed that every believer was called to become a conscious temple of God and his preacher in the world. The whole Marian teaching of the Primate had one aim: his listeners were to look at Mary, see her as one of them and believe that they could witness like she did. Every visitation has two dimensions: the external one, which can be seen, and the spiritual one, especially when we have people filled with God. Then it happens what happened to Mary in the house of Zechariah and Elisabeth during her visitation. However, the internal dimension is more important when man opens himself to God's presence and something happens to him: he is moved, broken and matures towards good. The Visitation of the Mother of God leads to an encounter with living Lord. She is the Mediatrix of the encounter with God, revealed to us in her Son. To make that encounter with living God easier in the Polish land she followed all roads of our Homeland. 'The Most Beautiful Pilgrim, without any jewellery, walking on Polish roads' (Fr Jan Twardowski).
With the papal blessing
When the Primate of Poland Cardinal Wyszynski went to Rome in 1957, after three years of his internship, he had taken two copies of Our Lady of Jasna Gora. He offered one copy to Pius XII and the second one, blessed by the Pope, he brought back to be used in the peregrination all over Poland. On the feast of Our Lady of Czestochowa, 26 August 1957, the copy marked by the papal blessing, was solemnly sent out from Jasna Gora to travel throughout Poland. Before the central Mass the Pauline Fathers, together with the Polish Episcopate, carried the Miraculous Picture of the Mother of God to the Jasna Gora Basilica. Here there was the Picture of the Visitation. They brought the pictures close to each other as if for a sign of 'holy kiss', trusting that the Picture of the Visitation would travel through Poland with the powers of the Miraculous Picture, that the same Queen of Jasna Gora would visit her nation. The Visitation began in the capital (29 August 1957). Afterwards the Mother of God of the Visitation went through the region of Podlasie, the northern and western lands, embracing all Poland. The faithful prepared themselves to receive the Picture as if it was the Mother of God herself visiting their sanctuaries. Churches, houses and many kilometres of roads were decorated. The countryside visited by the Picture was changed. Numerous people came to meet Mary - as a rule there was not enough place for them in churches. The Picture of the Visitation became an important sign, reminding people of the fundamental truths: salvific God's love in Christ, the Motherly Love of Mary and the truth about man - Christian anthropology - the ultimate truths. Bishop Waclaw Depo called Mary of Jasna Gora 'Pilgriming Gospel'. The Visitation was a call to return to God. In some sense it was undoubtedly a form of new evangelisation. A suitable occasion to proclaim - conversion - the participation in the mystery of the Eucharist (Holy Mass, Holy Communion, etc.), constant public and private prayer, has been created. The church and community that have been visited become sanctuary in which liturgical celebration of the Marian cult was present and there were also other forms. Moral conversion of the faith accompanied the Visitation. This was not only some external experience, some performance. Parish retreats were organised before each visitation. One could see many conversions, confessions after years, reconciliation of broken families, ordering of non-sacramental marriages. People often said, 'One cannot stand before the Mother of God with disorder in one's soul. I must put all my things in order because otherwise I could not look at her eyes' (from the chronicles of the Visitation).
Imprisonment of the Mother of God
The communist authorities, noticing the unifying role of the Visitation for local communities and other groups, interpreted it in political categories. The external decorations, manifestation of faith, constituted a negation of their propaganda dogma that 'religion is a private matter.' In that context and with the hope to stop the Visitation they decided to imprison the Picture of the Visitation in Jasna Gora on 4 September 1966 when the Visitation of the Diocese of Katowice was to begin. Fr Teofil Krauze, prior of Jasna Gora, was told that if the Picture had left the Shrine the Pauline seminarians would have been taken into the army and their monastery in Warsaw would have been closed. Since the prior protested against that and did not want to oblige himself to do that police posts were placed around the Jasna Gora monastery. Policemen guarded the Picture of the Mother of God day and night, controlling all cars that left the monastery. However, the Visitation was not cancelled. An empty frame and a candle were carried from parish to parish. The bishops with priests and representatives of the faithful of a given diocese where the Visitation was to begin, arrived at Jasna Gora in invite Mary to visit their parish communities. On 29 September 1967, in Katowice-Panewniki, Cardinal Karol Wojtyla took over the work of the Visitation from the bishops of Slask to the Archdiocese of Krakow, and said the following meaningful words, ''We are facing the empty frame... but this frame is full of Mary... The frame has a painful expression for us.' He, also later as the Pope, kept speaking about the worship of the Jasna Gora Picture, revealed during the peregrination, and he emphasized the presence of Mary in the life of Christ and his Church. The cult of Our Lady of Czestochowa's image, showing the divine motherhood of Mary for the Son of God whom she holds in her hands, always concerns the person of Mary. We have chosen one statement from the treasure of speeches and peregrination sermons of Cardinal Wojtyla, 'Sometimes people think that we are only traditional worshippers of pictures. But now they must be convinced that we are spiritual worshippers of the living wonderful Person, living wonderful Man, magnificent Woman, Virgin and Mother - the Mother of God and the Mother of people. That we are her worshippers in spirit and truth.'
She looked at the windows of our flats
The Mother of God peregrinated from one diocese to another, from one parish to another, for six years. The sign of her presence was an empty frame and a candle. The miracles of grace did not cease. People received her with enthusiastic faith and zeal till the Picture of the Visitation returned. After the unsuccessful requests of the Primate and the Episcopate directed to the communist government two priests from the Diocese of Sandomierz Fr Jozef Wojcik and Roman Siudek as well as some nuns from Mariowka 'stole' the Picture of the Mother of God of the Visitation on 13 June 1972. The Primate knew about their action. They took it to the Visitation in Radom. From that time the Mother of God began visiting Poland in her Jasna Gora Image. The pastoral letter of the Bishops' Conference, issued on the occasion of the national Visitation of Our Lady of Jasna Gora, says, 'Sunday, 12 October 1980, is the last day of the Pilgrimage that lasted over 23 years and covered several thousand kilometres. The persistent and indefatigable Pilgrim was Our Lady of Jasna Gora and the Mother of God who in the copy of the Miraculous Picture with the Child in her hands, without the royal crowns and gown of the monarch, travelled through Polish dioceses and parishes. She visited several thousand churches and chapels, looked with motherly love at the windows of millions of her beloved children. She did not only look at those windows that were joyfully decorated with her images, lit by colourful lights, full of flowers and garlands... She also looked with tender love, full of her presence, at those windows that closed with fear and led to dark rooms. She did not only notice those who welcomed her publicly in streets and squares, who greeted her with solemn mottoes, triumphant gates, moving words and children's poems... She also saw those who came during the night, who looked at the Picture from behind their curtains... The history of man's salvation is full of examples of pilgrimages to holy places. God answers to people by visiting them to reveal his salvific plans to them, to bless them, and sometimes to reprimand or rebuke with fatherly love, always to rescue and save. Jesus' Mother, filled with the fullness of graces, became the Mediatrix of this birth of God.' Just after the national Visitation had ended another peregrination of the Mother of God began in Warsaw parishes. Cardinal Wyszynski himself welcomed her on 18 October 1980. Thanks to that Visitation in the capital the Mother of God could be with Poland's Primate on the days of his passing away to the Father's House. The second Visitation began on 5 May 1985. Next week we will continue our story, presenting further stages of the Visitation.