I awoke to a notification on my phone that Eunice Hii had tagged me in a post on Facebook. My traveling buddy kindly shared my Day 1 blog and her sharing of my post got more attention than my original post about my post.
I need to hire Eunice as my Hype Woman. Or at least my Public Relations Manager.
I headed downstairs for breakfast at 7:20am and was among the first people from our delegation there. I eagerly surveyed my food options at the breakfast buffet.
I carefully planned my food strategy: plenty of protein and no fruits and veggies.
I think I succeeded.
Buried under all of that meat and fish were a couple of potato pancakes. I was so excited to eat them as I hadn’t had any in decades – since my mom used to make them when I was a young boy.
I sat with my new Hype Woman Eunice and Alan “Lay Down the” Law. Alan is the Tour Design employee who we’ve been closely working with to set up our World Youth Day delegation from the Archdiocese of Vancouver.
Between bites I thanked Eunice for sharing my blog and I thanked Alan for allowing me to give him such a brutal – yet clever – nickname. We had a nice chat and talked about our expectations for the day.
After breakfast, we met our awesome tour guide Anna and piled onto our fancy tour bus. With Alan laying down the law and holding down the back of the bus, we made our way to Wadowice – the birthplace of St. John Paul II.
We spent the majority of the morning at the Museum of John Paul II learning about many facets of his life: his childhood, his desire to be an actor, his ordination to the priesthood, his rapid ascension through Church ranks, his papacy, the assassination attempt, the institution of World Youth Days, his pilgrimages, and so much more.
The most fascinating part of the tour was stepping foot inside his actual (reconstructed) home. It was a simple three-room apartment that the Wojtyla family rented in 1919. Karol Wojtyła was born in this apartment on May 18, 1920. After his mother’s death on April 13, 1929, Karol and his father occupied only one smaller room and the kitchen, leaving the dining room untouched. Wojtyła lived there until 1938, when he moved with his father to Kraków.
We were able to see many household items that belonged to the Wojtyla family including a sewing machine, cooking utensils, and clothing.
I was overcome with admiration and awe at the fact that the family lived so simply and so humbly. Thanks in large part to faithfulness and a lot of hard work, Karol Wojtyla became one of the most iconic and important people in history.
Being in the apartment (and museum) also gave me a greater appreciation for all that I have, whether it be my family, my health, my job, my house, or the opportunity to make an impact in our world.
We then walked next door to the Minor Basilica dedicated to the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Inside, there are 4 chapels: the Chapel of the Holy Cross (whose main feature is an altar with a miraculous image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help), the Chapel of the Holy Family (where Karol Wojtyla was baptised in 1920), the Chapel of the Crucifixion (housing the relics of Saints Padre Pio, Father Maximilian Kolbe, and Simon of Lipnica), and the Chapel of Saint John Paul II (the altar has a reliquary containing a drop of blood of the Saint Pope John Paul II).
I was able to spend a few moments praying for the intentions of all my family and friends.
We enjoyed a delicious lunch of – guess what – POTATO PANCAKES! After not eating them for close to 30 years, I had them TWICE IN ONE DAY.
I also learned that when it comes to restrooms in Poland, the triangle means “male” and the circle means “female”. It makes intuitive sense when you think about it. Just don’t spend too much time thinking about it.
Then, we drove to the Auschwitz concentration camp, a network of concentration camps and extermination camps built and operated by the German Nazis.
We toured two different sites over the course of 3 hours. The tour guide delicately and masterfully told us what we needed to know; I was so impressed by her competence and her sensitivity. She told me afterwards that despite giving tours for the better part of the past 39 years, it’s still very hard for her and that she has to fight back tears.
We saw the barracks. The gas chambers. The starvation cells. The barbed wire fences. The piles of suitcases. The pictures of the unknowing prisoners. The road of death.
It was horrifying.
It was gut-wrenching.
It was saddening. And maddening.
I don’t know if I can say much here that you don’t already know or haven’t already seen (either in documentaries or movies like Schindler’s List). I’ll let some of my pictures paint the grim picture for you.
The one image that affected me the most was the display of clothing and dolls left behind by the young children who were ushered off the death in the gas chambers.
As a father, I felt my heart sink to my stomach and I had trouble focusing for a few minutes afterwards.
I’m not over-stating or speaking in hyperbole when I say that I will never be the same after visiting the Auschwitz concentration camp. As difficult as it was, I’m so grateful to have been able to visit such an important place in the world’s history.
Unsurprisingly, the mood on the bus ride back to Krakow was quite subdued. Many delegates slept while others took some time to process all they had seen.
I ended off the day but joining a group of people for dinner (not potato pancakes) and then meeting a friend for a quick drink (of Pepsi) before coming up to my room to write this blog.
Despite the wide array of emotions I experienced today, I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to visit two important – yet different – places that helped shaped the world as we know it today.