“Time to go, time to go”. With these words, John Paul II said goodbye to the pilgrims at Jasna Góra and took a helicopter ride to Zakopane for a three-day rest (Zakopane is a holiday resort in the Tatra Mountains). The mountains and the people of Podhale had been waiting for the honourable guest for a long time, preparing for his arrival. And while looking out for the papal helicopter in the sky, the highlanders burned bonfires in many places to express how much they were looking forward to his visit.
The papal helicopter landed on the pitch of the Central Sports Centre. The Holy Father was greeted by a highlander band. Then, the long-awaited guest went to ‘Księżówka’, the centre of the Polish Episcopal Conference, which became a ‘little Vatican’ for the duration of his stay in Zakopane.
The Pope stayed in the capital of the Polish Tatra Mountains from Wednesday to Saturday, i.e. from the evening of 4 June to the afternoon of 7 June, 1997.
During the three days, the Pope had several meetings with the faithful. He celebrated two Masses with the faithful, namely at Wielka Krokiew (Stadium for winter sports), and on the occasion of the consecration of the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Fatima in Krzeptówki. He met with children at the Holy Family Church and visited the Holy Cross Church, where a group of sick people were waiting for him.
Thursday in particular was a day of rest. For more than an hour the papal helicopter flew over the Tatra Mountains. Due to bad weather the helicopter could not land on the clearing near to Wiktorki Chapel. On that day the Pope was in the shelter over the Morskie Oko Lake and in the chapel in Jaszczurówka at the Ursuline Sisters. On Friday, he went to Kasprowy Wierch and Kalatówki. At the request of the Holy Father, on the day of his departure from Zakopane a car journey was organised through Kościelisko and Gubałówka to the Sanctuary of our Lady in Ludźmierz. The Pope could contemplate the beauty of the mountains and the Podhale region.
Under the Cross from the Tatra Mountains to the Baltic Sea
About 300,000 people gathered at the foot of Wielka Krokiew on 6 June 1997, among them also numerous pilgrims from Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary.
“When the Pope arrived at the hill, the crowd applauded. A band of 180 musicians started playing, including musicians from Chicago. A choir of more than 100 people also sang,” a journalist reported on the event. One reporter asked the Pope before the Mass, “How is the Holy Father feeling?” The Pope replied: “As you can see, with a walking stick, but like at home” (“Life”, 7-8 June 1997).
The altar was built of wood in the shape of a mountain hut. A white ribbon was stretched across the length from the hill of ski jump, where a white cross was placed at the top of the structure, down to the foot of the altar. Above the whole assembly stood the cross on Giewont Mountain as the sign of a spiritual temple of the whole Podhale Region, in a way as a sign for a spiritual “temple of the whole homeland”, gathering together the inhabitants of the region and spiritually uniting Poles.
The highlanders welcomed the Holy Father, paying him homage, thanking him for his example of life and asking him to lead them to God. This eloquent act warmed the hearts of the participants in the liturgy, which was reminiscent of an encounter with a father who was also a man of God bearing the word of life.
“How thankful we are for today’s meeting! We have long waited for it. For a long time you had been inviting the Pope, an invitation made on various occasions, especially during your frequent pilgrimages to the Eternal City. […] And today we can say that Zakopane has managed it and I have too. God has so arranged it…” – said the Holy Father in greeting, also moved and delighted by the meeting at Wielka Krokiew.
This beautiful scenery and solemn atmosphere was filled by John Paul II with a deep message about Christian love, which was revealed by Jesus and expressed by His pierced Heart and the sign of the Cross. It is a message full of hope. Hence the Pope’s call to respect and defend the cross was and is a call to defend the love and hope that Christ brings. These are Christian values, but also thoroughly universal.
The beauty of creation and the depth of redemption
The Holy Mass at Wielka Krokiew occurred on the liturgical feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In his homily, the Holy Father, referring to the pierced side of Jesus hanging on the cross, presented the deep sense of human life, which should be a response to God’s love.
The pierced side of Jesus, from which blood and water flowed, was the proof of His death, but for His disciples it is above all the proof of His love for every human being. We confess and explore this truth in devotion to the Heart of Jesus and through reverence for the cross. “The teaching of the cross” is our strength and hope and our strength to love and serve life.
Two women who were beatified during the Holy Mass in Zakopane, Sister Bernardyna Maria Jablonska and Sister Maria Karlowska, followed this path and “revealed fully the dignity of a woman and the greatness of her vocation”. Such testimonies are needed for “today’s world to appreciate the value of human life,” the Pope said.
The loving Heart of Jesus is the “centre” of God’s plan for the redemption of the world. “In virtue of this plan, man has access to God, like a child to the Father.” In this context, John Paul II uttered a phrase that linked the beautiful setting of the Mass, this temple of nature from the cross on Giewont to the Baltic coast, with the depth of the Gospel message. He said:
Christianity therefore means a new creation, a new life – life in Christ through which man can say to God: Abba – my Father, our Father.
What does it mean in practice to be a “new creation”? To have a “new life”? Are we a “new creation” only when we ascend to the heights of perfection and holiness? Are we a new creature on a feast day or every day?
This question – in my opinion – was answered by the Pope in a short addendum before giving the blessing.
Referring to the cross on Giewont Mountain and to this spiritual temple, which from the Tatra Mountains to the Baltic Sea is formed by Poles, John Paul II stressed that the cross “says to all Poland: Sursum corda!” (Lift up your hearts!)
The words from the introduction to the Eucharistic preface prepare us for the moment of transubstantiation.
In everyday life, a glance at the Cross and on it at the One whom they pierced (cf. Jn 19:37) is a reminder that there is no fall from which one cannot rise. There is no wrong path from which one cannot turn back. There is no sin that is not redeemed by the blood of Christ. The call “lift up your hearts! – is a reminder of the hope that Jesus brings. Looking at the cross as a call to hope is the beginning of the transformation of man by the power of Christ’s love. From the summit of hope every life takes on meaning.
The world, beautiful nature, material possessions, achievements or failures, worldly happiness or failure, all these should be the way up… To be more rather than only to have more.
We are a “new creation” when we do not forget that we are “very much in God’s hands”. We have “new life” whenever we overcome evil with good. The strength of Christianity is in its humanistic and existential potential inherent in eternal truths.
The phenomenon of the event
What was the phenomenon of the Holy Mass at Wielka Krokiew in Zakopane? In my opinion, not the highland folklore only, not the high scale of emotions, nor on the stupendous loci of the surrounding mountains.
I believe that it is rare for so many elements to be harmonised at the same time, as was the case during the ceremony in question: the scenery, the depth of the word and the message, the level of emotions, the solemn atmosphere, the beauty of the liturgy with the beauty of nature, the logic of sentences and imagination, history and topicality. Rarely does the synchronisation of these elements take place at such a level of religious experience. That is why this event left a deep mark on people’s memory.
In Zakopane, people’s hearts and minds were brought into alignment thanks to the authority of St John Paul II. It is worth remembering that this authority consisted of the stages of his life and ministry, his spiritual and intellectual efforts, his moral attitude and the prophetic courage with which he taught.
It was a source of pride for those gathered that the successor of Peter stood among them. But above all, it was his brotherly and at the same time fatherly love for his fellow countrymen and the fact that he was a man of God that gave the meeting at Wielka Krokiew its unique character, creating together with the faithful an unforgettable, historic event which is still inspiring.
Fot. Servizio Fotografico