Shepherd's Greeting -- En route to Doylestown, Pa., the 270 pilgrims from St. Hedwig Parish and other parishes in the Diocese, stopped for respite in Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, West Trenton, where, to their surprise and delight, were welcomed by Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.
Shepherd's Greeting -- En route to Doylestown, Pa., the 270 pilgrims from St. Hedwig Parish and other parishes in the Diocese, stopped for respite in Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, West Trenton, where, to their surprise and delight, were welcomed by Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.

By Mary Stadnyk | Associate Editor

In the past 10 years, Father Marcin Kania has participated in the 34-mile walking pilgrimage from Trenton to the National Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, Doylestown, Pa., as often as possible. It’s an event, he said, that allows him to reflect on his priesthood, his Catholic faith and to become spiritually renewed.

“What I have learned from the [pilgrimage] experience is that it is a great motivator to recommit oneself in the practice of the faith,” said Father Kania, parochial vicar of St. Gregory the Great Parish, Hamilton Square. “It also gives us a sense of accomplishment or great satisfaction from reaching different parts of the journey. The experience definitely changes us for the better and gives us a sense of family unity that the Church should be for us.”

Photo Gallery: 2018 Walking Pilgrimage to the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa

Father Kania was one of some 270 faithful from the Diocese to join in the annual pilgrimage, modeled after Poland’s centuries-old tradition in honor of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Faithful from throughout the country would make a pilgrimage, walking hundreds of miles on foot and even some on their knees, to the Jasna Gorna monastery in Czestochowa, which since 1834 has housed the icon of the Black Madonna, depicting the country’ patron saint, Our Lady of Czestochowa.

On the Road

Numerous faithful in the Diocese uphold the tradition of joining in a “pielgrzymka,” or walking pilgrimage, including those from parishes with Polish populations including St. Hedwig and Sacred Heart, both Trenton, and St. Mary of the Lake, Lakewood. The pilgrimage to Doylestown occurs every year on the weekend preceding the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

For the Trenton contingent, which included both walkers and support crew, this year’s two-day journey started off at 5 a.m. Aug. 11 at St. Hedwig Parish, where the faithful loaded their belongings – tents, luggage and coolers filled with food and beverages – into vans and cars before being joined for a prayer service led by Father Jacek Labinski, parish pastor.

By 6:15 a.m., the crowd set out on their first leg of the trek, walking to Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, Ewing, for breakfast and, to their surprise and delight, a visit by Bishop David M. O’Connell, C.M., who was on hand to greet the pilgrims and offer a blessing. After crossing the Delaware River later that day, the pilgrims arrived at their evening destination, a field in Bucks County, Pa., where they set up tents, ate dinner and gathered for an outdoor candlelight Mass celebrated by Father Labinski and concelebrated by Father Kania and two Pauline priests, Father Karol Jarzabek from New York, and Father Jon Michalak, who is from Doylestown.

The next morning, the throng headed for the shrine, arriving in time for the 2 p.m. Mass that was celebrated by Archbishop Thomas G. Wenski of Miami and concelebrated by Bishop James F. Checcio of the Metuchen Diocese and numerous priests including Father Labinski.

God, Self & Others

While the reasons varied among the pilgrims of all ages as to why they wanted to participate, all agreed to finding the experience meaningful and prayerful – especially since during the time spent walking, they are engaged in reciting the Rosary and other prayers, singing hymns and quietly reflecting.

Though it was Tomasz Jaskolka’s eighth walking pilgrimage, this year proved extra special having his 13-year-old son, Adam, join him. The elder Jaskolka said he was heartened to have some father-son time to talk and listen with one another, “which on a daily basis we haven’t done enough of,” he said, noting that the pilgrimage afforded him the chance to put his daily responsibilities aside and focus on prayer and reflection with the Lord.

“It is also an opportunity to be helpful and learn about and from other people,” he said, adding that it is a “way to connect with ourselves and with the Spirit who makes us who we are in our daily lives.”

Jaskolka admitted he was concerned that his son, having never participated in such an event, might be bored. However, Adam said there was much he found interesting, such as helping set up tents and distributing luggage to fellow pilgrims. “I really did enjoy it,” Adam said.

“Every year, I see young people joining the pilgrimage in either form of walking or helping,” Tomasz Jaskolka observed. “It is a good sign. I think we need to continue to encourage young generations to participate. I believe every Catholic should give it a try to walk the distance at least once. There is no better feeling than being welcomed at the shrine, completing the journey and reaching the house of our mother. It is an amazing experience, and it always brings tears to my eyes, even now, when I’m just thinking about it.”

‘A Spiritual Workout’

Ever since Father Kania was ordained a priest, he has assisted with celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the pilgrims as they walk to the shrine and at the rest stops.  

“It is certainly a different kind of experience of the ‘Sacrament on the go,’ but this is the most practical way, since there are a lot of pilgrims and it would be difficult to hear all their Confessions at once,” he said.  Father Kania added that he appreciates how the walking pilgrimage provides direct experience and physical effort that one needs to offer their petition in faith.

“It’s easy to drive over to the shrine, make a petition and return home without much sacrifice or difficulty,” he said. “The walking pilgrimage is not an unnecessary burden, but a spiritual workout, an experience of spiritual discipline from which one learns a great wisdom that growing in holiness of life requires much effort, physical exertion, patience and time.”

For those who may consider participating in a future walking pilgrimage, Father Kania said, “Everyone can participate, and it has little requirements. It is simple. The atmosphere is always joyful and friendly, and the only requirement is to come with an open heart and amazing things can happen to you.”