At the Polish Mission of the Cystercian Fathers in Willow Springs on the birthday of ST John Paul II.

On Saturday evening of May 17th, Our Lady of Częstochowa, arrived in Her Life Mobile with the fluttering of the Papal, Marian, Polish, and American flags at the seat of the Cistercian Fathers in Willow Springs, IL.  The Life Mobile stopped before the beautiful Shrine of Our Lady, the Mother of the Church – the so called “church on a hill.”  Our Blessed Mother in Her Icon was surrounded by an escort of several Harley motorcyclists.  The welcome ceremony was very solemn. The Reverend Pastor Michał Blicharski, the pastor of the parish, was accompanied by the Polish Highlanders in their regional costumes, several banner carriers, and delegations from various pastoral groups.  A brass band was playing.  A crowd of people came out of the church to greet Our Lady and welcome Her at the parish.  

The Icon was carried to the church by two married couples.  She was placed among white and red flowers on the side altar, which had been modified a little for this special visit.  In the background, there hung a big banner with the image of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, the Primate of the Millennium, and a quotation from the Jasna Góra Vows of the Polish Nation concerning the defense of conceived life read:

 “Most Holy Mother of God and Mother of Good Counsel! With our eyes looking at the manger in Bethlehem, we pledge to You that from now on we will all guard new human life.  We will fight to defend every child and every cradle with the same courage, as our fathers had when they fought for the existence and independence of the Nation, paying dearly with their own blood. We are ready to rather die ourselves than to bring death on the defenseless. We will consider the gift of life to be the greatest grace of the Father of all life and the most precious treasure of the Nation.”

The monastery of the Cistercian Fathers in Willow Springs near Chicago belongs to the Polish Abbey of Szczyrzyc.  The church is relatively new. The construction started in 2000. Earlier there had been here a small chapel founded by Fr. Hubert Kostrzyński OCist, who was one of the chaplains for the Domestic Army (AK), during World War II.  After the war, he was not able to go back to Poland because he would have been persecuted by the communist authorities.  Thus he came to the United States, via Italy, where he set up a Cistercian community in Willow Springs, a suburb of Chicago.  For many years Fr. Kostrzyński worked alone, having created a pastoral oasis for the Polish Immigrants in this area. However, all he had was a small chapel.  His work was continued by Fr. Grzegorz Szydłowski OCist.  With the help of the Polish Highlanders, together they started the construction of the new monastery and the Polish Center in the year 2000.

According to the Cistercian tradition, as the Cistersians are known for their devotion to the Blessed Mother, Our Lady of Szczyrzyce is the queen of the new church.  Her beautiful image has been placed in the center, behind the main altar.  Since December 23, 2012, Father Michał Blicharski OCist has been heading up the parish.  He is currently responsible for continuing the the work of the Cistercians in this Polish community.  The parish offers a lot of activities.  All Holy Masses and services are celebrated in Polish.  One can truly say that this Marian Shrine is a small part of “the old country.”

The solemn Holy Mass began at 7:00 pm.  The Abbot of the Cistersian Monastery in Szczerzyc, Poland, presided over the celebration of the Eucharist.  He was wearing the insignia of a bishop: a miter, a pastoral staff, and a ring, - as the abbots of the Order are entitled to do. The Mass was concelebrated by the pastor, Fr. Michał Blicharski OCist, together with Fr. Ludwik Żyła OCist, Fr. Robert Zając, a missionary from Peru, and Fr. Krzysztof Kocot, the pastor of the Parish of the Holy Trinity from Czarny Dunajec in Poland.  Abbot Chucher gave the homily with great emphasis on the sanctity of all human life.

The Jasna Góra Appeal was sung and the Jasna Góra Vows of the Polish Nation were renewed.  After the Holy Rosary with Exposition and the singing of the Litany of Loreto which was led by Fr. Ludwik Żyła OCist, Mrs. Ewa Kowalewska spoke about the experience and the fruits of the peregrination of the Częstochowa Icon around the world in defense of life.  The faithful formed a long line to personally venerate Our Lady and Her Child in the Icon.  The pastor had prepared a Polish version of the holy cards with the image of the Częstochowa Icon and a prayer by John Paul II from the encyclical “Evangelium Vitae” that Fr. Peter West has been distributing to all throughout the States.  People touched them to the Icon of Our Lady, and took the holy cards home after the services.  The prayer vigil continued for twenty-four hours.  Many people in the congregation had tears in their eyes.

The pastor had prepared his parishioners to take the vows of Spiritual Adoption of a Conceived Child. The movement is quite active here and the vows are taken several times a year by many.  Already after dark, at 11:00 pm, the parents group led the Way of the Cross of the Unborn.  At midnight, the Cistersian Fathers celebrated another Eucharist for the intention of the unborn, followed by the subsequent Mysteries of the Rosary.  A novena for the intention of the unborn began at 2:30 am, and at 3:00 am the Chaplet of Divine Mercy was recited.  Individual veneration of the Icon continued until 6:00 am.

Sunday was begun bright and early with beautiful Marian hymns.  The morning Mass was celebrated, and the Little Office of the Most Holy Virgin Mary was sung.  During the 8:00 am Mass, over sixty people took the vows of Spiritual Adoption – the nine-month prayer for the intention of saving one conceived child, whose name is known only to God.  Then, various Rosary groups took turns in leading the Mysteries of the Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

It was May 18th, the birthday of Pope St. John Paul II.  During the solemn Holy Sacrifice of the Mass at 10:00 am, the Pope Saint’s relics, received from the Archdiocese of Krakow, were solemnly brought inside the church.  The Abbot carried the gold reliquary with a drop of his blood in a procession, and placed it on the main altar.  To the left of the sanctuary is a beautiful white statue of the Polish Pope, which is a replica of an original statue in Brampton, Canada.  A similar statue stands on a hill, behind the Cistersian parish church.  The Highlanders from the Foundation of the Tatra Culture, in regional costumes, participated in the procession, the altar service, and the offering of the gifts.

After the solemn Holy Mass, Mrs. Ewa Kowalewska reminded the congregation about John Paul II great love and devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and how he had completely given himself to Her.  Her visit in this parish was sure to make him very happy.

The Holy Mass at noon was celebrated in thanksgiving for the gift of life.  It was well attended by many children and young people with their parents.  The first rows were occupied by children in regional costumes with small violins, who are members of the “Gronik” child ensemble.  There were also young people from the “Dzianiszanie” ensemble. At the end of the Mass, all the ensembles stood together in front of the Icon and sang while playing the traditional Highlander music for our Blessed Mother.  Later, all the children approached the main altar to receive a blessing, along with other canonization souvenirs brought from Rome.

At 3:00 pm, the Rosary group of St. Sister Faustyna led the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy.

The farewell ceremony started with the Holy Mass at 6:00 pm.  After the celebration of the Eucharist, the “Te Deum” was sung.  Accompanied by the singing of Marian hymns, the Icon was carried out of the church and placed in the Life Mobile.

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