January 1, 2010
A few days after Christmas, I took a train from Warsaw to Częstochowa to spend New Year’s with my mom’s family. On New Year’s Day, my aunt, uncle, and I attended mass at the basilica on Jasna Góra and went to see the nativity scene that is set up on the ramparts of the monastery every year.
On our way to the nativity scene, or szopka, we stopped to admire a whole courtyard full of Christmas trees that were decorated by elementary school kids around Częstochowa.
The szopka jasnogórska is one of the biggest nativity scenes in Poland and is famous for its live animals: sheep, goats, bunnies, birds, donkeys. The animals are loaned from farmers, as well as from the Silesian Zoo in Chorzów (Śląski Ogród Zoologiczny). There are little wooden huts for the animals, since they are outside, in the snow!
The most important part, however, is the actual nativity scene. It’s housed in an enclosure under the monastery.
Personally, I thought there was a little too much going on…
Here’s a picture of me and my uncle in front of Jasna Góra–behind us is a statue of Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński… designed by Jan Kucz and funded by a Polish couple (the Sawko’s) from Chicago.
Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński was the Primate of Poland from 1953-1981 (during Poland’s most trying times– he was arrested and jailed for 3 years under the Communist regime). The statue is meant to show his complete submission to the Virgin Mary, kneeling in a sign of humility. Cardinal Wyszyński is often called the ‘Primate of the Millenium,’ as he celebrated Poland’s 1000th anniversary of Christianity in 1966. (Mieszko I baptized Poland in the year 966). By the way, a ‘primate’ in the Roman Catholic Church is the honorary title of a bishop who has superior authority over all other bishops–in this case–in Poland.
He was also a dear friend of Pope John Paul II. There’s a famous picture at the Holy Mass for the inauguration of the pontificate of John Paul II when Cardinal Wyszyński kneels to pay homage to the new pope by kissing his ring, and the Pope embracing and kissing him instead, in an expression of his respect for the cardinal.
The memorable gesture was immortalized on the back of a limited edition 50PLN banknote in 2006…
Next to the image is a quote by John Paul II: “There would be no Polish Pope on this chair of Saint Peter… if it were not for your faith, undiminished by prison and suffering, your heroic hope…”