Hello everyone! It’s been a little while. Last weekend I was on retreat again, so I wasn’t able to write a blog post. (Disclaimer: none of my pictures are cooperating to be uploaded for this post, I’m so sorry! Hopefully I’ll have this problem fixed soon for the next post!) Here’s a little update on my last two weeks:
The week of February 28th was my first full week of normal classes! On Monday we had another Theology of the Body class, which is by far my favorite class I’m taking here. My friends and I also have loved attending daily Mass at the Dominican Basilica I’ve mentioned before. We go multiple times throughout the week because it often fits into our class schedule, and get lunch as a group at the university afterward. Most Monday nights, we have community night as well. We have an adoration hour as a group, and one of our chaplains is available for confession during this time as well. After adoration, the priests are invited over for a pizza dinner, wine, and conversation! We got to hear the vocation stories of both our chaplains, Fr. Bernardo and Fr. Jonas. It was amazing to hear how God called them to the priesthood from such a young age, and how they love their vocations.
Poland celebrates “Fat Thursday” the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, rather than “Fat Tuesday”. We had already celebrated last Thursday, but we decided, why not celebrate on Tuesday as well like we do back home! So after classes on Tuesday (theology and communication), we went to a chocolate shop where they have chocolate in all sorts of forms! I had a hot chocolate and had a few bites of different chocolate cakes and soufflés my friends bought.
Wednesday was Ash Wednesday! We had a nice slow morning, with no classes until 11:30. We had our first philosophy class, followed by our first history class where we walk around Krakow for our lesson! That night, we were blessed to have Mass done in English for us by Fr. Bernardo to celebrate Ash Wednesday.
Thursday through Sunday was our retreat to Zakopane! Zakopane is in the south of Poland, in the mountain region. After classes in the morning, we drove down, with a quick stop at a shrine to Our Lady of the Mountains. We prayed a rosary and stopped in the chapel before continuing on. We stayed in housing provided by some Ursaline sisters in Zakopane, which was actually the same John Paul II would stay when he came to ski and visit Zakopane! After having Mass, they served us dinner. Fr. Bernardo later gave us a short talk focused on Heaven and the need to pursue Heaven in life! We went to bed after a full day of traveling.
On Friday, we hiked about halfway up Giewont Mountain. Once you get past halfway, you need more mountaineering gear to reach the very top, as it gets very icey. The view was absolutely stunning and we had lots of great conversations along the way. We also stopped at a hut that has been turned into a small museum a short way up the mountain where St. Brother Albert would stay at times. Brother Albert was an inspiration to JP2 and part of the reason JP2 finally decided to join seminary. On the way down the mountain, we also prayed a rosary, and had Mass again when we got back as well! We relaxed for the rest of the day with some time for reading before dinner. The sisters also showed us the room that JP2 stayed in when he came, which has been turned into a mini museum! This was followed by dinner and another talk about the Sacred Heart from Fr. Bernardo.
On Saturday, we enjoyed a morning full of prayer which I absolutely loved! Fr. Bernardo set up adoration for us and offered confession for an hour. Afterward, we went to the Shrine of Our Lady of Fatima to celebrate Mass. This shrine was made in thanksgiving for JP2’s life being spared on the feast of Our Lady of Fatima. The highlanders in the south of Poland have a particular love for John Paul II. After walking around the grounds of the shrine for a bit, we headed to downtown Zakopane to enjoy some food and shopping! I tried some cheese and jam, a snack that Zakopane’s known for. It was different than anything I’ve had before, but it tasted great! After downtown, some of us went skiing! I’d only been skiing one other time in my life, so I took my time and started on the shortest hill, but I had a blast. It was amazing to realize that this was the same mountain that John Paul II would ski on (except that he went way higher up the mountain, but hey, still a great experience haha). We went to a nice local restaurant afterward where they had a live Polish folk band playing! We bought lots of pierogies and I tried mulled wine for the first time, which I enjoyed.
Sunday began with a shorter hike, filled with good conversations, another rosary, and time for silent prayer as we soaked in the beautiful snow-covered mountains. After we arrived back, we had Mass, lunch, and began our drive home. Along the way, we stopped at some thermal baths! There were some pools that lead outdoors, so we basically were in a giant outdoor hot tub. After a few hours swimming in the pools and enjoying the saunas, we headed back home for the night.
The following week was pretty simple with mostly classes and homework. On Monday, class was canceled, so I went to a coffee shop with some friends before heading home, and later that night we had another one of our community nights! Tuesday I woke up and did a rosary walk with my roommate Analise, and then we headed to class. Wednesday we celebrated with apple pie at dinner because it was the five year anniversary of when the John Paul II Project started! Following dinner, we had Mass in English with Fr. Jonas, which was a great way to end the day. Thursday was yet another normal day of classes and homework, and then the weekend began! Most Fridays here we don’t have classes so that we have time to travel.
This weekend I took time to just relax and recharge, but I took some time to start researching for some future trips and just enjoy the company of friends. We went downtown one day, stayed back and played games another, and overall just enjoyed a weekend of no plans. We went to Mass on Sunday at the Divine Mercy Shrine, and I have not been there since orientation week! It was nice to go back and see all the beautiful chapels and areas on the grounds. It’s a short walk from where I live, so I hope to go back more often.
I noticed a shift in my mind this last week. I feel more “at home” and in a rhythm here, and it’s so nice to feel that way. There’s a different level of enjoyment I’m experiencing in seeing this city through the lens of my home, not just a place I’m visiting. I’ve been here just over a month now, and I can’t wait to see what else the Lord has in store!
I leave for Italy this week for spring break, so I’m not sure when my next blog will come out due to that, but please pray for me and my classmates as we go on pilgrimage, and I’ll talk to you all soon! Csesz!