Celebrating the Family in St. John Paul II’s Sanctuary in Krakow

Every Sunday for the past six years, the famous shrine of the Polish Pope has offered a Mass especially dedicated to families, attracting each time around a thousand faithful.

The Masses at the Sanctuary of St. John Paul II in Krakow, Poland, offer children-focused homilies.
The Masses at the Sanctuary of St. John Paul II in Krakow, Poland, offer children-focused homilies. (photo: April 2022 photos by Solene Tadie)

KRAKOW, Poland — St. John Paul II used to say that the family constitutes the heart of evangelization, the “first and most important way of the Church,” and the “living cell of the great and universal family of mankind.” 

The defense of the institution of the family was undoubtedly the core of the pontificate of the Polish Pontiff, who dedicated his first synod to this topic in 1980, which subsequently generated the famous apostolic exhortation Familiaris Consortio

It is specifically to honor this important legacy of the one who wanted to be remembered as the “Pope of the Family” that the Sanctuary of St. John Paul II in Krakow (his historic diocese) decided six years ago to launch the first Sunday Mass entirely dedicated to families. 

Erected as part of the John Paul II Center “Do Not Be Afraid!” project (envisioned at the Pope’s death by his former secretary, Cardinal Stanisław Dziwisz, as a place of promotion of his spiritual legacy and completed in 2013), the shrine is considered the world’s greatest pilgrimage center around the Polish saint and includes important relics — such as his papal cross, chasuble and a vial containing his blood. Its large area and capacity make it a place particularly adapted to large-scale celebrations. 

 

A Unique Initiative  

Thus, every Sunday morning at 11am, the shrine welcomes an average of 1,000 people — half of whom are children — for the Mass celebrated by Father Dariusz Chrostowski, a young priest who has made evangelization of children the center of his apostolate. The celebration is accompanied by a choir and orchestra entirely composed of parents. 

In this vast and colorful sanctuary space, everything contributes to making families feel at home, right down to the choice of underfloor heating, which allows children to sit comfortably and play all year round.

“This Mass is so convenient for us parents because we feel that the kids are very welcome; they can be with other kids and look after one another,” Bartłomiej Szmyd, a regular of this family Mass since its inception, told the Register in an April 3 interview. 

That day, as every time the moment of the homily comes, the priest came down from the altar, while hundreds of children ran from all sides of the church to surround the clergyman who was going to deliver them the word of the Lord. 

The reflections contained in the homily are meant to be accessible and didactic, in order to touch the children’s minds and hearts. As Easter was approaching, Father Chrostowski focused his catechesis on the duty of each Christian to look at his own faults before those of his neighbor. 

To illustrate the April 3 Gospel about Jesus and the woman taken in adultery, he presented the children with a mirror and a glass window, inviting them to look into their hearts before condemning a friend. 

“It is a real delight for me to preach to children, because they have a natural faith; they don’t pretend. They don’t wear masks, they are deeply real, and that makes their hearts naturally open to the message of the Gospel,” Father Chrostowski told the Register. 

The custom also includes a weekly “spiritual challenge” in which all children can participate by simply signing up for the initiative and committing to take up the challenge in their personal lives. Each week, after a drawing, one of the children participating in the challenge receives a small yellow suitcase filled with all kinds of gifts and sweets as a reward. The winner is then responsible for filling the suitcase with new gifts for the next week’s winner. All are elements that make this Mass one of a kind.

Touched by the incredible enthusiasm generated by this initiative that gathers up to 4,000 people during the biggest celebrations of the year, Archbishop Marek Jędraszewski of Krakow himself likes to preside over the Mass whenever the opportunity arises. “The archbishop came to preach to the kids for the feast of the Holy Trinity last year in June,” Father Tomasz Szopa, rector of the shrine since 2020, told the Register. “It is not easy to explain the theological concept of the Holy Trinity to kids, but the archbishop quickly took to interacting with the children, and their exchange was very profound.”

 

Building Up Tomorrow’s Society

For Father Szopa, the initiative owes its success to the special intercession of St. John Paul II for his beloved Polish city.

“This Mass for families is a true blessing for Krakow, and I will never forget the warm welcome that these faithful families offered me when I took office in the difficult context of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020,” he said, adding that the good fruits of this Mass transcend the city’s borders, since many pilgrims converge on the shrine to witness the evangelizing power of this special weekly Mass.  

“Everyone who comes here is impressed by what they see, by the whole atmosphere that surrounds the place,” Anna Aleksandrowicz, a mother of four who attends this Mass every Sunday, told the Register. She and her husband, Timoteusz, are involved locally in the life of the Church and a few years ago founded Sursum Corda, a school of evangelization for all the faithful of the diocese. The couple — who have a special devotion to St. John Paul II, having met shortly after his death and married on his feast day, Oct. 22 — sees this catechesis directed toward children as an excellent way to form their consciences and prepare them to face future challenges. 

It is therefore, according to them, an indispensable investment for the Church for building up society, starting with the domestic church, as St. John Paul II would say. 

“The kids learn so much during these celebrations, especially because they can be independent,” Anna Aleksandrowicz added. “They grow in spiritual maturity while creating bonds with the clergy, and it can only have a lasting positive impact on the relationships between the lay and the clergy; it is so important in today’s world.”

‘Tearing Us Apart’ book cover, with authors Alexandra DeSanctis and Ryan T. Anderson

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