Benedict Takes to The Road

Hopefully Pope Benedict was sitting down when he read his agenda for the month of May.

He naturally knows about and approves all activities and audiences and travels, but when you wrap everything up into a calendar month, instead of viewing one event or audience at a time, the overall picture could be rather daunting.

The early part of the month gave him no time to breathe and prepare for the second half of May, including as it did a visit on May 1 to the Shrine of Divine Love a few miles outside of Rome, participation in some of the festivities for the 500th anniversary of the Pontifical Swiss Guards and a Mass with the ordination of priests on May 7.

Presidents and royalty occupy the Pope’s calendar for a two-week period, starting with the May 8 visit of Grand Duke Henri of the Duchy of Luxembourg, a constitutional monarchy whose population is 87% Catholic. Three days later President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela is scheduled to visit.

President Enrique Bolanos Geyer of Nicaragua, who is both chief of state and head of government, will be received in audience on May 15.

Lech Kaczynski, president of Poland, whose country the Pope will visit from May 25-28, will meet the Holy Father May 18, 19 or 20 — the date has not been finalized at this writing.


Off to Poland

The schedule for the Holy Father’s trip to Poland, his second apostolic trip since being elected a year ago, was announced by the Vatican in early April. It has been the Vatican’s custom to “officially” announce a papal trip only about a month or six weeks before the actual trip, even though the rest of the world has known about it for quite some time.

It will surely be an emotional time for Pope Benedict as he was an extraordinarily close collaborator and friend of John Paul II, the man whose country he will visit, for more than two decades. May 18 was Karol Wojtyla’s birthday.

The symbolism of this trip is also remarkable and will undoubtedly provide additional emotions: A German Pope, whose country invaded Poland in World War II, succeeds a Polish Pope, whose land was ravaged by Germans. The most dramatic moment will likely be the last day of Benedict’s visit when he goes to Auschwitz, one of the most infamous concentration camps of the war.

The Pope leaves Rome on Ascension Thursday, May 25, arriving in Warsaw, Poland’s capital since 1596, just over two hours later, where he will be welcomed by civil and religious authorities. That day’s agenda includes a meeting with clergy in the cathedral of St. John, a courtesy visit to the president of Poland in the presidential palace, and an ecumenical gathering at the Lutheran church of the Most Holy Trinity.

The next day, the Holy Father will celebrate Mass in Warsaw’s

Pilsudski Square
and later in the afternoon, will travel by helicopter to Czestochowa to visit the famed Shrine of the Black Madonna. Also known as Jasna Gora (bright mountain), it is the holiest place of Poland and a revered destination for millions of pilgrims every year.

There, he will meet with religious, seminarians and representatives from Catholic movements and institutes of consecrated life before traveling to Krakow to spend the night in the archbishop’s palace. John Paul was archbishop of Krakow before being elected Pope and the current archbishop, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, was his secretary for four decades.

On May 27, Benedict s scheduled to visit Wadowice, John Paul’s birthplace. Following a meeting with the populace in the main town square, the Pope will go to Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, a noted cultural landscape and place of pilgrimage in Poland.

A United Nations World Heritage site, the pilgrimage site is a totally natural setting where a series of symbolic places of worship relating to the Passion of Christ and the life of the Virgin Mary was laid out at the beginning of the 17th century.

On his return to Krakow, the Holy Father will visit the shrine of Divine Mercy and Wawel Cathedral and, at 7 p.m., meet with young people in the city’s Blonie Park.

Benedict is scheduled to celebrate Mass May 28 in Blonie Park at 9:45 a.m., followed by the Regina Coeli. After lunch, he will travel by car from the archbishop’s palace in Krakow to Auschwitz, visit the former concentration camp and the center for dialogue and prayer, and participate in a prayer meeting in memory of victims in the former concentration camp of Birkenau.

At 6.30 p.m., the Pope will travel directly from Birkenau to Krakow’s Balice airport for an 8 p.m. departure.

Joan Lewis

writes from Rome.