The beginning of the visit in Chicago – Parish of St. Ferdinand

On Saturday evening, May 10th, the visit of Our Lady of Czestochowa, also known as "Black Madonna," began in the Chicago parishes.  The Icon is traveling from parish to parish throughout the Archdiocese, under the honorary chairmanship of His Eminence Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I., the Archbishop of Chicago.  The visit of the Icon has been organized by Elizabeth Ceisel-Mikowska, the president of the Society of Friends of the Foundation of John Paul II Chicago Chapter, who deserves a special recognition for her involvement and great assistance in coordinating Our Lady's visit in the Archdiocese of Chicago.  Thanks to the dedication of the well-known carpenter and sculptor, Mr. Jan (John) Slodyczka, the visibility of the Icon traveling through the city has been made possible, as he and his friend Stefan (Stephen), built a new "Life Mobile" for Our Blessed Mother with incredible speed and skill.

The parish of St. Ferdinand was the first place of visit, where Our Blessed Mother was welcomed solemnly.  The patron saint of this parish, St. Ferdinand, was the ruler of Castille and Seville in the 12th Century.  Throughout his entire life, he protected his people, built up the Church and established peace between warring factions.

The pastor of the parish, Fr. Zdzisław Torba, originally from the Diocese of Lublin in Poland, is a very active and dedicated priest.  The parish is very active and has many pastoral groups.   Father Torba is assisted at his parish by the Congregation of the Missionary Sisters of Christ the King for Polish Immigrants, together with their Mother Superior, Sr. Anna Strycharz.

Our Blessed Mother arrived in time for the Mass in the intention for Poland, which is always celebrated here on the 10th of every month.  Our Lady stopped in Her Life Mobile, adorned with flowers, at the main entrance to the church.  She was being eagerly awaited by the priests, religious sisters, the Knights of Columbus Honor Guard, and also a vast crowd of the faithful with colorful flags and banners.  Many of the faithful were dressed in their national costumes representing various regions of Poland.  Parishioners of many other nationalities were likewise present; mainly Filipinos, but also a few Italian - and Irish-Americans.

After the welcoming ceremony, Our Lady's Icon was brought inside the church in a solemn procession and placed in the sanctuary on a specially created platform, covered with the white-red Polish flag and surrounded with beautiful flowers.  The Holy Mass for Poland begun, celebrated by the parish pastor.  Right after the Mass, Father Peter West, the Vice President of Missions for HLI and coordinator of the peregrination for the United States, together with Mrs. Ewa Kowalewska, the Director of HLI-Poland, gave a talk about the Icon and the peregrination campaign.

The individual veneration of the Icon began after the Polish hymn of Jasna Góra (Apel Jasnogórski) was sung.  People approached one by one the solemn countenance of the Mother of God, kissing the Icon and touching Her with the holy cards prepared by HLI for this purpose.  Many of the faithful were moved to tears.  The line was not slowing down until midnight.  Numerous prayer groups stayed to pray and keep vigil with Our Blessed Mother throughout the evening into early Sunday morning.  The "Lednica" youth group was leading the Vespers of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  The young musicians group "Radość" (Joy) from the Polish Catholic School prepared a very moving Way of the Cross in defense of the life of the unborn in both languages – Polish and English.  The organist and the young musician group prepared the singing of the Akathist Hymn in Polish.  The projected verses of the hymn, allowed the faithful to join in the singing of the oldest prayer of the Church, praising the Mother of God. This created a beautiful atmosphere of prayer and meditation during the individual veneration of the Icon.  The musical arrangement was prepared very beautifully.  Various Rosary groups took turns in leading the recitation of the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary.  After midnight, the prayers were led by the parish pro-life group, followed by the members of the Legion of Mary, The Club of the Good Shepherd, a group that integrates the Polish immigrants, and the Polish Highlander Club.  In the morning, the Matins was recited and the Little Office of Our Lady was sung. A total of seven Masses were celebrated - three in Polish and four in English - as they usually are, every Sunday.The Boys and Girls Scouts of America kept the next watch. At 3:00 PM, the "Faustinum" Association of the Apostles of Divine Mercy led the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.  The veneration of the Icon continued with the students from the parish school of St. Ferdinand and the Notre Dame High School for girls.

To conclude the visit of the Icon of Our Lady, the Most Reverend John R. Manz, the Auxiliary Bishop of Chicago, concelebrated the solemn Sacrifice of the Holy Mass in English, assisted by the pastor, Father Torba, and Father Peter West.  At the end of the Mass, Mr. Lech Kowalewski thanked Bishop Manz for his support of the peregrination of the Icon of Czestochowa from Ocean to Ocean, and Mrs. Ewa Kowalewska gave the bishop a miniature Icon of Our Lady of Kazan.  Father West, who has been traveling with the Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa around the States for the past eight months, received a big word of thanksgiving.  He also received a gorget, an ornamental piece of plate armor, with the image of the Czestochowa Icon.  A half-serious comment was made that he is being knighted as the Knight of the Mother of God and is receiving the honorary title of a Pole.  Indeed, due to his frequent visits at Polish parishes, Father West is now able to greet others and also pray the "Our Father" in Polish.

After the farewell ceremony, the Icon was placed in the Life Mobile and escorted by a small motorcade to the Jesuit parish of St. Ladislaus, where Our Lady was already awaited.

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