KRAKOW, POLAND - On Sunday, July 24, World Youth Day pilgrims got as close as they could to a full night's sleep before heading out at 8 a.m. to Czestochowa, Poland to visit the Jasna Góra Monastery and shrine.
They left Warsaw, head south down the A2 motorway for the three-hour trip, taking turns praying different decades of the Rosary on the way.
Jasna Góra serves as a shrine to Our Lady of Czestochowa. It houses the icon of the Black Madonna, which is said to have been painted by St. Luke. The painting rests inside the Our Lady Chapel, one of many chapels and museums on the grounds of the Pauline monastery. The shrine regularly hosts pilgrims groups throughout the year.
During their four-hour stay, the Buffalo pilgrims attended an English Mass led by Archbishop Thomas Wenski from the Archdiocese of Miami.
"Which was hot and sticky," according to Melanie Izard of St. Pius X Parish in Getzville. The 18-year-old was one of nearly a thousand people estimated to have squeezed into the small chapel to witness the Mass and see the Black Madonna icon. "It was a very nice Mass, just super hot," she said.
With temperature being a very hot and humid 81 degrees, paramedics had to be called for one young lady who had trouble dealing with the heat.
Americans and a group from Sydney, Australia attended the English-speaking Mass.
"It was really powerful to see people pray and worship the Black Madonna and then walk out on their knees. That's something that I never really see. It was nice to see how powerful the Black Madonna is to the people," said Heather Pfalzer, also from St. Pius X.
Catholics from across the globe traveled to Poland for World Youth Day in Krakow. Many, like the group from Buffalo, stopped along the way at churches, shrines and other pilgrimage sites, not only to take in the beauty and holiness, but to share their own native customs with others.
"It makes me want to learn how other dioceses celebrate their Masses," said Pfalzer. "I noticed some people would know more of the Latin than I did, kneel at different parts or do different hand motions. My church doesn't do that, so it would be nice to learn how other dioceses that speak English or even other parts of the world celebrate their Mass."
Miracles are now mostly associated with televangelists and sports teams, but the Catholic Churches recognizes a miracle as an act of God, often through the intercession of a person recognized as a saint. On the wall of Our Lady Chapel hung crutches left by people miraculously cured of ailments, along with rosaries and other gifts left to Our Lady of Czestochowa as a sign of thanks for her intercession.
St. John Paul II, the first Polish-born pope and founder of World Youth Day, is memorialized with a museum of his relics on the grounds of the monastery. Along the chairs he used during Masses in Czestochowa are the chalice and chasuble used during the 1991 World Youth Day celebration in Czestochowa.
"I thought it was really cool how they had some of his vestments that he wore while he said Masses," said Jason Phillips, 18, from St. Mary Parish in Swormville. "I'm kind of in awe of what that really means. I don't think I fully grasp what that is. All these people are basically here for him. That's really cool and amazing."
One glass showcase held gifts given to St. John Paul during his long tenure as pope. A menorah sat along with a sombrero and elephants tusk. Another case held pendants representing different body parts and organs St. John Paul is credited with healing.
"When I first saw it, it seemed surreal to me - that is what it represents," said Carleigh Cimmerer, 18, from St. Mary Parish in Swormville. "When you think about it, you realize how great and powerful everything is around here. When you see the Black Madonna and you see all the crutches on there, it obviously affects you, but it takes a little bit of time to realize how important it is and how much it means to people. It affects your faith because you realize how strong everyone else's faith is."
In 2014, Pope Francis canonized John Paul, recognizing him as a saint. He, along with St. Faustina, serve as patrons for this year's World Youth Day celebration.
"He was part of our time. He was alive when we were alive. It was amazing to think that such a great man was part of our era," said Tom O'Brien, 18, also from St. Mary's.