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JOHN PAUL II AND OUR LADY OF LUDŻMIERZ

September 1, 2012

            Very often “The Tatra Eagle” has emphasized the special relationship that existed  between  Blessed John Paul II and  the górale, the Tatra Highlanders. It reported with pride  his dramatic visit to  Zakopane in  June 1997, when  in front of 350,000 assembled  górale,  he made a statement which will never be forgotten , “I can always count on you” (Na Was można zawsze liczyć)  There is little doubt  that as Bishop  Karol Wojtyla  decades before , had already  developed a great admiration and love for the  highlanders and their culture .  In 1964 , the year that  he became Metropolitan Archbishop of Kraków, he made this observation , “It is the only community of its kind, that bears the marks of the grand Polish tradition, and thus it simply must be permitted to live on ;  no contemporary custom, style or fashion should be allowed to ever destroy or marginalize this  great Podhalan tradition.”  These words make it clear that he  understood that the Tatra folk culture was something so precious that it needed to be appreciated and protected so that it would not  become an endangered species vulnerable to extinction.

 

         One element of this Tatra folk culture that particularly impressed  him was its brand of religiosity that emphasized devotion to Our Lady of Ludzmierz.  As early as 1234 a Church dedicated to  Blessed Mother Mary was established  in the mountain village of Ludzmierz,  which  by  c. 1400 became an important shrine  with a focus on the veneration of a miraculous wooden statue  of Mary and the Infant Jesus .  Since then the figurine of Our Lady of Ludzmierz  and the nearby healing spring waters  have  attracted multitude of pilgrims  from Podhale and beyond seeking God’s favor.   This deep faith and  devotion to Our Lady of Ludzmierz continues  unabated to the present day. On March 24, 1993,  Tatra Eagle Editors, Jane Gromada Kedron and this writer, together with their spouses, Henry Kedron, and Theresa Gromada ,  were privileged to have a private audience with John Paul II in his  private residence in the Vatican.  It was at this time that this writer had an opportunity to present his Holiness with a copy of Oskar Halecki’s posthumous book on “Jadwiga of Anjou and the Rise of East Central Europe’, which he edited  and of course,  present him with copies of our Tatra Eagle.  But what really pleasantly surprised us , was to see a replica of  the figurine of Our Lady of Ludzmierz  prominently displayed in his private apartment.  What further evidence is necessary  to prove  his  close  bond with the folk culture of the “górale” with its simple, deep fatith.

 

         But as noted above this attachment started much earlier.  The event that must have made a great impression on the future Pope  occurred on August 15, 1963 in Ludzmierz. At the behest Pope John XXIII  the Primate of Poland, Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, in the presence of over 100,000 pilgrims , with the participation of over 20 bishops among them Bishop Karol Wojtyla ,  crowned  Our Lady of Ludzmierz with a golden crown, as the Queen of Podhale.  (The crown was funded by  Tatra Highlanders living in Chicago.)   Reading  a prayer that appeared in  the  April 1963 issue of the Tatra Eagle,  Cardina Wyszynski  cried out, “ Swieta Mario, Ludzmierska Panienko, Pierwszej świątyni  Podhala mieszkanko, Osiadlas tutaj miedzy goralami, Krolowo Podhala, Modl sie za name”.  (Saint Mary, Our Lady of Ludzmierz, Resident of Podhale’s first sanctuary; You have settled among highlanders, Queen of Podhale, Pray for us.)  But when the crowning ceremony ended and four bishops among them Karol Wojtyla  were carrying the statue of Our Lady  on the feretory  up the stairs back to the Church, the statue accidentally  slipped which caused  the scepter  to fall out of the statue’s grasp.  The relatively young Bishop Wojtyla with good reflexes  caught the scepter in mid air before it could fall to the ground.  Years later when Karol Wojtyla was  elected Pope, many who witnessed this incident  said that this was a sign that the Blessed Lady gave her scepter to him , symbolically predicting that he will have authority over the Church. 

 

         When John Paul II made his first  Papal visit  to Poland his  tight schedule did not permit him come to Ludzmierz itself,  since a mass assembly was organized in Nowy Targ, the capital of Podhale,  on June 8, 1979 where an astonishing crowd of over a million gathered in a nearby airport.  An outdoor altar in the “styl zakopianski” was secretly built  to the chagrin of the communist authorities.  Much to the delight of the Pontiff,  the miraculous figurine of  Our Lady of Ludzmierz was brought to this altar.  He was clearly moved emotionally.  In his homily , with tears in his eyes,  he thanked the górale for bringing “Our Lady of Ludzmierz” (Matka Boska Ludzmierska)  to him and then he praised them for being so hospitable  and responsive to the pastoral  work of the Church.  “Podhale, he said “ is a region where people flock not only to strengthen themselves physically but above all to strengthen themselves spiritually. “

He further asserted that that Our Lady of Ludzmierz is a real  “Gazdzina Podhalanska” (loosely translated ‘Matriarch of Podhale’).

 

         A historic Apostolic visit to the shrine of Our Lady of Ludznierz was  later made by John Paul II on June 7, 1997  who was greatly impressed by major renovations that were made in the previous decade due largely to the generosity of highlanders in the United States (particularly the Ludzmierz Parish Circle  ZPA in Chicago) and Canada.  He noted  with awe. in the presence of over 300,000 pilgrims,   the expansion and the beatification of the sanctuary “which is your gift to  Blessed Mary and to all pilgrims who come to Her shrine.  It is necessary for the Pope today , a Ludzmierz pilgrim himself,   to thank you  in their name for your  hospitality and generosity.  With all my heart I bless you.  Our Lady of Ludzmierz, Queen of  Podhale, pray for us”.  In 2001 just a few years before his death John Paul II  elevated  the Ludzmierz Sanctuary to the  rank of a Minor Basilica, a rare honor given  to a church by the Catholic Church.  

 

Sources:  Andrzej Florek-Skupień, “Matka Boska Ludżmierska; Królowa Podhala”,  The Tatra Eagle,  Vol. 16, No. 2, April 1963.

“Prymas Polski J. Em. Kardynał Stefan Wyszyński na uroczystościach koronacji Matki Bożej w Ludżmierzu”,  The Tatra Eagle,  Vol. 16, No.4, November 1963.

“Wizyta Redaktorów ‘Tatrzańskiego Orła’ u Ojca Świętego”,  The Tatra Eagle, Vol. 46, No. 1, Spring 1993.

“Ojciec Święty na Podhalu”,  The Tatra Eagle, Vol. 50, No.2,  1997.

 

 

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