“Emmanuel”* was a word i could make out from the first scripture reading at a packed Mass for the Annunciation on the morning of Friday the 25th of March in Lancut, after i’d spent a pretty good night under a concrete walkway about a stone’s throw from the Church. I stayed for the Stations of the Cross, then traipsed off to a nice cafe in Kosina, where my offer to pay the going rate for a tea and coffee was declined. I then hot-footed it to a town called Przeworsk, visiting another Church and another library. I passed the night in a bus shelter on the western edge of Jaroslaw.
On the morning of Saturday the 26th of March i visited Our Lady’s very dignified Basilica there, in whose sombre, dimly-lit interior my attention was drawn to a portrait of a priest called Blessed Michal Czartoryski – more than anything because the name ‘Michael’ doesn’t seem to feature very often among the ranks of Saints and ‘Blesseds’. It turns out that he was a Dominican, born into a noble family in Jaroslaw in 1897, who during the war was an activist in a youth organisation called ‘Rebirth’, in Lvov. He was killed by German troops while serving as a chaplain to the Armia Krajowa (Home Army) during the Warsaw Uprising on September 6th, 1944; one of 52 priests among the 108 Polish martyrs of World War II, beatified by Pope John Paul II in June 1999.
As i was having breakfast on the eastern edge of Jaroslaw, what should it do but start snowing again. Not nice, delightful snow mind you, but nasty, slushy, rainy snow, driven by a strong wind. I shuffled along to a restaurant near Munina, stopping long enough for the weather to become a bit less dispiriting, then headed off towards Radymno. At the Church there i joined a group of middle-aged and elderly ladies, in praying a prayer of great historical, cultural and religious significance – the Rosary. The Gospel reading at Mass which followed was the parable of the Prodigal Son, after which i was hoping to take a photograph of an Icon of the Virgin Mary, unusual for having a crown of thirteen, rather than twelve stars.** It’s possible i suppose that the nun who refused my request to do this, ushering me towards the exit, was thinking i might wish to make fun of this peculiarity, but actually i was brought to mind of the special connection of ‘13’ with the story of Our Lady of Fatima.*** In the dark i headed off again, aiming to get as near as possible to Korczowa, on the border with Ukraine. At about 11.30pm i settled down to sleep in a bus shelter on an empty stretch of road, which was fine except for cold feet again, and i had to get up hastily at 7am (by my watch – in fact the clocks went forward without my knowing), because snow on the roof was melting and dripping through onto my sleeping bag and head. As it was a beautifully sunny Sunday morning, the idea was to find a Church in Korczowa but there didn’t seem to be one, so i elected to make a bid for the ‘wild east’ frontier, undismayed by a guard who explained that i couldn’t cross over on foot. I set about hitching a lift, and was soon whisked off to the passport control area by a personable Ukrainian fellow in his early thirties.
*meaning “God is with us”.
**“And a great sign appeared in heaven: A woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” [Revelation 12:1]
***In 1917 Our Lady is understood to have appeared to three young shepherd children in Fatima, Portugal, on the 13th day of several consecutive months. It has been suggested that there is an echo here of the climactic moment in the Book of Esther when, on the 13th day of the month of Adar, the disaster which was prepared for the people of Israel falls instead on those who had plotted against them.