We spent a few days in and around Warsaw and started to experience the first part of "Days in the Diocese" there with other groups of pilgrims who had arrived a week early from around the world for World Youth Day. (We did the bulk of that experience back in Wroclaw.) Among those we met were a group from Zambia. We shared a bus for a few days and traveled together to some of these locations.
These days were really the beginning of my heart being expanded. I can't explain what all these things mean; all I can really do is relay what happened. Spiritually I felt myself on high alert, as if my spiritual "antennae" were picking up a lot more than usual, or much louder, or more deeply. The Lord began to show me my heart would be dug out more deeply. Part of this, I knew, was because I would be saying goodbye to my friend Iwona and her family after this pilgrimage as they move away from here and on to other ministry. It was a long time in coming in my anticipation. And you know, one can expect something, be prepared, be in agreement, be supportive... but when the reality kicks in and one needs to have the actual heart excavation of saying goodbye, it still is an excavation. But the Lord was showing me that His mind was on the fullness, the in-filling, He saw after this excavation my heart would undergo. The Lord and I have been through enough that I know He is no ogre; He does not "take away," but He does require us to walk in faith and not see how things will turn out. I know especially we will never regret anything, any sacrifice, we offer Him in love.
So in a state of vulnerability and high spiritual sensitivity, I went to Warsaw.
My fellow pilgrims will have to excuse me if my middle-aged brain does not get all the chronology of our visiting correct. When I say "the first" thing we experienced, what I really mean is the first
thing that struck my soul very hard. And that was visiting the grave and the museum of Bl. Jerzy Popieluszko. He was a young priest who was assassinated in 1984. This video gives a brief synopsis of his life, and his deep faith in the face of communism. I can not give adequate commentary on Catholic life under communism in Poland, nor of the depth of Catholic response in face of this oppression. But what I can tell you is that I wept, and wept, and wept in this museum. I left with a love for Bl. Jerzy in my heart that even right now I can't explain, but that burns when I think about it.
We also went to the Polish Uprising Museum. The Polish Uprising was a quickly organized effort by Polish Resistance fighters against the Nazis in 1944. For 63 days, the Poles fought with everything they had to resist being conquered by the Nazis, while Russia waited across the river. The accounts of horrendous suffering were overwhelming to me. In the end, 90% of Warsaw was reduced to rubble. Tens of thousands who were not among the 150,000-200,000 killed, were taken to concentration or labor camps.
A later tour was of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews. This was also fascinating to me. In particular I was struck by the exhibit of the reconstructed synagogue and its bimah. This picture is from the BBC, but it is from this museum:
I also cannot explain the intensity with which this hit me, but I was reminded by the old song by Petra called Bema Seat. It was explained to us that the bimah is the place where the Scriptures were read. The song Bema Seat was about the final judgment (read lyrics here). The two things connecting in my head were like live wires touching: the judgment of the world is the Word of God spoken forth. It is Jesus. It is the Word Incarnate.
After all of the beautiful history, there were of course the stories of the Jewish population of Warsaw, once at 45% of the city, being exterminated. We hear of these things in history books, but museums exist so that you see names and faces. You feel the lives. And you feel the loss. And I wept some more.
Returning to the hosting parish for a time of relaxation and evening Mass, I made a bee-line into the church. After being washed over by so much history of suffering, I had an urgent need and desire to spiritually at least crawl into the tabernacle and ask Jesus to hold me there. So much pain. So much suffering. So much faith. How can we not give all of our hearts to Love so that more love can enter this world?
On the way home from Mass this particular evening, God gave my daughter a particular gift, and also showed me something. She currently loves hedgehogs. And I mean, they are absolutely her favorite thing. She was excited to know that they exist in Poland. But that night, just up the road from our host family's home, a hedgehog waddled into the road. She got out, took a video, petted the hedgehog (yes, she cut her hand on the spines, but didn't mind), and essentially loved on it for quite a while. The kids of the host family enjoyed it, too. This was like a dream come true for my daughter, and made her so genuinely happy.
To be honest, I find it too exhausting to find something to say right now about the juxtaposition of the immense suffering of war and the happiness of a young girl, my daughter, over a hedgehog. All I will say is that I know God is ever-present to all people. Contemplating God's heart is a mind-blowing endeavor.