The best pilgrimages and journeys are marked by the joy of the unexpected. We had a very basic plan for today – travel from Prague to Krakow with a brief stop in Wadowice. We didn’t know coming in when or where we would have Mass today. We didn’t know what we would be able to do in Wadowice or how much time we would have. But as we prepare to head to bed in our hotel in Krakow, we look back on a day of extraordinary, unexpected blessings.

Thanks to the good work of our tour manager, we began the day celebrating a group Mass for the Feast of St. James, patron of pilgrims, at the Church of St. Wenceslas, just two blocks from our hotel. This was probably our only opportunity to celebrate Mass just with our group, and how fitting that it be on the feast of the patron of pilgrims. After Mass, we set out on our buses for Wadowice, the home town of St. John Paul II. 

Basilica of the Presentation of Mary, Wadowice

The original plan was just to visit the town briefly, pray in the church where St. John Paul was baptized, and see the house that he lived in from the outside. But, again thanks to the good work of our guide, we were able to procure tickets to the St. John Paul II Museum in the building where the pope’s family lived right across from the parish church. The museum preserves the family apartment where he was born and lived until he was in his teens, plus several other exhibits in neighboring apartments that chronicle his life and ministry. It was a truly moving experience to walk through the story of this great man’s life beautifully told in the building where he lived. Because so many people wanted to visit this museum this week, we had to wait about 2 hours until there were tickets available – so that gave us time to explore the city, eat dinner, enjoy the famous Pope’s Cake – kremovka – and visit the Basilica of the Presentation of Mary. St. John Paul’s home parish church contains the baptismal font where he was baptized and an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help that he often prayed in front of. Many in our group said a prayer for Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis in front of this icon, because he, too, has a special devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

When St. John Paul II first returned to his native Wadowice after being elected pope, he went first to this parish church and venerated the font where he was baptized. He recognized the day of his baptism as the most important day of his life. We, too, venerated this font to remember the disciple of Christ who was called and chosen by God in baptism and lived out that baptism as a disciple for the world, shining as a light to lead others to the God who loves us all. Pope Francis has often asked people to celebrate the day of their baptism and even make a pilgrimage to the font where they were baptized to recall that important day in each of our lives. In doing so, we are also following the example of this Saint who was Poland’s gift to the world.