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Re: Easter is coming

Something about Easter in Poland

Easter fervor sweeps Poland

KALWARIA ZEBRZYDOWSKA, Poland - Last year, Maria Sternal trod the hard, worn stones of the Via Dolorosa in ancient Jerusalem to sing and pray in anticipation of Easter.

This week, bundled up in three sweaters and a thick thermal coat and wearing a braid of twigs in her hair much like a crown of thorns, Sternal slogged through the mud and hills outside Krakow to take part in this country's largest Passion Play.

Sternal, 37, couldn't say which Good Friday meant more. The Holy Land was something special, she said. But so was this brisk, wind-chilled day in her homeland, in which she commemorated the crucifixion of Jesus.

"They are different but they are the same," Sternal said as a procession by Franciscan monks waded by amid a crush of worshipers. "It's all about the energy of God."

Europe may be a secular stronghold—and a challenge for churches here of every faith to maintain vibrant congregations—but the Polish countryside never fails to turn Easter into a national and religious holiday of remarkable scale.

Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, the site of a four-mile path of churches, chapels and 14 stations of the cross similar to the Via Dolorosa, is a shrine that Pope John Paul II, a Pole, visited twice as pontiff. Home to a Franciscan monastery and United Nations heritage site, the town's hillsides this week packed in thousands of faithful during the final days of the Christian Holy Week.

Many Poles skipped work to take part in the annual re-enactment of the life and death of the Christian savior. Schoolchildren slept overnight outside the monastery to be sure to start their prayers at dawn.

Old women who remembered their first Communion at the Church of the Sacred Cross—modeled after the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem—pulled on rubber boots and donned fur coats to make their trek to the mountainous prayer site.

Helena Moskala, 62, grew up in the shadow of the Kalwaria Zebrzydowska. She remembers her first pilgrimage to the site, just after the age of 7. Moskala said she still comes twice a year, for different days of Holy Week and in August for a celebration of the Virgin Mary.

"There is always something to pray for," Moskala said. "And at least one of my prayers is always the same: That I am allowed to come back again for the same event next year."

The shrine was the brainchild of Mikolaj Zebrzydowski, a devout Catholic who in the early 17th Century built a single church in this hill town near Krakow. He then invited the Franciscan order to care for the church.

But Zebrzydowski was taken with the rolling Polish countryside and believed there were deep similarities to the hills of Jerusalem. So he commissioned a series of churches and chapels near the original church in the southern Polish hills to resemble, even parallel, holy sites in Jerusalem.

What became known as Kalwaria Zebrzydowska survived centuries of change, including the harsh communist rule of the last century. Today, the monastery and the grounds are recognized by UNESCO as a significant example of the Calvary movement, which produced similar religious paths in the 1600s, a time in Europe where spiritual vision dovetailed with large-scale design.

For those who climbed the hills Friday, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska offered a place for some quiet prayer and reflection in an increasingly fast-paced Poland. Some remembered when this country seemed to stop for Easter. Families lived close by and celebrated the holiday together.

Now, many Poles have families splintered across the Europe, part of an economic diaspora that took advantage of Poland's accession into the European Union. That means holidays at home are brief, intense and sometimes bittersweet. Or, as one woman explained, "now it's fast, fast, fast and you don't have time to think."

Father Zafiryn, a monk at the monastery who had spent hours in confession Thursday and Friday, said Friday was the busiest of days in a very busy week.

As many as 50 monks were hearing confessions or giving Communion, standing in the open air from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m., the monk said. "It's very cold this year but, regardless, people come," he said. "You can just look at their faces and know why they are here."

Malgorzata Pasiut woke up at 3:15 a.m. to dress her 10-year-old daughter and drive from the village of Nowy Sacz to spend a day of prayer. Her daughter Ania, who once suffered epileptic attacks, has not had a seizure for five years. This Easter, she and her daughter decided to give thanks at Poland's best-known Calvary.

She was surprised at the throngs of people kneeling and praying in the chill air. "Maybe there are a lot of people with the need I have," Pasiut said. "The need of the heart."


Re: Easter is coming

And as promised, here is a picture of the treasury in Petra.....

Re: Easter is coming

and a first glimpse of the treasury as seen through the siq

Re: Easter is coming

Very nice pictures.

Please tell us some more about your trip. It's one I've been planning to make for many years.

Re: Easter is coming

Well I don't know where to begin.... From a marriage proposal from the man leading my pony, to getting lost in Wadi Rum desert and stumbling across a bedouin camp with a crazy dog and being offered a bed for the night, to going off the beaten track in petra to explore the long, winding and precarious wadi muthlim ("the little siq") and being helped find the way out by another bedouin who had followed us realising we were likely to get into a sticky situation with a blockage in the tunnel, to riding a camel for the first time in the desert, to floating in the dead sea, to standing at the top of mount nebo where Moses first viewed the promised land....well the entire trip was one amazing experience to another.

Jordan is a pretty spectacular place to visit, but also a very deprived country because of the turbulent middle eastern history and a lack of oil. It has many sites of historical interest and is very much politically stable at present so it's a good time to visit. You need a guide and an organised tour is best as it's not a country you want to try to navigate yourself if you haven't been there before. Cars are routinely stopped and searched on the highway by police or army. They are fairly relaxed but might be difficult if you don't speak Arabic.

Hans if you do go, make sure you see more than just Petra. There are so many fantastic places to visit. Dana nature reserve for example:

Re: Easter is coming

By the way....did I mention it was 80F in the shade last week, whilst Britain was plagued with snow and ice...?